Here’s what we learned from the Chargers’ 21-0 win Sunday against the Denver Broncos:
1. We had it all wrong.
The big reasons for optimism with the Chargers this offseason tended to do with their offense, where the team appeared to be absolutely loaded.
There was an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver, a workhorse running back, an elite tight end and a future Hall of Famer in Philip Rivers at quarterback. But through seven games — and in particular the last three — we were focused on the wrong side of the football.
As we near the halfway point of this season, it’s clear the Chargers defense, particularly the pass defense, is what could get this team over the hump.
Joey Bosa has been nearly unblockable, Melvin Ingram is too athletic for almost every offensive lineman he comes into contact with, and Chris McCain has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season.
The trio had Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian incredibly uncomfortable, forcing bad decisions when the good decision might’ve been simply taking a knee to avoid the punishment.
When the Broncos did get a pass off, cornerbacks Trevor Williams and Casey Hayward were more than suitable in coverage.
For the team to really threaten a run at the postseason, the offense is going to have to figure things out, but in the meantime, this defense has been special.
In the week leading up to the game with Denver, Anthony Lynn and the other Chargers coaches openly spoke about how the two teams were so well-acquainted with one another.
Obviously, they’re divisional rivals, and amplifying things, they played just six weeks earlier.
Denver, of course, knew this Charger team was susceptible to the ground game. Denver, of course, wanted to exploit that because running the football is one of their biggest strengths.
And the Chargers, of course, knew they were going to have to be better than they’ve been all year to stop them.
Playing with more controlled aggression and a greater sense of discipline, the Chargers defense didn’t just hit the quarterback — the group totally took the Broncos ground attack out of the game.
Denver rushed just for 69 yards — their second lowest total of the season.
And while it needs to be noted that the Broncos were shorthanded on the offensive line, the Chargers were the more physical team — something that’s not been true that often this year.
3. They’re still in this.
The Raiders are trying to recapture the mojo that made them a preseason favorite in the AFC. The Broncos are badly beaten up and don’t have the depth they need to support a quarterback as “meh” as Siemian. And the Kansas City Chiefs, probably the best team in the NFL for the first month, have lost two straight games.
And while the rest of the division has scuffled, the Chargers have made the most of their schedule and some good fortune to win three straight games, giving them a chance — while still a slender one — for postseason glory.
The Chargers’ winning streak will be tested in the upcoming weeks — games against New England, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Dallas all have unique challenges.
But, after going 0-4 to start the year, Sunday’s win gave the team more than confidence. It gave them a chance. It gave them a reason to keep playing hard. And if you like trends, you have to like how the Chargers have seemingly gotten better each week.
A month ago, this game in New England would’ve been meaningless.
Now, an upset win would bring them back to .500 and put them square in the middle of the playoff race.