The Denver Broncos lost to the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, but they didn’t have head coach Gary Kubiak. He had been released from the hospital, after suffering from a “complex migraine condition that caused extreme fatigue and body weakness,” but he was at home watching the game. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis took over in his place.
I’m not here to bash DeCamillis, who has been a fine special teams coach and did what he could on a short week in his first-ever head coaching gig. There were no glaring coaching errors, and the special teams unit for the Broncos actually played very well. That, if anything, showed why he’s the ST coordinator.
But the team did lose, and the offense did not look like itself. The defense started out poorly, it’s true, but then they shored things up a bit and found their stride.
The offense did not. It was extremely conservative, with a lot of short passes. QB Trevor Siemian threw the ball 50 times, completing 30 of them, but only put up 230 yards. He constantly threw screens, out routes and quick slants over the middle. He barely looked down the field and didn’t air it out at all.
It’s understandable. DeCamillis didn’t want to do anything crazy and actively lose the game. He held the offense back, trusted his defense, and hoped to ride that to victory. Honestly, he probably hoped to come in and run the ball a lot more, but the team got behind early and had to throw.
It almost worked. The Broncos were within striking distance and got a final Hail Mary that fell short. If not for some mistakes and penalties, they may have won.
So, with Kubiak back on the sidelines, don’t expect the same Broncos team that lost the first time around. Already, in the win over the Texans, his influence was clear. The team set up the play action, then took shots off of it. It got single coverage outside and went deep. Siemian threw it far less often, for fewer yards, but he did target areas all over the field.
The Chargers’ defense was able to come up and play the run and short pass the first time around, without worrying about the deep ball. They kept the Broncos’ offense from ever finding a rhythm. But this is Kubiak’s offense, and he’ll guide it with a lot more precision this time. The Chargers will have to be prepared for completely different looks.
Corner Aqib Talib was recently asked if the team “lost its mojo” when they fell to the Falcons and then the Chargers in consecutive weeks.
“I think it left for a while,” he said. “When you’re the champs and you’re 4-0, somebody comes and socks you in the face, you shake back. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes you have to get socked in the face for you to wake up.”
How much of losing that mojo was really just losing Kubiak? After all, he was rushed to the hospital after the game and wasn’t there to help them deal with the first loss of the year. He was then gone just four days later, when they had to play again. The punches kept coming.
This is a team that already had leadership questions coming into the year since Peyton Manning left. Defensive leader Demarcus Ware is hurt and hasn’t played in weeks. This is when the team needed Kubiak’s leadership the most, and they didn’t have it.
Then he returned against the Texans and the Broncos won with ease. He doesn’t call the defensive plays, but even the defense looked rejuvenated. The running game was terrific and the passing game used all its options. That team, the one that is feeling good right now after a convincing win, is not the same as the reeling, staggering club the Chargers faced just two weeks ago.