On Tuesday, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and Chris Hall of DenverBroncos.com discussed the Broncos’ win over the Chargers, running back Willis McGahee’s injury and the upcoming game against the Chiefs in the latest installment of Elway Access.
With the Broncos’ 30-23 win over San Diego on Sunday, the team improved to 7-3 and took a three-game lead in the AFC West over the Chargers, who fell to 4-6. The victory puts the Broncos in firm control of the division race with six games remaining.
“I think that any time you get a win in this league, you have to be thrilled, especially against a divisional foe,” Elway said. “And if you look at the position we’re in, really being three games up, by winning this it puts us four games up with the tiebreaker on the Chargers with six to play. It was a big game for us to be able to put ourselves in the situation that we were.”
Though San Diego was able to hang around and keep things interesting by cutting the lead to seven with less than three minutes remaining, the Broncos prevailed despite the offense not firing on all cylinders. Elway was pleased with the bottom line, but said the performance left room for improvement.
“I think when you look back, we would have liked to have been able to get this thing over quicker than we did,” Elway said. “But the Chargers kept hanging in there and we had a chance to make some plays offensively, we just didn’t quite hit them. Defensively we played tremendous the first half. And they got it going a little bit in the second half to stay in the football game. These are always lessons learned from wins. This is another situation that we had some chances to close this thing out a little earlier than we did, but weren’t able to do it. We’ll look back and hopefully learn from this and be able to close some people out as we go forward.”
One of the biggest bright spots in the victory was the play of the Denver defense, which started the game by extending its streak of preventing the opposition from converting on third down to 26, the most in the league in 10 years. On the night, the Broncos sacked San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers four times, forced three turnovers and held San Diego to just 53 yards rushing. Elway credited the defense’s recent success to the impact of Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio.
“It’s amazing,” Elway said. “You look at it, there were 26 straight third-down stops. That is unbelievable. You look at what Jack Del Rio has done, you look at the scheme that he has put in there, the guys are playing with a lot of confidence. He’s putting them in positions with defensive calls that give them an opportunity to make the plays. That’s what you want to do and that’s what makes a great defensive coordinator. Jack has done a tremendous job with that, plus the mentality that he’s got them playing with. They’re playing fast, everybody’s running to the football. It’s fun to watch the way we’re playing defense right now because we’re really playing great team defense.”
While Denver’s win made it five consecutive victories, one difficulty as the team looks to make it six in a row will be the loss of McGahee to a knee injury. With McGahee, the team’s leading rusher, out with a torn knee ligament, the Broncos will be down a veteran leader, making it important that the rest of Denver’s backs step up in his absence.
“It’s kind of a day-to-day situation, but any time you lose a veteran like Willis that has been a great influence not only on the field but in the locker room in teaching those young guys,” Elway said. “Plus, he’s having a good year, too. He’s going to be missed, but Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball and now Knowshon (Moreno) is going to be active and hopefully he can pick up the slack. Hopefully we don’t lose too much with Willis gone, but it’s hard to replace his leadership and experience that he has in this game.”
Next up for the Broncos is a trip to Kansas City to take on the AFC West rival Chiefs, an opponent that gave Elway plenty of memories during his playing days.
“It was a great rivalry back in the 1990s,” Elway said. “The Chiefs were a really good football team. (Defensive end) Neil Smith and (linebacker) Derrick Thomas rushing the passer off the edge. I remember we played on the old AstroTurf, it was a really fast track. With Neil and Derrick Thomas coming off the edge with the crowd noise, it was always a battle. I always knew I’d come out of there with a lot of bumps and a lot of bruises. A great memory we had was beating them in 1997. We had to go through Kansas City. They had the home field advantage and we beat them 14-10 in the divisional round of the playoffs in probably one of the best battles that I can remember when we went into Kansas City. We were able to get out of there with a win.”
Facing an opponent with a home-field advantage as formidable as Kansas City’s, the Broncos cannot afford to take the Chiefs lightly based on their 1-9 record. Elway said a strong early start will be one of the keys to preventing the crowd from making an impact on the game.
“Any time you go into Arrowhead (Stadium), it’s a tough place to play,” Elway said. “I know the Chiefs are struggling this year, but as we know, everybody in the NFL can beat anybody on any given day. (Quarterback) Peyton (Manning) has the right attitude. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what their record is. They can get hot at any point in time. So hopefully we can go in there and take control of the football game early, keep the crowd out of it, because it’s probably as loud a stadium as there is in the league when it’s going.”