What We Saw: San Diego Chargers 27, Denver Broncos 20

This is the NFL, which means anything can happen—especially between division foes.

That said, while everyone said the Chargers could win nobody expected it.

Yet they went out and took care of business, beating the Broncos on their field 27-20.

Here’s what we learned last night.

  • It’s hard to say there’s a specific blueprint for beating Denver because “keep the offense off the field” and “play aggressive defense” could work for most teams. Still, the Chargers were content to grind the clock, especially late in the game. They could have kept the pedal to the floor and tried to pile the points on, but didn’t. Most surprisingly, they punted on the Bronco’s 39-yard line when they had mere inches to go. It worked out, but that sort of passivity of play calling can be dodgy in the playoffs. But Thursday night they won time of possession and it made a big difference.
  • That said, you have to look long and hard at the Broncos defense which pressured Rivers a little bit but only hit him twice. They also couldn’t even slow Ryan Mathews down. Yes, Manning had an off night (for him) but the defense also struggled when you didn’t expect it to. If you can’t get past the Chargers offensive line, it’s time to take a hard look at what is going on.

image via TheBigLead.com

  • Keenan Allen is as good as we thought. Maybe better. The touchdown where he leaped over one guy and trucked another should cement his Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There are several offensive rookies worthy of consideration (Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Gio Bernard should all be in the conversation along with others) but Allen is likely to get my vote when the PFWA has its vote later.
  • What Mike McCoy has done in San Diego is impressive and should tell you how bad things were under Norv Turner and AJ Smith. And it puts the lie to the myth that McCoy was only successful in Denver because everyone is successful with Manning. Remember, this is a guy who shaped offenses for three very disparate quarterbacks—Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Manning. Along with Marc Trestman in Chicago and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, McCoy has had an incredible impact on his team’s offense.
  • The Broncos still can win the division, but losing home field to the Patriots should worry them. Not because “Peyton Manning can’t play in the cold” but because it’s very tough to beat New England in New England during the playoffs.  The upside is, with Rob Gronkowski down for the count, Tom Brady is once again down a big weapon. Still, if I’m the Broncos I want that home field. It’s a much better place to be than Gillette Stadium.

image via AP Photo/Joe Mahoney & ESPN.com

  • I wasn’t ready to crown Manning as MVP before the game—though he was the one I was leaning towards—and I’m not calling him out of it. Still, it’s always been a season award so let’s finish the season, shall we? That said if we are talking “Not Peyton” I lean towards Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, not Tom Brady.
  • The Broncos have two games they should win in the next two weeks (Oakland and Houston). The Patriots have Miami, Baltimore and Buffalo. Put Buffalo aside (though you never know). Both Miami and Baltimore are games they should win. But both teams have playoff hopes and will be more desperate than the Raiders or Texans. Home field is still there for the taking.
  • San Diego has a winnable Oakland game and a very, very tough game against Kansas City, though at least it’s at home. They have a good shot at a Wild Card—the AFC is a mess so everyone does—but they will need help.

What did you see last night? Give me your thoughts down in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter..

3 Questions about: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

image via NFL.com

In the underwhelming AFC, there are an awful lot of teams still in the hunt for the second Wild Card.

At 6-7, you’d assume the San Diego Chargers weren’t one of them but here we are. Given that Baltimore and Miami both have games they can very well lose (against Detroit and against New England respectively) and with the other 6-7 team (the New York Jets) heading to Carolina, the Chargers have a great shot at getting a leg up for that spot.

They face a Denver Broncos team which, while it has secured a playoff berth, has its sights set on the division title and a bye week—and perhaps home field advantage.

In other words, this is no pushover for either team.

  • Can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Last time out, the Chargers offensive line allowed him to be sacked four times, hit five times total and pressured all day long. How will the Chargers avoid this? Will they go no-huddle and up-tempo early? Will they use a lot of short slants and quick passes to negate the rush by getting the ball out quickly? How they handle Von Miller and company will decide if they can keep up with Manning.
  • Without Wes Welker and with a Peyton Manning who is still wrestling with ankle issues, does the Broncos offense change at all? You can bet that the Chargers will try to hit Manning often and disrupt his timing but that’s a tough task. Manning can get the ball out quickly, so it’s a matter of keeping his receivers covered just long enough to get a hand on him. That hasn’t been easy and while Welker is a loss, Eric Decker has been on fire and the return of tight end Julius Thomas bolsters the offense up. Also, will the split between Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball continue?
  • How will the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen play into the Chargers offense? Back in Week 10, Allen wasn’t a big factor with just five targets and four catches for 41 yards. Truth be told, the entire offense played poorly once the Broncos built a 21-6 lead. But Allen was clearly not the playmaker he is now. This will be a tough test for him and the Chargers need him to perform. San Diego will want to try to get an early lead. To do that, they need to protect Rivers. But they’ll also need the rookie receiver to continue to step up.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

What we saw: Jacksonville Jaguars 27, Houston Texans 20

The Houston Texans took one step closer towards the number one overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft with another crushing loss—this time to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let’s take a look at what we learned last night.

  • Case Keenum isn’t the answer for the Texans. Neither is Matt Schaub, but that was something we knew much earlier this season. While a lot of people were frustrated by the move to Schaub Thursday night, they might be overlooking the fact that Keenum has been struggling. He wasn’t handling the blitz well, struggled making his reads and generally looked overwhelmed. It’s safe to say that Houston will be looking at quarterbacks for their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
  • Maybe the Jaguars aren’t quite as far off the rails as we thought. Bear with us here and keep in mind we’re not saying this is going to be the 2014 version of the Kansas City Chiefs. There are holes, but there is also a ton of talent. Their biggest holes are defensive end and quarterback (or quarterback, quarterback, quarterback and defensive end). But there’s a solid foundation here. And as much as you don’t want to overestimate two wins over the Texans, winning three games straight and four out of five after losing eight straight is worthy of note. It won’t be a short road, but maybe it’s not as long as we thought.
  • Andre Johnson doesn’t get as much love as Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant—rightfully so—but he needs to get more praise. Consider how bad his quarterback play has been this year—and how inconsistent over the course of his career—and it puts into perspective just how good he’s been. Health has been a factor at times, but when healthy he needs to be considered as one of the best in the NFL.
  • It makes sense to me for the Jaguars to let Maurice Jones-Drew go. It’s not that Jones-Drew is a bad back—far from it. But he’s likely to want a contract not unlike the current 5 yr/$31.1 million one he has now. The Jaguars aren’t likely to want to drop that on a back who will be turning 29 next year and is already showing signs of age. The Jaguars need to focus on other things and while Jones-Drew is a very good back, he’s not one to build a franchise around.

That’s what stood out to me. What stood out to you? Let me know in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

 

3 Questions about: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

While this may not be one of Thursday Night Football’s better matchups, there are still some interesting angles to it.

The Houston Texans may be a shocking 2-10 this season, but they have talent—talent enough to perhaps turn the team around quickly if they have the right quarterback and, perhaps, a new coach.

Meanwhile the Jacksonville Jaguars seem like they have a lot more ground to cover in order to compete in the AFC South, much less the NFL as a whole. At 3-9, they aren’t much better off than the Texans and they share a common need—quarterback—in a draft which appears to be heavy with talent.

This game may not seem like much on the surface, but the outcome could have a big impact on what each team’s offseason looks like.

  • Let’s be blunt—Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is coaching for his job. This season was a disaster from very early on and while he has had two straight successful seasons his 61-62 coaching record with the Texans points to a mediocre, at best, job. He hung onto quarterback Matt Schaub too long, has failed to make the most of talented players like Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and Ben Tate and has not been able to find a way to make the 2013 Texans look less like the 2010 Texans and more like the 2011 or 2012 Texans. The Jaguars may not be the worst team in the NFL, but they represent what should be a win for the Texans. The team lost last time at home—losing to the Jaguars again could be the last straw.
  • What future is there for Maurice Jones-Drew on this team? There aren’t a lot of offensive building blocks here. A passable offensive line, Cecil Shorts and, if he can get back in the NFL, Justin Blackmon—but not much else. Is this a team which can afford to lose Jones-Drew even if the back is on the downside of a career? And would it have been wiser to trade him and get some value? If he walks now, the Jaguars just gain another offensive hole. Jones-Drew can make a case in a game like this for sticking around and the matchup lends itself to success for him tonight.

Is Case Keenum potentially a starting NFL quarterback? After some great early games he has slid backwards and struggled. Still, for an undrafted free agent, he has acquitted himself well overall and against some good teams. It’s likely he will never be more than a backup, but he could build a strong case for at least a chance if he can close the season on a high note.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

image via NFL.com

This game was supposed to mean more.

Of course, every game in the NFL means a lot to the guys playing it, but we expected the Atlanta Falcons to be good and vying for—if not owning outright—first place in the NFC South.

That’s not how things worked out though, due to injuries and so this game has lost a bit of its luster.

That’s not to say we won’t be watching and that there isn’t a lot worth watching.

It’s just not the things we thought would be things we needed to watch.

image via Washington Post

  • What’s really going on with Matt Ryan? Sure, the Falcons lost a lot of their offensive weapons for stretches this season but Ryan himself has looked off. If you don’t watch a lot of Falcons football, you might be struck by how…un-Ryan-like he looks compared to the playoffs last year. Roddy White is starting to look better, as is Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez hasn’t lost any steam (statistics aside). Can Ryan start to look like he did in 2012?

13-12-NO-Brees-Neck

  • Aside from wondering whether Drew Brees’ neck is stretched like a giraffes’ after the hit from Ahmad Brooks* last week, the Saints themselves have been pretty consistent. The defense has been outstanding and the offense—even with Jimmy Graham’s injury issues—has been solid, albeit not as high-flying as in years past. Their only blemishes have taken place on the road—a loss to the New England Patriots and one to the New York Jets. This is the first of two road games. Can they keep focused?

image via CBS Atlanta

  • Are we watching a changing of the guard in Atlanta’s receiving corps? Roddy White has definitely been slowed by age while Harry Douglas has routinely performed at a high level despite little help against opposing secondaries. This will be another tough test but a good game and we may have witnessed a baton being passed.

*Special note of thanks to Footballguys boss Joe Bryant for the Brees gif—he had it in his “Random Shots” column this week.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

What We Saw: Indianapolis Colts 30, Tennessee Titans 27

image via NFL.com

The Colts once again fell behind and looked dead at halftime, but this time they were able to pull the plane out of the tailspin in time to win.

There were some questionable choices by the Colts coaching staff, but Andrew Luck, after a rough first half, led them to a victory.

The Tennessee Titans just couldn’t close the deal and while they made it close, didn’t hold the lead and didn’t have enough time to score what they needed.

This loss probably killed their playoff chances—at the very least it put the chances at death’s door.

What did we learn about the two teams in question Thursday night?

  • The Tennessee Titans got away from their gameplan at halftime. While it’s evident that Indianpolis dud make some adjustments, the Titans just stopped trying to move the ball on the ground. In the first half, Chris Johnson ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw the ball just 12 times. In the second half, Johnson ran the ball just four times for six yards while Fitzpatrick threw the ball 16 times. That’s backwards. When you have an explosive offense like the Colts on the ropes, you drain the clock. The Titans didn’t do that and paid for it with a loss.
  • Trent Richardson continues to be awful and continues to draw carries. Aside from taking carries away from Donald Brown, who does more with them, Richardson is getting targets in the pass game and led the team in targets, catches and yards in the first half. What’s weird is, Richardson was catching the ball well and then the Colts decided to get away from it completely. After five catches on five targets, he never saw another target. He did get seven more carries, while Brown got 10 more. With a 5.7 yards per carry average, you’d think Brown would get more focus, but he doesn’t. First round pick or not, expensive acquisition or not, it’s time to bench Richardson.
  • Andrew Luck is a lot of fun to watch. He does have moments where you are reminded that he is still just in his second year of NFL play, but you also see a player who is cool in the pocket and very, very good. Luck will continue to always give the Colts a chance to win, whether or not they deserve it. That’s what makes a franchise quarterback and tonight we were reminded how good of one he is.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans

image via NFL.com

Both of these teams are going to want to load up on the mouthwash to get rid of the bitter aftertaste of last Sunday’s losses.

The Colts didn’t expect to get manhandled by the St. Louis Rams for sure. And one can imagine when the Titans woke up Sunday morning, a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn’t on their to-do list.

Yet here they are, hoping to get right on Thursday night.

Both teams are still in the playoff hunt and both had a rough Week 10.

Here are three things to watch for tonight’s game.

image via StampedeBlue.com

  • The Colts’ defense was beat up by Kellen Clemens and Tavon Austin last week—two guys who haven’t really given teams the willies when lining up across from them. Not only did they allow Austin 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just  three targets, they had just two sacks and two quarterback hits. The Colts defense isn’t as bad against the pass as the No. 19 ranking indicates. They’ve accrued 24 sacks and eight interceptions so far. It’s a good run defense (No. 7 overall). They seem to be able to hold the bad teams down but the good teams kill them. How will they do against a middle-of-the-road team?

image via FantasyBuzzer.com

  • We continue to watch the emergence of Kendall Wright with great interest. If you haven’t heard—and unless you’re a Tennessee Titans fan or writer, you probably haven’t—Wright has been very consistent no matter who his quarterback is and unlike Richardson, is becoming a player worthy of his selection spot (20th overall in 2012). He can gain separation, is dangerous after the catch and willing to go across the middle. The offense around him isn’t all that great, and Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm doesn’t spell great things for it, but Wright is becoming a bright spot in a somewhat disappointing season. Can he keep it up against a decent Colts defense?

image via Washington Post

  • Andrew Luck has been a bit up and down this season—providing great moments such as when he outplayed Peyton Manning in Week 7 as well as brutal moments, such as the three interceptions he tossed last week against St. Louis. It almost seems as if he is following a two-good-one-bad pattern right now. He just finished the cycle with a poor outing last week after two solid games prior to that. Will he bounce back with a good game against a Titans defense ranked eight in the NFL against the pass with more interceptions generated (8) than touchdowns allowed (7) and which has totaled 25 sacks so far this year?

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.