The staff here at BoltBlitz.com gives their takes and predictions as to what they think will happen come kickoff on the road versus the Broncos.
Zak Darman: The Chargers beat the Broncos only two weeks ago, showing off their beautiful looking color rush jerseys, 21-13 in a game in which the Chargers fully outplayed the Broncos, whether the team stats show it or not. Joey Bosa was a monster in that game defensively and Gordon finally had a long run in the regular season. Siemian was coming off a left shoulder injury and couldn’t find rhythm all game. BUT, it’s two games in three weeks for each team versus each other and beating a team twice in three weeks is tough no matter the opponent. I think this game is close and a turnover by either side determines the game. The offensive line looked baaaaad last week vs a front seven that is weaker than the one they are about to face off against and Kubiak being back is also a plus for Denver. Broncos 24-Chargers 20
Chris LaFurno: Chargers win on a late 4th quarter drive ending in a touchdown by MG28. Jatavis and Bosa combined for 3 sacks. Flowers comes back and gets an interception. Chargers 24 Broncos 21.
Michael Brazeel: Chargers travel to Mile high, trying to win their 3rd in a row. This will definitely be a defensive struggle, with the score being tied 17-17 in the 4th. Broncos will get the ball with a minute left and will kick a field goal with no time left. This will send the Bolts to 3-5, setting up a must win game against the Titans at home next week. Broncos 20-17
Travis Blake: I’ll really be looking at 94 in this game, he was losing snaps to Caraun Reid before Reid was placed on IR. With Joey Bosa drawing double teams, Liuget needs to start winning more often, so far he hasn’t performed to the big contract extension he signed recently (normal). I’m really nervous about both Flowers and Addae possibly playing in this game. Flowers is old and Addae has never been very good. Hopefully the fact that Trevor Siemian sucks will help these two boat anchors out. Pressure all day is they main key for the Bolts defense. Chargers win definitively, 34-17
Laura Leech: A second away game for the Chargers, this one in Mile High. The defense continues to play with an arrogance not seen in a few years. They stop the Broncos from going down the field a lot. They get 3 sacks and one interception. Chargers offense still struggles against a powerful pass defense and end up running the ball a lot. They score more than one touchdown but still settle with a few field goals. A battle of defenses, the Chargers pull off the biggest upset of the year, sweeping the Broncos. 31-17 Chargers
Brian Scott: San Diego faces another uphill battle as they travel to Denver to face the 5-2 Broncos. Two weeks ago, the Chargers dominated the game against the Donkeys, only to still have to worry about an onside kick and a Hail Mary. After beating Atlanta last week, and winning the first back-to-back games since Nov of 2014, confidence is rising in the Bolts locker room, even with players dropping like flies onto the IR. CJ Anderson is out, however Booker is a talented back who thrives between the tackles. Trevor Siemian is beginning to look like the 7th round draft pick that he was as of late, and faces another hungry Charger defense. Rumors also have it that Siemian has been given the green light to change plays at the line of scrimmage as he sees fit. San Diego has lost the last 3 in Denver and has not swept the Broncos since the 2010 season. However, with the balanced attack offensively and Bosa, Liuget and Ingram playing lights out defense, the Chargers will win their third in a row, and finally sweep the team that has given them fits for years. 24-17 bolts
Brian Krich: I believe the Chargers will get the inside run game going this week as Denver has shown they are vulnerable there. I’d feel better if Denzel Perryman hadn’t had to pull off a Kellen Winslow impression circa 1982 in Miami as he’s the key to corralling the suddenly resurgent Denver run game. I think he’s pretty dinged up at this point and probably needs a week or two off. Given its in Denver and I think the Broncos are deeper and a little more healthy. I have Denver winning in a 23-17 type game.
Chris Hoke: Flowers makes his return to the defense and has a big day with a pick. Bosa continues his tear and gets another Strip Sack. Gordon gets going on the ground and in the air 150 total scrimmage yards. Rivers has a solid day passing 18/28 250 yards 2 TDs. It’s the one pick he will want back as his costly turnover will turn this one. Chargers drop a close one 24-21.
Cheryl White: Chargers get scores from Gordon, Henry & Williams. Bosa gets a sack. Ingram & Perryman continue to wreak havoc. Side note: The Broncos Center, Matt Paradis, is questionable. Maybe Siemian has a few errant snaps? 27-20 Chargers.
Mike Pisciotta: Does the other shoe drop or does McNorv do enough to stay out of the way? Lately, Trevor Siemian has looked like a seventh round pick. Joey Bosa continues his tear and channels his inner Von Miller, strip sacking Siemian in the closing minutes to preserve the win. Bolts 28 – Broncos 24
Will McCafferty: I’m worried because I actually feel really good about the Bolts chances on Sunday. The last two weeks, I picked the Bolts to win (I always do), but I didn’t feel good about it. In both cases, they won! Now, I feel like they should win, so I have to worry about being let down AGAIN! The final score of this game could greatly depend on the injury report. If Marshall, Talib, Anderson and Ware are actually “out”, I think we run the score up on them. The problem is that they could just be resting Marshall and Talib due to a short week. Well, I am betting that these guys will at least be slowed down by injuries. Chargers 31 Broncos 13
Greg Williams: The Chargers continue to build momentum and confidence this week in Denver. Mile High Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Chargers but this year it’s San Diego that will hand out the Halloween Eve frights. The defensive line tees of on Trevor Siemian to the tune of eight sacks. The multitude of sacks will result in fumbles, interceptions and short fields for Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Gordon will add two more touchdowns to his ledger. Tyrell Williams and Hunter Henry will have red zone touchdowns and Rivers will post 350 and 4 touchdowns on the vaunted Denver defense. Chargers win 41-13.
Dave Peters: The Bolts travel to Mile High to take on the Broncos in a game that could provide the Chargers with their first sweep of the Broncos since 2010. After beating Denver at home and then Atlanta on the road, San Diego is primed to win their third game in a row. Sophomore Melvin Gordon does his usual: over 100 yards from scrimmage and reaches pay dirt twice. Rivers is efficient but doesn’t pass for a ton of yards, finding both Tyrell Williams and Hunter Henry for scoring tosses. Rookie Joey Bosa wreaks havoc throughout the game, but it barely shows in the box score. He still manages to add a sack to his season total. The special teams units go unnoticed, which is good thing as there won’t be any glaring mistakes in this one. Chargers win, sweeping the Broncos for the first time since my son, Kayden, was born. 34-24 bolts
In part one of my analysis of the San Diego Chargers offense I covered the quarterback, running back, fullback and tight end positions. Simply by using their stats and past history I gave a number of points per game I expect that group to get every week. Today I break down the rest of the offense, looking at the wide receivers, offensive line and coaching staff.
The most hard to read of all the skill position groups, the wide receiver position has been long on potential but short on production and consistency. Injuries have decimated the wide receiver corps year after year.
Keenan Allen is leader of the wide receiver group who have dubbed themselves the ‘Aliens’. Allen was off to an amazing start in 2015, hauling in 67 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns in his first eight games. In a game against the Baltimore Ravens, Allen lacerated his kidney when he landed on the ball while catching a touchdown, ending his season. He was on pace to shatter the Chargers’ single season record for receptions (100) held by Ladainian Tomlinson and the break the NFL record for receptions in a single season (143) held by former Indianapolis Colt Marvin Harrison.
Now armed with a brand new four-year extension in hand Allen is locked in through the 2020 season. Allen has established himself as a star on the rise and will be taking the field with a chip on his shoulder after the way his 2015 campaign ended. In 37 games he has caught 215 passes for 2,554 yards and 16 touchdowns.
However, the success of the receiving corps will be dependent on Allens’ supporting cast.
Getting Allen help was a priority heading into the offseason and the first splash the Chargers made into the free agency pool was acquiring former Cleveland Brown Travis Benjamin. The 5’10” speedster caught 68 passes for 966 yards and five touchdowns in 2015. Aside from a knee injury that caused him to miss the second half of the 2013 season, Benjamin has only missed the first two games of his NFL career with a tweaked hamstring.
In his four years in the NFL, he has established himself as a dangerous return specialist. At the 2012 NFL Combine he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds and it has carried over into the pros. As a punt returner, Benjamin gained 324 yards on 28 attempts. Of those 28 attempts, four returns were over twenty yards and one was a 78-yard touchdown return. By comparison, the Chargers had 20 punt returns for 84 yards as a team last season. Their longest return was 18 yards.
Benjamin automatically legitimizes the punt return game and now gives the Chargers what they haven’t had in years, a wide receiver with the speed to take the top off the defense. At 26, Benjamin is just beginning to enter his prime. This signing could trumpet a revival of the vertical passing game that we haven’t seen since the height of the Tomlinson era.
In his first season with the team, Stevie Johnson showed excellent chemistry with Rivers. Johnson was second among wideouts catching 45 passes for 497 yards and three touchdowns. Hamstring and groin injuries caused him to miss seven games, including the last five games of the 2015 season. The nine-year pro is a dynamic receiver who has shown he can make an immediate impact if he can stay healthy.
Dontrelle Inman started in seven of the 14 games he appeared in last season. The CFL import continues to improve as he caught 35 balls for 486 yards and three touchdowns in 2015. Heading into his third season he will become a bigger part of the offense, likely assuming the role formerly held by the now-retired Malcom Floyd. Moving off the bench into a full-time starting role should greatly increase his numbers across the board.
Tyrell Williams can be penciled in as fifth on the wide receiver depth chart at the moment. Williams made his presence felt in the final game of the 2015 season against the Denver Broncos with a two reception for 90-yard performance, highlighted by burning Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib on a scintillating 80-yard touchdown catch. Those were his only stats of the 2015 regular season. Signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft he spent time on the active roster and practice squad. He has the size (6’3″, 205), speed (ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds) and agility (39.5-inch vertical jump) to be a dominant pro wide receiver. Will he live up to his potential going into his second season?
The rest of the receiver field is comprised of undrafted free agents and second-year pros. Unless a veteran is brought in, this is the group that will likely start the 2016 season.
Points-per-game expectation: 6
All the new additions to the skill positions mean nothing if the offensive line can’t provide continuity, open holes for the running backs and allow Rivers enough time in the pocket to throw the ball. That has been a large task that has fallen woefully short in those categories in the last number of seasons. In the last four seasons Rivers has been sacked 155 times, 40 times in 2015. The running game was dead last in touchdowns (4) and 31st in yards (1,358) last season.
Last season the offensive line had 25 different combinations due to injury. This season San Diego boasts the biggest projected starting offensive line in the league, but can they stay healthy? Veteran free agent Matt Slauson was brought over from the Chicago Bears to finally stop the turnstile at the center position. Lining up next to him will be guards Orlando Franklin, D.J. Fluker and tackles King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale. Concussions, knee and lower leg injuries were the downfall of this group last season. What will they do differently to stay on the field this season? The success of the season rides on it.
Points-per-game expectation: -4.
As frustrating to watch as the play on the field at times were the decisions of the coaches in key game situations. Last season the Chargers lost four games by three points. Eight of their twelve losses were by a touchdown or less. More often than not the staff played not to lose instead of playing to win. Head Coach Mike McCoy and then offensive coordinator Frank Reich called conservative games, focusing on short to intermediate routes in the passing game and running almost exclusively out of the Pistol formation.
The playcalling was predictable and did not attack downfield enough to make opposing defenses concerned about getting beat deep. Injuries played a big part but so did not having the personnel to execute that type of game plan. Blame can be laid at the feet of those in the front office for lack of quality depth once the injuries started mounting.
Thankfully, Reich is out and Ken Whisenhunt returns to take his place. Whisenhunt parlayed a successful 2013 season as the Chargers’ OC into a head coaching position with the Tennessee Titans. Not coincidentally, 2013 was the last season the Chargers made the playoffs.
Whisenhunt is intent on revamping the run game first and foremost. The Pistol formation will be scratched in favor of having Rivers back under center and using short drops. Expect to see a return of the power run game highlighted by Watt and Gordon in their familiar college roles. In 2013, Whisenhunts’ running attack averaged 122 yards per game and Rivers was fourth in the league in passing with 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns.
If McCoy trusts Whisenhunt with the playcalling duties the Chargers should be able to take advantage of a last-place schedule and return to the playoffs as long as the team can stay healthy at key positions. It is a positive sign that the front office reached out to Whisenhunt and bring back a system that worked with this group of players. His track record speaks for itself going back to his days in Pittsburgh, then leading the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII to coordinating the Chargers offense to its only payoff appearance in the last six years. Until McCoy steps away from the playbook, I remain skeptical.
Points-per-game expectation: -2
In all, my points per game expectation went like this: QB (14), WR (6), TE (4), RB (6), OL (-4) and coaching staff (-2) for a total of 24 points per game. Until the offensive line proves they can stay on the field and the offense is shown to be run through Whisenhunts’ headset instead of McCoys’ will I believe they won’t be a detriment to the team. Right now I believe those factors will cost the team one touchdown per game.
The 24-points per game are an improvement over the 20 points per game the Chargers averaged last season (26th in the NFL in 2015) and is on par with Philip Rivers’ lifetime average. Over his career, the Bolts average 25.6-points per Rivers start. That number has been as high as 27-points per game during the Tomlinson years.
This team has all the tools for a worst-to-first turnaround. The question is can they do it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
The Greg One
Sometimes the men who declare for the NFL draft watch seven rounds come and go without their names being called. Why their draft stock seemingly does not translate to a phone call could be for a myriad of reasons. Hold on, though. There is still a way that you can play in the NFL.
One of those ways is being signed as an undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA).
One such player is Tyrell Williams.
Presently, the Chargers have six undrafted players on the roster at the wide receiver position. Three are second-year players while the other three are rookies. Each one is looking to show the coaches that they deserve to be on the team beyond next month’s minicamp.
Williams is a second-year receiver out of Western Oregon University. He signed his UDFA tender in May of 2015 and was with the team until early September when he was waived. The team needed to replace safety Jahleel Addae with practice-squad player Adrian Phillips. Williams subsequently made it through waivers and was re-signed.
He stayed on the practice squad until November when he was promoted to the active roster and debuted in the December 20 home game against the Miami Dolphins. Williams didn’t garner a catch until the final season contest of 2015 when he zipped by Broncos’ cornerback Aqib Talib and scored an 80-yard touchdown. The performance in that final game has continued to whet his desire to be a part of the starting lineup rather than the practice squad.
At 6-foot-3 and 204 pounds, Williams is similar in build and size to both Keenan Allen (6-foot-2/211 lbs) and recently retired Bolts’ wideout Malcom Floyd (6-foot-5, 225 lbs). In training camp last year, Williams apparently reminded Rivers so much of M-80 that he nicknamed him “Little Malcom.” They are both long-armed and long-legged, and when they run it appears more like gliding because they are so fluid. Don’t underestimate his blocking ability, either, as Williams is good at that, too. He is unafraid to launch that big body to haul in a pass; a la Floyd.
Who would have thought that a guy who began his collegiate career at 160 pounds would eventually bulk up to 208 pounds and find himself on an NFL team? The Wolves’ head coach, Arne Ferguson, and their director of football operations, Jason Slowey, extended a scholarship to Williams upon entering college. He worked hard to hone his craft and put weight on his frame. By the time he was entering his junior year, NFL teams were beginning to take notice, scouting him as a potential fit on their respective rosters.
It just goes to show what dedication, perseverance and hard work can provide you with; in this case, a chance to make your dreams come true.
With all the hype that has been put out there both last year and in the recent OTAs, the Chargers might have another competition brewing. Here’s hoping that young Williams makes the Bolts’ roster.
What are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading!
Every year, fans of all 32 teams view their club’s chances of success through rose-colored glasses.
Hope is free. Fantasy is free. Reality is a brutal heart punch from Bruce Lee.
Only one will live to tell the tale of winning the Holy Grail, the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy.
In Bolt Nation, we all know the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. No logical fan is projecting the Chargers to win the Super Bowl. Win the AFC West? That’s a different story altogether.
The Denver Broncos dominance over the AFC West has coincided with the 2012 arrival of then free agent quarterback Peyton Manning. During their current four-year reign as kings of the AFC West, Manning has been at the helm for the last three AFC West pennants. Now entering his 18th NFL season, Manning and the Broncos are looking to keep their division stranglehold intact.
Easier said than done.
Last season, cracks began to show in the Broncos’ armor. Losses on both side of the ball took a toll and the 12-4 Broncos weren’t able to take advantage of their second seeding in the conference. Denver lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to Indianapolis. Despite the proficiency of the Manning-led passing attack, the Broncos were only able to muster 13 points at home in the loss.
Now more than ever, the pendulum looks to be swinging in the Chargers’ favor in their quest to take back the AFC West.
Consider these key factors:
Peyton Manning vs. Philip Rivers: What’s not to like about two old school gunslingers standing toe-to-toe and letting their arms do the talking? This has been one of the best (and most underrated) quarterback duels in the NFL. Manning entered the league five seasons before Rivers, who didn’t take over the reins of the Chargers until year three of his pro career.
Rivers was the understudy to Drew Brees for two seasons before Brees left for New Orleans. In reality, the two have been facing each other as starting quarterbacks for ten seasons when this season begins.
The difference is starting to show.
Last season, the whispers of Manning’s deteriorating arm strength became roars as the Broncos finished the season. In the last eight games including their playoff loss, Manning threw 11 touchdowns including three games where he only threw one touchdown and two games where he did not throw a touchdown at all. Eight interceptions during that stretch of games also fed into speculation of his decline in accuracy, long a Manning trademark. Last season’s fifteen interceptions were the most Peyton has thrown as a Bronco.
In an odd bit of symmetry between the two rivals, both quarterbacks had potential MVP caliber seasons curtailed by injuries they played through. Manning suffered a quadriceps injury and Rivers had undisclosed back and rib injuries. Rivers is now healthy and armed with a new contract extension that will allow him to retire as a Charger. Manning decided to return after long offseason deliberation as his retirement from the game looks imminent. Rumors of the Broncos and Houston Texans discussing a trade of Manning leaked during the offseason. Eventually, this was dismissed as a simple ‘inquiry’ on the part of the Texans.
Rivers is in the prime of his career and the Chargers are all-in on surrounding him with enough talent to earn the veteran signal caller a Super Bowl ring. Now in the third year of the McCoy-Telesco regime, the Chargers have had back-to-back 9-7 seasons. Choosing to rebuild with youth, only one-third of the current roster (including practice squad) is over the age of 27 years old. The Broncos are also all-in on Manning, but chose to make their push by bringing in big name free agents. DE Demarcus Ware, CBs Aqib Talib and Quentin Jammer, S T.J. Ward, and WRs Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker were all Manning-era signings.
Denver backfield vs. San Diego backfield: The Broncos will rely heavily on the legs of C.J. Anderson. Anderson emerged as the go-to back during the season, making the final seven starts. Leading the Broncos with 849 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in 2014, Anderson is also a threat receiving the ball. Last season he had 34 receptions for 324 yards and two touchdowns. There isn’t much behind Anderson, now entering his third season out of California. Last season’s starting running back, Montee Ball, was cut by the Broncos. SDSU alum Ronnie Hillman is the only veteran rusher on the roster right now. At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Hillman is not capable of being the every down back the Broncos expect Anderson to be.
Expectations for San Diego’s number one draft pick Melvin Gordon are high. The rookie didn’t even have two dozen carries in the preseason. Still, Gordon has earned the confidence of the coaches and veteran players throughout training camp and preseason. While Gordon is expected to assume an every-down role at some point, it has been made clear by the coaches the Chargers will have a running-back-by-committee approach. Danny Woodhead will contribute as a pass-catching, third-down specialist out of the backfield and Branden Oliver will be a change-of-pace back. Donald Brown is a depth player who has been an every-down back in the past.
Denver receivers vs. San Diego receivers: Denver features one of the top-five receivers in the league in speedster Demaryius Thomas. On the opposite side, Emmanuel Sanders will start and Andre Caldwell would be first off the bench in a three-receiver set. Behind them, second-year pro Cody Latimer will be looking to breakout this season.
San Diego will feature third-year pro Keenan Allen, who will be looking to bounce back from what was a down year by his standards. Allen had 77 receptions for 783 yards and four touchdowns, down from his rookie season where he topped 1000 yards with eight touchdowns on 71 catches. Ten-year veteran Malcom Floyd will look to go out with a bang after announcing he will retire after this season. The Chargers brought in Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones to fill in the void left by Eddie Royal in the slot and in the return game, respectively.
Denver pass rush vs. San Diego pass rush: Denver has one of the league’s most intimidating tandems of edge rushers in defensive ends Von Miller and Demarcus Ware. The bookends combined for 24 of Denver’s 41 sacks last season. Containing them is will be the focus of every offensive coordinator.
Whereas the Broncos depends on a pair of elite veteran pass rushers, the Chargers will look to young pass rushers to hurry Manning and other opposing signal callers. Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu, Corey Liuget and rookie Kyle Emanuel will lead the charge to get the future Hall-Of-Famer sacked or throwing incompletions. San Diego finished near the bottom of the NFL with 26 sacks last season and the top Charger sacker was Liuget with 4.5.
Denver secondary vs. San Diego secondary: The Denver Broncos have what could be considered a top-five starting cornerback duo in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. Both have the ability to shut down opposing receivers due to their solid coverage. Talib is one of the more physical corners in the NFL, while Harris can run with the best, showcasing strong ball skills and fluid hips.
After re-signing Brandon Flowers this offseason, the Chargers also have a top-five cornerback duo with him and Jason Verrett. The second-year Verrett is among one of the more exciting defenders at his position in the game. Many around the NFL believe that, if healthy, this will be a breakout season for the former Horned Frog. It doesn’t hurt the Bolts that they also have the best free safety in the league, Eric Weddle.
Now, more so than any season since the AFC West arrival of Peyton Manning, the Chargers are ready and more than capable of reclaiming the top spot. The Broncos have the advantage on defense, but the Chargers have a significant edge on offense. A home split is the most probable outcome.
What do you think? Will the Chargers catch the Broncos this season?
The Greg One
One look at that headline will have even a devout Chargers fan raising an eyebrow, probably both eyebrows. Tonight, San Diego goes to Denver to face a surging Bronco team four days after losing their first game in over a month against Kansas City. The Broncos are coming off a big win in their Sunday Night Football home game against San Francisco. In that game Peyton Manning broke the all-time NFL record for touchdown passes and his toteboard stands at 510 career touchdowns. Denver gets to stay, heal and rest at home while the Chargers go into high altitude to face their nemesis.
So how does this work to San Diego’s advantage?
The 5-1 Broncos are on a high after taking over first place in the AFC West and celebrating Manning’s record at home. Are the Broncos overlooking the Chargers? Definitely not. No matter who the division opponent, it is going to be a difficult game. The Chargers have proven to be the Broncos toughest opponent in the division. How quickly can the Broncos shift from the euphoria of their last game and get back into the proper state of mind to face the wounded Bolts?
San Diego narrowly lost at home against Kansas City in what was easily their worst played game of the season. They could not stay on the field as the plodding Kansas City offense dominated time of the possession. On top of that, the injuries continued to mount. Denver is definitely a game where you want to have all hands on deck to give yourself a puncher’s chance of winning.
The Chargers find themselves hamstrung in the one area you definitely don’t want to be hamstrung when facing Peyton Manning; in the secondary. Cornerback Brandon Flowers, signed by the Chargers in the offseason, has excelled as a starter in the secondary. Flowers left the Chief game with a concussion after a violent hit on Jamaal Charles as the ball carrier crossed the goal line for a score. According to the analytics based site Pro Football Focus, Flowers is the best cornerback in the league. He has been ruled out for the game. Rookie cornerback Jason Verrett is rated second. Verrett (shoulder) is ruled questionable for Thursday, as is cornerback Steve Williams. Williams is the Chargers 2013 fifth round draft pick who missed all of last season. Williams has also performed admirably in his first on the field work.
Combined with those injuries is the instability on the defensive unit with Te’o ruled out and his replacement Kavell Conner, also among the walking wounded but at least scheduled to play. Rookie Jeremiah Attaochu has added some bite to the pass rush alongside Dwight Freeney, but Attaochu is fighting a hamstring issue and Freeney is playing but hampered with a knee injury. The key to beating Peyton Manning is getting pressure on him. If the key components are not able to play, the Chargers chances of pulling out a road victory seem bleak at best.
Therein lies the rub, as they say.
The Broncos are fully aware of the Chargers injury woes. Peyton Manning is licking his chops knowing he will be facing a depleted San Diego secondary. We all know Peyton will not take the game for granted. But what about his teammates? His coaches? If there is such a thing as a good time to take advantage of the Broncos, it is now when they don’t have a full week to prepare. We all saw what happened when the Chargers found themselves in the same position last season. The Bolts went on the road and faced the Broncos on Thursday night and won 27-20. Denver was 12-2 at the time and had won five of their last six games.
Our team is not without advantages of their own. No team has been more successful slowing down the high-octane offense of the Broncos than the team from Ameica’s finest city. San Diego implemented an often imitated ball control offense based on a balanced run game and short passing game to chew up clock and leave Manning where he can do the least damage – on the bench. Aside from the Super Bowl, the three games the Broncos scored their lowest amount of points (regular season and playoffs) were their three games against the Chargers.
Let’s not discount the gunslinger on the other side of the field. Philip Rivers has been, for all intents and purposes, Manning’s equal this season. Rivers is the third highest rated quarterback in the league, while Manning is ninth. At the moment, Rivers is ahead of Manning in passing yards but the Broncos have had their bye week already. For all the fanfare Manning gets, he’s only thrown two more touchdown passes than Rivers (19 to 17) and both have only thrown three interceptions all season.
The Broncos feature elite pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Additionally, they have a strong secondary featuring Aqib Talib, TJ Ward and Chris Harris Jr. With the instability that has been the Charger offensive line, this would seem to be a huge advantage. Rivers doesn’t get the respect Manning does when it comes to blitzing. Defenses know not to blitz Manning. Rivers is one of the most blitzed quarterbacks in the league. The Arizona Cardinals blitzed Rivers on 57% of the plays in their Monday Night Football season opener. Seattle blitzed Rivers over 50% of the time.
Rivers loves blitzes. Despite a shaky offensive line, Rivers has only been sacked 11 times in seven games. No quarterback has more touchdown passes on third down (an obvious blitzing down) than Philip. He has shown an uncanny ability to elude the rush and deliver strikes down the field. Blitzing puts pressure on the quarterback, but the downside is it also opens up the middle of the field where those linebackers and defensive ends were. Who is roaming the middle of the field for the Chargers? An elite tight end who is third in the league in touchdown receptions behind the Broncos Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates. (Thomas 9, Gates 7). Blitzing could very well work against the Broncos if the San Diego tackles can hold them at bay long enough for Rivers to get the ball off.
While the running game has been hit with a wrecking ball, out of the rubble has emerged Branden Oliver. In only three games, Oliver leads all rookie running backs in rushing yards and he’s helped stabilize the running attack. The running game will also open up play action down the field where Rivers has his strongest stable of receivers in years all excelling and, more importantly, all healthy. The Broncos second ranked defense is a huge step up in degree of difficulty. But, remember at the time the Jets were one of the top rushing defenses in the NFL when Oliver was pressed into duty? He ran over, around and through them to the tune of 182 yards from scrimmage (114 rushing, 68 receiving one touchdown).
The Broncos find themselves in a similar position in the running game. The season opening starter, Monte Ball, is out and the running game has fallen into the hands of former San Diego State product Ronnie Hillman. Over the last two weeks, Hillman has been Denver’s feature back and he has played well. Stopping Hillman can turn the vaunted Manning passing attack into a one-dimensional, defendable concept. The only reason I don’t say the same for the Chargers is it has been shown that, no matter how meager the run production is, it is important for the success of the Charger offense that it remains three-dimensional. Mike McCoy will not abandon the running game at any cost.
This game is a great time for the San Diego to show the Broncos, and the rest of the league, that they are a team to be reckoned with in 2014. It is encouraging that it still took a last second field goal to beat them on their worst day. It is also encouraging that the Bolts have found their killer instinct and finished off lesser teams they way playoff caliber teams do. It is worth mentioning that the Chargers two losses are by a combined four points. San Diego has arrived and no one has been able to walk over this perceived soft, finesse football team. They have been able to out-physical teams all season long, most notably against the world champion Seattle Seahawks.
This game looks like a slam dunk for the Broncos to the talking heads all over TV and radio. But they thought the same thing last year. The Chargers are a wounded animal, ravaged by injuries and put into a corner by the biggest dog in the yard. A wounded animal is a dangerous animal. I fully expect the Chargers to shock the world (again) by getting the win in enemy territory. San Diego will assume first place in the AFC West once again by defeating Denver 31-27.
The Greg One