This item is a trailer for TMQ's Jan. 28 column -- the week between the title games and that Super Bowl thing -- whose subject will be how to reform football.
How Did Denver Do It? In the Bolts' surprise December victory at Denver, San Diego threw Peyton Manning off-balance by being unorthodox. The Chargers had two defenders moving around at random pre-snap; no matter how much arm-flapping Manning did, he never figured out where those defenders would be because, moving randomly, they didn't know either. Sunday in the divisional round, San Diego switched from unorthodox to a conventional West Coast defense. The box-score results were about the same -- 20 points allowed to Denver in December, 24 points allowed in January. But the hosts built a quick 14-0 lead, then spent the contest hanging on. Maybe San Diego figured Denver had prepared for random movement, and conventional would come as a surprise.
TMQ notes hidden plays -- ones that don't make highlight reels, but stop or sustain drives. A couple snaps before the Broncs' first touchdown, Manning threw the ball directly to San Diego corner Shareece Wright, who dropped it.
The Bolts started slow -- 1 yard passing in the first half -- which perhaps made Denver overconfident. In the second half, San Diego gained 193 yards passing, and had the home crowd sweating. Philip Rivers has been eerily efficient all season, and this contest was no exception -- he finished with a 115.8 passer rating despite the rocky start and poor first-half blocking. A couple weeks ago, San Diego struggled to score against the Kansas City junior varsity; in the fourth quarter at Denver, the Bolts offense looked like the Broncos offense. With corner Chris Harris out for the title game, the rest of the Broncos defense must turn it up.
Denver's offense played well enough to win, but hardly was the juggernaut of the record-setting regular season. Last season in the playoffs against Baltimore, Manning seemed to tense up and throw ultra-short: his average per attempt dropped from a regular-season number of 7.9 yards to 6.3 yards. Versus San Diego, this happened again: Manning's ultra-short throws resulted in an average gain per pass of only 6.4 yards, versus an 8.3-yard average during the regular season. Denver' big gainer of the day was a 21-yard catch. Maybe the coaching staff just wanted to get the Bolts out of the way and prepare for the title game. But it's going to take more voltage on offense to defeat New England.
Weasel Coach Watch No. 1: Last week Mike Munchak was fired as head coach of the Flaming Thumbtacks, after being offered the chance to scapegoat his assistants by firing them. Munchak refused, and was shown the door. Reader Jonathan Flanders of San Antonio writes, "This is the opposite of a weasel coach -- perhaps, a bald eagle coach."