In the late 1970’s and early 1980′,s the Denver Broncos used a defensive system different from most systems of the time…the 3-4 — the same as the San Diego Chargers’ defense now. It put extra speed on the field in the form of four linebackers while sacrificing weight and strength up front with three Lineman instead of four. It was called the Orange Crush defense due to their uniform colors. The unintended consequence? A definite advantage in special teams.
Randy Gradishar (who should be in the Hall of Fame,) Tom Jackson, Bob Swenson and Joe Rizzo made up an impressive linebacker group with Barney Chavous, Rubin Carter, and Lyle Alzado being the down lineman. They were dynamite against the run, ranking first for years. Part of it was the players but part was also the scheme. The offensive lineman were often confused as to who to block. It was difficult to know where the Mike and Will backers were. Nowadays the lineman and quarterbacks point out these guys on every play.
The problem? Pass defense. For some reason, the Orange Crush couldn’t seem to figure out effective blitz schemes, but that didn’t matter too much. In those days, most teams were still run first and pass only when long yardage was needed. Even Air Coryell had great running backs (Muncie, Brooks, Lydell Mitchell) and depended to a great degree on their running backs. If a team was constantly trying to run the ball and couldn’t, they’d be passing only on 3rd-and-long. Even if they completed 60 percent of their passes, they’d be punting before they could score most of the time. Playing the Fouts-led-Chargers two times a year in a 14-game schedule didn’t help their passing stats either.
Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) talks with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) after the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos beat the Chargers 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
An interesting side light…the Chargers have eight players who entered the Hall of Fame as Chargers and four who played for the Bolts but went in to the Hall representing other teams. In addition, the Bolts have three that will probably be in the Hall soon: LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Rivers. Peyton Manning is the only Bronco I can think of right now who’ll be eligible anytime soon. The Broncos have four in the Hall and two that represent other teams.
Yet, the Broncos have been to seven Super Bowls and won three. The Orange Crush went in ’77 and lost 27-10 to the Dallas Cowboys and Roger Staubach (an excellent passing team.) The one touchdown for the Broncos set up by a 67-yard kickoff return from Rick Upchurch and a bunch of fast, big guys.
This week? The Bolts have had better luck when I pick against them so I’ll unwillingly go with the Broncos by 6. Even if the Bolts lose, they can still win the next two home games and be 5-5 into the bye week. If this scenario plays out, they’ll need to go 5-1 the last 6 games. Given their schedule, that’s a possibility. Stranger things have happened and strange things usually happen to the Chargers. The way I see it, they’ve lost two they should have won, and won one they should have lost. If they can even up the “should haves” they might be in pretty good shape.