Three Emmanuel Sanders touchdowns and two from Juwan Thompson pushed the Broncos over the Chargers on Thursday night. Check out the best shots from the game.
A balanced offense and dominant defense led the way for the Broncos in a 35-21 win on Thursday night. On the other side of the ball, Brandon Marshall stepped up to make a big impact on defense against the Chargers.
Offense's rhythm helps dictate pace
Earlier in the season Terrance Knighton talked about the importance of complementary football. Because football has so many moving pieces that affect the game down the line, strong team play can make big impacts even after that side of the team leaves the field.
We've seen this happen plenty recently as the Broncos' defense establishes a ruthless and stingy denial of the run, which is helped by the offense's efficiency.
Making teams one-dimensional is something that's become a bit of a calling card for this defense. Their rushing defense is tops in the league at 72.4 yards per game allowed, and you can see it have an impact on a weekly basis. It allows the pass rushers to go to work and "pin their ears back," as they say, and it forces opposing offenses to be fairly predictable and focus on the pass.
But they also get a good bit of help from the offense in that regard. When Peyton Manning and the explosive offense gets opportunities to drive downfield, they can score points in a hurry and put opponents in tough spots playing from behind that forces their hand to look to the air. Against a run defense that's earning a bold reputation, teams face a risk of falling further behind if their drives can't pick up first downs.
"That helps a lot because you know they've got to throw the ball," Malik Jackson said. "You know they're going to try to keep doing their thing and try to keep us on our toes, on our heels. Coach does a great job of calling the calls and we do a great job of being where we're supposed to be."
"If they're able to get up early, it makes those teams one-dimensional to where now it's an opportunity to get after the quarterback and really rush the passer and that's what we do well. I mean we've been stopping the run well. That's what Terrance always says: 'If we can hold them to 50 yards a game, guess what, I did my job even if I don't have one tackle.' So just having guys saying at the end of the day they know their responsibility, they know what they should do, stopping the run and rushing the passer and making teams one dimensional – that's what this game's about. You don't want to have a team that can do both things on you."
Ultimately, it all came together and made the Chargers abandon the run, which negated their strategy of controlling the time of possession. With the Broncos' own blossoming run game, it helped the offense get into their own rhythm and do the exact opposite to the Chargers' defense as they gained seven first downs on the ground in the second half.
Marshall's game-ball performance
Coach Fox let the cat out of the bag on Friday, leaking news of Brandon Marshall winning a game ball for his efforts on Thursday night. That might come as a surprise to Marshall, whom Fox had yet to tell.
"I'm very proud of the way he played and he actually—well he doesn't know this yet so I can't tell you but he had a very good performance," Fox said before giving in.
"He got a game ball. I guess I'm telling. Sorry, Brandon," he said, laughing.
"I have been impressed with Brandon Marshall. If you go way back, everybody knows his history and where he started the race in the evaluation process," Fox said. "He just keeps getting better and that's something that we talk about a lot. It doesn't matter whether it's Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas, whoever it is. He's responded to that and I think he's got opportunity. I know people laugh about 'next man up' but he wouldn't have this opportunity if it hadn't been for an injury and he's taken full advantage of it."
Marshall was all over the field, filling gaps to stop the run, tackling well, making plays in the open field and playing in pass coverage well. He finished with eight solo tackles and 10 total tackles, which led the team. Two of his tackles were for a loss and he had one pass defensed.
Naturally, one of the people who has noticed Marshall's improvement is, well, Brandon Marshall. He said he feels like he's turned a corner, calling it "a complete 180" from his rookie year. And just where does he feel he's improved?
"Everywhere," Marshall said. "I've improved in tackling, I feel like I've improved in pass coverage and a lot of things. I feel like as the season goes on, I feel like I'm getting better."
He especially did a great job in helping the defense in their extensive effort to stop the run, as Malik Jackson noted.
"Brandon was awesome," Jackson said. "Everybody was awesome. When you hold a running team—besides that last play—when you hold a team to 38 rushing yards, and they had a lot of passing yards, but that's just a thing we've got to work on. But I think once we kind of go out there and just work on ourself, keep working on ourself and build ourself up and stop making our own mistakes and keep a team out of the game. I think that's when we'll start being great."
Offensive line showing improvement
The running game's improvement over the past month has been notable. On Thursday Denver recorded its most rushing yards in a single game yet this season with 139, averaging 121 yards in the past four games.
Ronnie Hillman has been the main back in the absence of Montee Ball, and he's been filling in quite well. Juwan Thompson has been the first back off the bench, especially in short yardage situations.
As well as they been doing, and finding their rhythm, the team gave much of the kudos to the offensive line who's had a change in their starting five with Paul Cornick moving into the lineup.
"Regardless of who the backs are, I think it starts up front with your blocking element, whether it's tight ends or the O-line," Fox said. "Again the running backs—it's a team effort, a group effort. We've just gotten better. It's something that we stress and work at very hard. The staff has done an excellent job and the players have responded."
Manning also thought the offensive line had an outstanding game, especially along the communication front.
"Guys up front were great, great in protection, great in the run game. I thought Manny [Ramirez] did a good job of communication. San Diego does a lot of different things, so he was on top of all the calls. I thought [Louis] Vasquez, Orlando [Franklin], got that good push; [Ryan] Clady, holding one of the top pass rushers around in check; and Paul [Cornick], two weeks in a row has done a really good job for his first couple starts. So that's really where it started up front tonight, and it opened up the passing game and the running game."
As Thompson pinpointed, the nature of the running game depends on the communication and bond of the linemen to build that unit and open up holes for the running game.
"It's just we're being very decisive and those guys up front there, they're doing a better job each week in getting everything done and blocking everything correctly and just communicating with each other," he said. "That's what football is. It's a bond over time. You're not going to be great the first game. So over time, everyone's going to get better and get well-equipped with everyone else so everyone else is on the same page."
"We're just going to continue to put pressure on a lot of defenses and continue to play our game."