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Five Lessons

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Upon Further Review: Five Lessons from the Broncos Game

Here are five top lessons learned from the Chargers’ 21-0 win over the Denver Broncos.

1. A Historic Shutout – The last time the Denver Broncos were shut out came back in 1992 as they arrived at StubHub Center with the second-longest streak in NFL history (394 games). The Bolts put an end to that in dramatic fashion. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit smothered the Broncos, sacking Trevor Siemian five times while forcing three turnovers. They were lights out on third down, limiting Denver to just 3-of-14 efficiency (21-percent) while stopping both of the visitors’ attempts on fourth down. After struggling to defend the run all year, the Bolts held the league’s ninth-ranked rushing attack to only 69 yards on the ground. Safety Tre Boston weighed in on the defensive effort after the game:

“Honestly, we just came to do our job. When they don’t score, we win. So to come out there and dominate on defense, it was a great feeling. It was something that this defense was waiting for. We knew what we were capable of. It was a good win going into next week looking at Tom Brady.”

2. Special Teams Taking Off – Gaffes on special teams plagued the Chargers over the first month of the year. Fortunately, the unit has gotten better each week during the past three wins. After kicking the game-winning field goal as time expired in Oakland, the special teams unit took a massive step forward against Denver. It started on the first play of the game, when Michael Davis tackled Brandon Langley at the Broncos’ nine-yard line. The next time the unit took the field, Travis Benjamin returned a punt 65-yards to the house for the team’s first punt return TD since 2012. It was also the ninth-longest in team history. Meanwhile, Drew Kaser continued his tremendous sophomore campaign, averaging 51.6 yards per attempt on eight punts. He landed three inside the 20, including a booming 69-yarder that was downed at the one-yard line. After the game, Philip Rivers couldn’t help but praise the Bolts’ special teams:

“Coach Lynn challenged us this week about all three phases and what he wanted out of all three phases. You get a touchdown on the punt return. Drew punted unbelievable. We were great covering the kicks.”

3. Turnover Differential Key to Turnaround – Turnovers were a killer for the Bolts the first quarter of the season. The offense was plagued with costly giveaways while the defense went three-straight games without forcing a single takeaway. However, the turnover differential has greatly favored the Chargers during their three-game winning streak. The Bolts have a 7-to-2 advantage, forcing three takeaways Sunday against the Broncos while not turning it over once. Rivers admitted it has been a major reason why the team has won three-straight:

“It’s always an emphasis. You win the turnover battle, you’ve got a lot better chance of winning. We won the turnover battle and we scored on (a) punt return. I think your percentage of winning (at that point) is crazy. That was good. You mentioned the games we lost, we know that offensively. I know we had that one silly interception in New York. We had the turnover and one fumble last week in Oakland, but that’s now just those two in three games. If we continue to take care of the ball like our defense is playing, I think we can get some opportunities to capitalize and find a way to win.”

4. “Awful” Goal Line Sequence Angers Lynn – Perhaps most encouraging following the Chargers’ dominating win was how they have yet to hit their stride. There are still plenty of areas that need to be cleaned up, including one that angered Lynn greatly early in the game. The Bolts had first-and-goal at the one yard line, and handed it off to Melvin Gordon four straight times. Unfortunately, he was stuffed on each occasion. Lynn was visibly angry at his team for failing to score in that situation, hammering home that point in his postgame presser:

“That was absolutely terrible. Anytime we have the ball on the one-yard line and I give it to my back four times in a row and we don’t get it in, that’s awful…We talked all week offensively on what we have to do to win this game. Offensively, it was win your one-on-ones, and we didn’t win our one-and-ones. I put it on the (running) back. If I get a good back on the one-yard, I put it on the back. I don’t give a damn what (the) offensive line does or fullback, I put it on the back.”

5. Diamond in the Rough Shines Again – Austin Ekeler defied the odds to make the Chargers’ roster this year. The diamond in the rough came through once again on Sunday as the undrafted free agent was a difference maker against the Broncos. The running back tied for the team lead in rushing, churning out 38 yards on seven carries (5.4 ypc). He also caught four passes, including a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Rivers was asked if Ekeler is built in the Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead mold after the game, and admitted there are similarities:

“We are using him in that role. I think Austin can grow into that. I think in fairness to those other guys, to put him there right now would be a reach. I think he would even say that. He is talented, and certainly capable, of being in that group, and we are using him in that same role right now. You saw him with some of the carries, he has really good vision and speed, honestly, and he catches it well.”

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