ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For one week the Broncos showed they are intent on getting things done while head coach John Fox is away, recovering from open heart surgery.
The Broncos moved to 8-1 with their 28-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, they continued to show flashes of a team that is historically dominant on offense with a fast and aggressive defense that can change games.
But they also flashed lulls on both sides of the ball, enough of those the Chargers made it a game before all was said and done.
With that in mind, and a long look at the video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos defense and special teams:
In a three-play span of Sunday's third quarter the Broncos showed the potential for their defensive front to return to last season's disruptive best. But if the Broncos are going to crank up the heat on opposing passers with more frequency out of the four-man rush or disrupt the action at the line of scrimmage in the run game, Von Miller and Shaun Phillips have to make that happen. On a first-and-10 play from the Chargers' 34-yard line with 5 minutes, 1 second to play in the third quarter, Miller crashed the middle of the Chargers formation to get Chargers running back Ryan Mathews for a 1-yard loss. Two plays later, on a first-and-10 from the Chargers' 46, Phillips made San Diego pay for trying to block him with a tight end, working to the inside and catching San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers almost as soon as Rivers finished his drop. Miller then arrived to finish things off. Both plays came with the Broncos in the nickel, with three down linemen and Miller lined up, standing, along the line of scrimmage. Earlier in the game defensive end Robert Ayers also showed a quality inside move on a pass rush, the kind he has flashed previously and the kind if he used more would increase his sack numbers. Overall with quarterbacks looking to get rid of the ball more quickly, the more quality work the Broncos' best pass-rushers can do working to the inside, the more success they will have getting those quarterbacks on the ground.
Rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster keeps answering the challenges put in front of him. Webster played 45 snaps on defense Sunday, his highest output of the season as interim head coach Jack Del Rio used all nine defensive backs in uniform in a variety of personnel groupings, including several different combinations in the nickel (five defensive backs). Quarterbacks have taken their shot at the rookie, hoping to capitalize on his inexperience. One of the things that has earned Webster so much playing time is his ability to match up in 1-on-1 situations and to play with don't-back-down confidence in those situations. Rivers often tried to pick away at Webster, especially on slants when the Chargers receivers beat him to the spot for some short gains. But Webster was usually up to the challenge when Rivers tried to drop one over him down the field, including a pass breakup by Webster in the end zone against Vincent Brown.
It is an odd sight, but the Broncos played 10 snaps on defense without Miller in the game Sunday, including four in the first quarter. The Broncos took Miller out in both the base defense at times, as well in some of their work in one of their nickel packages. The total included some pass-rush situations in the nickel in the second quarter, when Miller was out for five consecutive plays, including a second-and-9, when Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates for a 22-yard gain. In the end Chris Harris and Rahim Moore were the only players to remain on the field for all 73 snaps on defense. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard played 71 plays, missing two after re-aggravating a neck injury.
Peyton Manning's presence in an offense does things to people. Rams coach Jeff Fisher once tried to onside kick the first three times the Titans kicked off against the Colts and Bill Belichick's fourth-down gamble that didn't pay off against Manning on "Monday Night Football" is still talked about any time another coach gets in a similar situation against Manning. It's why two of the Broncos last four opponents, including the Chargers this past Sunday, have used fake punts in their first possession of the game as they search for some momentum. The Chargers converted a fourth-and-1 when safety Eric Weddle took a direct snap for a 2-yard gain. The Broncos did force a punt six plays later and took the following possession for a touchdown.