- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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First-and-yuck: In a season when it seems like quarterbacks around the league are routinely adding another passing record to their résumés, the Chargers turned back the clock against the Broncos. On the 29 first-down plays in which San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers didn't take a knee Thursday night, the Chargers ran the ball 23 times for 103 of their 177 rushing yards in the game. The total included Ryan Mathews' 23-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The Chargers were particularly effective in the second half when they had 67 rushing yards on first-down plays alone to keep the ball away from the Broncos.
Flag waving: The Broncos use plenty of personnel groupings on defense that have helped them in the past when they have been able to create some favorable situational matchups. But on a short week, they struggled to get people on and off the field at times. They were penalized twice on defense for having 12 men on the field, both on first down (they've been penalized three times for the infraction the entire season). Overall, the Broncos remain one of the league's most penalized teams with 103, including 33 combined offensive and defensive holding penalties. They are one of just four teams with at least 100 penalties, and have 47 more than the league's least penalized team (Miami).
More pressure: The Broncos' defensive backs are taking plenty of heat these days. (Plenty of it is deserved.) But the Broncos also aren't exactly making quarterbacks uncomfortable on a consistent basis. They've played 14 games -- one more than every other team but the Chargers -- and currently find themselves in a cluster of teams tied for 11th in sacks. They got to Rivers twice Thursday night in 25 dropbacks, a good ratio, but they are allowing quarterbacks -- especially the top-shelf ones -- to get to their second and third reads and that's often where the trouble starts in coverage.
The Broncos are often in man coverages, and their personnel in the secondary hasn't allowed them to hold up deep into plays when quarterbacks like Rivers, Tom Brady or Andrew Luck have time to come off the primary receivers. Von Miller has flashed elite-level work at times with tackles for loss in the run game and some forced turnovers, but the Broncos' top pass-rusher has just five sacks in eight games since returning from his suspension. No, sacks aren't everything, but the Broncos need more than five from Miller in an eight-game span, especially when games are in the balance. Miller still hasn't had the kind of wall-to-wall, four-quarter efforts he routinely put up last season.
Match game: There was a time when if the Broncos needed to match a cornerback on an opponent's top wide receiver, no matter where that receiver lined up, it was Champ Bailey who was asked to do it. Bailey has played in just three games this season because of a left foot injury, and he wasn't all that confident in what he was doing in those three games. But Thursday the Broncos needed help on Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, who had two catches for two touchdowns, one of those when Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie lined up across from Allen but then passed him off in coverage. So, the Broncos kept Rodgers-Cromartie locked up on Allen for the remainder of the game. Allen did not have another catch, and using Rodgers-Cromartie as their lockdown corner is something the Broncos may look at in the coming weeks.