SAN DIEGO -- For the Broncos, the abnormal is becoming routine. Not in what they're doing -- but in what the opponent does.
In Sunday's 28-20 win over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, the Broncos were once again greeted by a team that deviated from a norm it showed on game film in an attempt to catch the Broncos off-guard.
"They did things that we didn't see, scouting-report wise," said defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson.
Sunday, that meant a few glimpses of the old, push-it-down-the-edges-and-seams Chargers attack. Short, controlled passing was their specialty through the season and popped up often Sunday, but the Chargers tried to stretch it out -- and nearly took the lead on one such play, when Vincent Brown streaked up the right sideline and had a touchdown in his sights before Kayvon Webster caught up, got his hands into position and prevented a touchdown.
Such deviations are one of three ways in which a team shakes up its game plan to account for the Broncos' offense, which wasn't at its record-setting pace Sunday but still raced to 28 points in building a lead that proved too much for San Diego to overcome.
There are two other ways in which a team can shake up its strategy to account for the Broncos:
- Flip the game with a tactical gamble. The Chargers did this, as well; they became the second opponent in the Broncos' last four games to attempt a fake punt on their first series. The reason this worked was that the Chargers had less yardage to gain -- just a half-yard -- which meant that the fake punt required only snapping the football to someone near the line of scrimmage with enough speed and power to eke his way to the line to gain. Eric Weddle got the call and easily moved the sticks. This wasn't a game-changing play, because the defense ultimately contracted and forced a punt 2:07 later.
- Play to your strength -- and then take that strength to a new extreme. This is best illustrated by the Colts' predilection for press coverage with their cornerbacks in Week 7, which effectively knocked the Broncos' precision-timed passing game off kilter until a pass-interference penalty helped cause them to back off, freeing the offense to resume its normal service.
When opponents shake up their plans, the best response is to focus on yourselves. In other words, "Play your game," as legendary U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks often implored his players at all levels. It fits these Broncos as well as it did his men on the ice.
Defensively, that meant focusing on what the Broncos do well: man coverage and pressure from the edges. Cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. described this as "vanilla." But sometimes, vanilla tastes wonderful.
"We just kept it simple. We felt like with me, DRC (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), K-Web (Kayvon Webster) and (Quentin) Jammer, all our corners, we should be able to shut down their receivers and kind of take away (Danny) Woodhead and (Antonio) Gates, double team them, and everybody else play man."
It worked. And it will have to continue to work, because the Broncos understand that they must expect the unexpected, now and for the rest of the season.