ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Maybe the Broncos still defeat the Chargers last Sunday if Trevor Siemian doesn't make consecutive downfield connections midway through the fourth quarter.
But the eventual scoreboard value of the the 31- and 40-yard passes to Virgil Green and Demaryius Thomas was massive, even though the Broncos could not cash them in for their full potential value, settling for an eight-point lead after a Brandon McManus field goal. Being ahead by a touchdown and a two-point conversion is effectively a two-score lead for the Broncos, who stopped the Bears and Patriots in similar scenarios last season.
This time, the Broncos didn't even let the game come down to a conversion. But for now, let's look at the two deep passes that revealed the potential of this offense to take what a defense gives it -- even when that opening is the deep ball.
Immediately after Casey Hayward's pick-six shrunk the Broncos' lead to 24-19, San Diego aligned its defense as though it expected the Broncos to run or go for a quick play-action pass within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
The Chargers put seven men in the box, with safety Adrian Phillips creeping up next to the box on the strong side, which the Broncos have overloaded with both of their tight ends in front of a one-back set. With the strong-side cornerback playing back, the Chargers have a zone look, with only a single high safety (Dwight Lowery) playing deep, but shaded toward the weak side, where Thomas will run his route.
The zone on that side of the field gives Green a free release off the snap, with John Phillips staying back to block. Phillips engages with Kyle Emmanuel, and the two defenders in short coverage on the strong side freeze.
Green is six yards downfield and past the defenders before anyone reacts to his route, and at that point it's not a matter of defense being able to stop the connection, but whether Siemian's throw will be on target and Green is able to haul it in. He does, and with one quick burst, the Broncos reclaimed momentum.
They sustained it one play later -- once again, with two tight ends, although they were split to each side. San Diego used its same formation, again aligning the inside linebackers within four yards of the line of scrimmage, and again bringing a safety up alongside the linebackers.
Once again, the Chargers focus on short coverage, which leaves three defenders in the middle of the field with just one Bronco in the area (Green). Green is to Siemian's left, so when Siemian looks in that direction, he sees both Green and Thomas. It's an easy choice for Siemian.
Lowery sees Siemian turn to his left to prepare a deep attempt to Thomas, who has worked his way outside of Hayward and is flying toward the left sideline. But he is too late to have any impact on the play; he won't arrive until after Thomas completes the catch over Hayward.
Denver took what San Diego gave. If Siemian can continue exploiting defenses that give him one-on-one opportunities downfield, Denver's offense will have more room underneath to run and pass, and the balance Head Coach Gary Kubiak wants will be achieved.