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Week 5 Game Recap: Denver Broncos 20, Los Angeles Chargers 13


What you need to know

Denver Broncos

The Broncos jumped out to an early lead after an early Phillip Rivers interception and a 70 yard touchdown catch and run by Courtland Sutton at the end of the first quarter. Denver dialed back the passing attack after that, so Joe Flacco and his receivers didn't do much after the first quarter. Emmanuel Sanders was a complete non-factor, and Sutton picked up most of his stats on the one long touchdown. Lindsay and Freeman were pretty even with their backfield duties, with Lindsay getting a little more work in the passing game and posting a better rushing average with several runs of 20+ yards.

Los Angeles Chargers

In his first game action of the season, Melvin Gordon dominated the rushing attempts over Austin Ekeler 12-3. But Ekeler caught a team record 15 passes to Gordon's 4. If the team is going to employ a split along these lines going forward, it would appear to benefit Gordon with the more consistent running game workload. But it is clear that Ekeler is going to maintain a large role moving forward.

Philip Rivers had a completely forgettable day, one of his worst games as a pro. He threw two interceptions, nearly threw a third, failed to get his team into the end zone all game, and was off the mark and under duress for just about the entire game.

In a game that the Chargers trailed throughout, one would have assumed that Keenan Allen might have seen a large workload. But it was Mike Williams who saw thirteen targets in the passing game, to just six for Allen.

Denver Broncos

QB Joe Flacco, 61 offensive snaps, Pass: 14 - 20 - 182 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 7 - 0
The Broncos were fortunate to jump out to an early lead, so Flacco wasn't asked to do too much in this one as they attempted to grind clock with the run game. Flacco hit Sutton for a touchdown that was mostly Sutton, as the receiver broke a couple of tackles after hauling in an out route and took the ball 70 yards to the house in the first quarter. After that, Denver dialed back the passing game and focused on Lindsay and Freeman. Flacco was still guilty of holding the ball too long and taking costly sacks. He lost a fumble early in the 2nd quarter on a strip sack. He was intercepted on a pass that was batted down at the line of scrimmage inside Denver's red zone, giving the Chargers the ball in easy scoring position. Denver's defense bailed him out with an interception of Phillip Rivers in the end zone.

RB Phillip Lindsay, 28 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 114 - 1, Rec: 4 - 33 - 0 (4 targets)
Lindsay ripped a 21 yard run right up the middle on his first carry of the game, then followed it up with a carry off left tackle for 21 yards. He capped the drive off with a 4 yard touchdown run. Lindsay started the second half out strong with a 16 yard carry off right tackle to start Denver's first drive of the 3rd quarter. Lindsay's longest run of the game was a 32 yard pickup off right tackle in the 4th quarter. Lindsay got more of the work in the passing game than Freeman, catching all 4 targets out of the backfield(he did not line up as a WR this week) for 33 yards. He converted 3rd down with a swing pass out of the backfield that he turned up the sideline for a 13 yard gain at the end of the first quarter.

RB Royce Freeman, 33 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 61 - 0, Rec: 2 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)
With Denver jumping out to an early lead this week, Freeman wasn't asked to contribute as much in the passing game, instead teaming up with Lindsay to grind the clock out with the ground game. Freeman got the first couple of goal line carries early in the 1st quarter, but couldn't punch it in and watched Lindsay take the score. Freeman picked up 6 yards on a checkdown pass from Flacco in the 1st quarter. His second reception was a swing route that was brought down behind the line of scrimmage. Lindsay finished the game with more carries, targets, receptions, and yards.

WR Courtland Sutton, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 92 - 1 (7 targets)
Sutton put up a good stat line, but really earned it all on one play, a 70 yard touchdown catch and run in the 1st. He made a strong catch on a deep slant route that converted 3rd and long late in the 1st quarter. He scored on the next play, hauling in a deep out route and breaking two tackles before sprinting down the sideline for a 70 yard touchdown. The Broncos dialed back the passing game after Sutton's touchdown gave them a two score lead. Sutton was still the only receiver Flacco could get on the same page with, and he drew a team high 7 targets.

WR Diontae Spencer, 2 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 9 - 0
Spencer didn't draw any targets, but did carry the ball once on an end-around that picked up 9 yards in the first quarter.

WR Emmanuel Sanders, 39 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (1 targets)
Sanders showed us how low his floor can be in this offense with just one reception. He was a complete non-factor as Denver wisely dialed back Flacco's workload after the Broncos jumped out to an early lead. Sanders hauled in one out route for a 9 yard gain in the 3rd.

WR DaeSean Hamilton, 32 offensive snaps
Hamilton was active, but didn't draw any targets on a day that didn't ask much of Flacco or the passing game.

TE Andrew Beck, 15 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (1 targets)
Beck caught his only target, an out route that he turned up the right sideline for a 10 yard gain.

TE Jeff Heuerman, 37 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 26 - 0 (3 targets)
Heuerman got open down the seam for a 26 yard gain on a play action pass to start the game. He was targeted once more in the 3rd quarter, but had the pass batted away by a defender.

TE Noah Fant, 40 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 6 - 0 (1 targets)
Fant had one catch on a shallow crossing route late in the first quarter. He was targeted once more on an out route in the 3rd quarter that Flacco underthrew.


Los Angeles Chargers

QB Philip Rivers, 70 offensive snaps, Pass: 32 - 48 - 211 - 0 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 1 - -3 - 0
It doesn't show up in the sack totals for the Broncos, but Rivers was under heavy pressure all game long. He did well on many occasions to just get rid of the ball, but it was easily one of the most frustrating games of his entire career. The Chargers had scored first half points in some capacity in a team-record 55 consecutive games coming into this one, but began the second half with a goose egg. The only touchdown the team managed came on special teams, and Rivers failed to lead the team into the end zone despite a largely soft Denver defense in the fourth quarter. He spent much of the afternoon rushing his passes and trying to throw balls away as the Denver pass rush had him under intense duress. An early attempt to Mike Williams while Rivers was under pressure, resulted in a fingertip deflection right into the waiting arms of a Bronco defender for the turnover. Late in the first half, Rivers appeared on the verge of moving the team into scoring position. But even that drive was aided by Denver holding penalties to extend drives. Once the Chargers got into the red zone, Rivers nearly scored when he threw a pass in the flat to Austin Ekeler. Ekeler lunged at the goal line, but a terrific tackle by the defender kept him out of the end zone. Ekeler fumbled on the next play to end the first half. In the second half, it was reported that C Mike Pouncey was questionable to return due to injury. It was bad enough for Rivers with Pouncey in the game, but that injury made things that much tougher. The second half featured a lot of the same things as the first. Short checkdown passes to Austin Ekeler, with a few decent gains down the seam to Mike Williams sprinkled in. When the Chargers finally got close to the end zone, Rivers was again looking for Williams over the middle. He didn't notice a defender had slipped underneath and stepped in front of the bullet pass to pick it off. But just as the game seemed to be out of reach, the Broncos gave it back to the Chargers with a chance to get back in it. He managed to draw a long pass interference penalty down the right sideline to get into field goal range, but the drive ended with a field goal. Trailing by a touchdown and with possession of the ball, Rivers attempted to get the team back in range to tie it up. With a few minutes left to play, he looked for Williams over the middle. The ball was thrown behind him and the defender had his hands on it, but just dropped it outright. The play would have all but ended the game. But despite that gift, Rivers couldn't capitalize. The timing was just off all afternoon. He called a perfect screen set up for Melvin Gordon on third and 10 with Denver using an all-out blitz. There was nothing but daylight ahead of Gordon, and all Rivers had to do was flip it over the top and he had tons of room to roam. But Gordon bumped into his own man while coming out of the backfield, which disrupted the timing and the ball sailed over his head for a huge incompletion. Rivers did get some garbage time yardage on the team's last drive while trailing by ten, with Denver playing an extremely soft defense and largely allowing the Chargers all the yardage they wanted. It was mostly dumpoff passes to Ekeler, with a couple of passes over the middle to Williams. Rivers went 6-7 for 61 yards on the drive, which really underscores just how terrible his overall numbers were going into that drive (26-41, 150 yards).

RB Austin Ekeler, 46 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 7 - 0, Rec: 15 - 86 - 0 (16 targets)
With Melvin Gordon reporting to the team and getting his first action in this week's game, owners were eager to see how the Chargers would divvy up the workload. This game probably wasn't a typical representation of how things will shake out moving forward, but it did provide some clues as to the percentage breakdown we can possibly expect. Ekeler had more total touches (18-16), but Gordon had more rushing attempts (12-3). Ekeler didn't see his first touch of the game until more than 11 minutes into the first quarter, and that resulted in a swing pass for a first down. There would be many more swing passes and checkdowns to Ekeler, who turned in a whopping fifteen receptions to set a team record. Granted, much of that work came in the fourth quarter with the Chargers in catch-up mode (4-43 on the last garbage time drive featuring almost no defense). As for the quality of the rest of his touches, he did get some red zone and goal line work. Late in the first half, the Chargers got into the red zone with a chance to score. Rivers found Ekeler who made a nice grab in the flat. He turned and lunged for the end zone, but was kept away from the goal line by the defender who made a tremendous tackle. On the ensuing fourth down play, the Chargers faked the run to Melvin Gordon and instead handed to Ekeler up the left side. He appeared to get to the edge and was headed for the end zone, but just as he lunged for the goal line the ball was knocked loose. It was fumbled into the end zone, and the Chargers came up empty. It wasn't the best sign for his short yardage and goal line work moving forward, considering how successful Gordon has been on the goal line since his rookie season. One other negative on his ledger was a piece of miscommunication between Ekeler and Rivers on what was supposed to be a second down handoff. Ekeler misread the play call and didn't realize he was supposed to be getting the handoff. The busted play resulted in Rivers holding onto the ball and taking a 3-yard loss. Mistakes happen, but again it's bad timing to make mistakes like that with Gordon now back in the fold.

RB Melvin Gordon, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 31 - 0, Rec: 4 - 7 - 0 (6 targets)
In his first game action of the 2019 season, it was hardly a dynamic afternoon for Gordon. He looked to be in shape and healthy, and ran hard. But the Denver defense was just stifling, particularly up the middle. Gordon got nearly all of the early-game touches for the Chargers, and his rushing usage was encouraging for his owners. He had 12 rushing attempts to just 3 for Austin Ekeler. But Ekeler registered a team record 15 receptions to just 4 for Gordon. Normally an owner wouldn't complain about their running back getting 16 touches, with four of them being receptions. But when he gets out-touched by the supposed "backup", it muddies the waters a bit more. It also didn't help that Gordon averaged just 2.6 yards per carry and less than 2.0 yards per reception. Suffice it to say, he didn't look explosive. It was also curious that it was Ekeler and not Gordon who got two close range attempts near the end zone late in the first half. Ekeler took a reception down to the 1-yard line, and on the following play Gordon was a decoy as the handoff actually went to Ekeler up the left side. That said, Gordon came close to scoring on a strong run up the middle following an interception. It looked like he was going to get in, but he was dragged down at the 1-yard line.

WR Mike Williams, 62 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 74 - 0 (13 targets)
Williams was essentially the go-to guy for Philip Rivers in terms of the wide receivers. With Keenan Allen being blanketed in coverage all game long, and the running backs largely doing their passing game work on checkdowns and swing passes, the responsibility fell on Williams to be the primary playmaker down the field. The results were a bit of a mixed bag, with Williams making several key long receptions down the seam but also hauling in less than half of the passes that were intended for him. His day had an inauspicious start, when he was targeted over the middle on a pass that was just a bit too high. He got a hand on the pass, but all he could manage was a deflection which then bounced right into the waiting arms of a defender for the interception. His afternoon didn't get much better soon after when he was targeted on a sideline out route. The pass was incomplete, but more importantly Williams took a hard fall along the sideline. He remained on the ground for several moments and appeared to injure either his back or his ribs on the play. He left the field walking very gingerly. Surprisingly, he came back in the game and grabbed a quick slant over the middle with about five minutes left in the first half. He added several more key grabs over the middle as the Chargers began moving it a bit. He did get a red zone target from ten yards out, but the timing was disrupted by the pressure on Rivers. He then added a short grab that he took to the 3-yard line, trying to lean into the end zone but the defense held up. In the second half, the running backs dominated the targets but Williams still added a few grabs on the late game "garbage time" drive with the Chargers down by ten. But he never really got close to scoring again.

WR Keenan Allen, 69 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 18 - 0 (6 targets)
On a day where Philip Rivers threw 48 pass attempts, it is extremely surprising that the team's number on receiving option saw just six targets. Much of that had to do with the Denver defensive scheme, with clearly game-planned to remove Allen as the man to beat them. He made a couple of nice grabs early on, but watched as Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler saw the lion's share of the passing game targets. Allen also had some rare miscues of his own. On one deep cross, Allen had a step on his defender, but he and Rivers weren't on the same page (Allen ran far but Rivers threw it underneath). And later, Allen had a rare drop on a sideline crossing route where he tried turning upfield before actually securing the ball. Aside from the miscues, Allen was really nowhere to be found despite the Chargers trailing the entire day.

WR Travis Benjamin, 40 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 13 - 0 (2 targets)
Benjamin saw just two targets all game, one of which resulted in a nice leaping grab along the sideline for his longest reception of the year, a gain of thirteen yards.

TE Virgil Green, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets)
Green caught his only target of the game, a short grab over the middle where Rivers was audibly gesturing to Green to expect the ball. Aside from that perceived defensive mismatch, Green was not a part of the passing game at all.