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
With a tough, ugly loss on Sunday, the San Diego Chargers fell to 1-1 in the division. The contest against the Chiefs, to me, was the worst performance of the season. First off, the Kansas City Chiefs absolutely dominated time of possession; they had the ball twice as long as we did. The Chiefs took it to us on the ground, running the ball for 154 yards on 39 carries, led by Jamaal Charles (22 att/95 yds/1 TD) which was a huge factor in helping them play keep-away from the hand of Philip Rivers and his offense.
While most of the Kansas City drives produced little to nothing on the scoreboard as they kicked three field goals to two touchdowns, it made our offensive possessions that much more precious and important; especially when the Chief defense forced the Chargers to kick two field goals of their own. The Chargers posted a 30% 3rd down conversion rate which showed our inability to keep drives going in order to put points on the board.
Other than Week 3 against Buffalo, the Chargers have not won a game scoring less than 30 points. This is not necessarily a defensive issue, rather it illustrates how potent San Diego’s offense is and allows the defense the luxury of not having the spotlight on them. The defense was front and center on Sunday and showed their inability to get the necessary stop. John Pagano’s unit was exhausted after being on the field for so long.
A 1-1 AFC West record is not bad, but it makes Thursday night against the Denver Broncos that much more important. The Broncos hold a 1-0 record in the division, the Chiefs tie the Chargers at 1-1, and every win the Raiders have this season is as many as they have in the division. The AFC West will be all knotted up in a 1-1 tie if San Diego can prevail on Thursday as the Chiefs cannot improve their division record against the Rams on Sunday. Beating Denver will be no small task.
Peyton Manning and crew will come into this game with a great offensive rhythm as their offense has averaged 38 points since their Week 3 loss in Seattle. During this streak, Manning got the “monkey off his back” by throwing his NFL all-time leading 509th and 510th career touchdowns.
While Denver owns the 14th ranked total offense, they boast a top-10 passing game (7th) with Manning putting up a league leading 118.2 passer rating and 19 touchdowns, second to Tony Romo in completion percentage, and 9th in yards. The run game is what has been weighing this offense down. They rank 29th overall with only 571 yards on the season. Much can be accredited to the Montee Ball project not being as successful as expected this season with only 172 yards and a fumble through four games before being hit with a groin injury that has kept him out since. Ronnie Hillman has been serviceable over the past two weeks posting 174 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries.
The Chargers will have a tough time getting back on track offensively as Denver has allowed the second least amount of yards this season. Specifically, the Broncos will put out the 7th rated passing defense and the 2nd stingiest run defense in football on Thursday night. This will surely test MVP candidate Rivers and rookie sensation Branden Oliver. Our own defense will have to play in prime form. With many injuries to choose from, when you talk about Manning it is significant to point out we will be without our #1 corner in Brandon Flowers and possibly rookie Jason Verrett.
Simply put, this is a huge game if the Chargers have any hopes of capturing the AFC West crown this season. Going 1-2 in the division, and 0-1 against Denver, could give San Diego a tough hill to climb going forward.
There are always question marks surrounding all 32 NFL teams going into the regular season. I will have a piece coming out today or tomorrow regarding 20 questions regarding the 2014 San Diego Chargers.
Due to the importance of the question in the title, I felt it necessary to take this question to the next level and expound upon the subject at hand. Sure, San Diego has improved in multiple areas. The lack of depth going into 2013 has evolved into a situation where the 2014 Bolts will have some difficult decisions to make concerning the cuts of some players that fans will be surprised to hear their names on the waiver wire.
As mentioned on both this website and BoltBlitzLIVE on Mountain Country 107.9, having too much talent is a good problem to have. The level of competition throughout the offseason and preseason will turn to career-saving plays from the fringe players that are currently on the gigantic 90-man roster. There is very little room for error when looking at the players that are on the cusp of either winning a roster spot, or looking for a new residence come the final cuts on August 30th at 4:00 pm est.
Here is where I get back to the topic on hand and focus on the losers of last year’s Super bowl, the Denver Broncos. Let me make something clear, the offense in Denver last year not only followed the trend of being a part of confirming that today’s NFL is a pass-driven league, they blew records out of the water with ease.
That sound you just heard was Peyton Manning throwing for more yards and another touchdown.
The Bronco offense may have lost Eric Decker, but he was replaced with former Steeler wideout Emmanuel Sanders. More explosion, and, possibly, an even bigger threat for Manning and the Denver offense could have been found with the addition of Sanders.
I think what deserves more attention is what the Broncos did defensively. After losing players like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Wesley Woodyard, Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers and long-time defensive back Champ Bailey, the Denver defense was in need of an overhaul. And they did just that.
Phillips led the Broncos in sacks last year and was replaced by the free agent signing of DeMarcus Ware. Is it truly an upgrade? Maybe? Be careful and think in terms of future production and do not allow yourself to be clouded by numbers that may not be replicated by either player moving forward. I would tend to agree with those of you that give the slight edge to Ware. But, the Broncos are not getting the guy that was once one of the best defensive players in the league.
The loss of Rodgers-Cromartie could have been a significant one. Well, except that, in my opinion, they upgraded the spot by signing Aquib Talib. Despite off-the-field issues, he is a force to be reckoned with as a cornerback. He is incredibly physical and he has the capability of shutting down the opposing team’s number one receiving option each and every week. They certainly improved there despite the athleticism that Rodgers-Cromartie flashed at times during his career.
Another addition to the Denver secondary was T.J. Ward. He is a bit of a liability in coverage but he will not hesitate to take an opposing player’s head off with a vicious, well-timed hit. He might be able to fill the void as the defensive enforcer on the back-end of the Bronco secondary.
When backtracking to the offensive side of the ball, Denver, in addition to Decker, also lost Knowshon Moreno and Zane Beadles. The loss of Moreno may not amount to much due to a running back tandem of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. The offensive line returning Ryan Clady to the fold is one of the only reasons I have any fear regarding the Denver running game. Ball and Hillman are not serious threats without pristine blocking, in my opinion. Sorry, San Diego State fans ( regarding my lack of faith in Hillman being a factor.)
When looking at what the Broncos have done this offseason, what are your thoughts regarding the San Diego’s ability to match Denver on paper? For all Charger fans out there, you all know what the Bolts have done. Exciting additions of Brandon Flowers and Donald Brown added more depth and starter quality where it was needed. The most underrated signing of the Charger offseason might have been that of Kavell Conner. He will make an impact defensively in passing situations, at times, but mostly his presence will be felt as insurance behind both Donald Butler and Manti Te’o.
Another free agency add that has both the media and fans clamoring is that of David Johnson. The team has lined Johnson up all over the place including fullback, tight end and even in the slot. For a man his size, he can really move. He is not going to set any 40-yard dash records, but he will surprise defenders if they are only focused on his size. Yes, he’s a big boy.
Speaking of insurance, the Donald Brown signing proves that Tom Telesco realized during the playoff loss to the Broncos that there must be more quality depth in the Charger backfield. Running Danny Woodhead between the tackles can only get you so far. That’s not to say that he can’t be effective at times doing just that. But relying on that is not conducive to long-term success. After Ryan Mathews put up one of the most physical running years in recent Charger history, he was banged up near the end of the 2013 season. He played through it for the most part which is highly admirable. But, he was forced to leave the playoff game in Denver due to a season’s long ration of wear and tear.
In comes Donald Brown. Brown has been seen as a guy that could be considered to be a cross between Mathews and Woodhead. His feet are surprisingly quick when watching him in person. He is effective as a pass-blocker when asked to do so. He also has reliable hands as a receiving threat out of the backfield. He averaged over 5 yards per carry last year during his final campaign with Indianapolis. The fans in America’s Finest city, and all Charger fans everywhere, should be very pleased with the pickup of Brown.
The fact that Brandon Flowers has the Charger fans incredibly excited for the 2014 season, and this is now the second year of the reign in San Diego of Telesco and Mike McCoy, the sky may be the limit for the 2014 Chargers. When you add in the aforementioned moves above, there seem to be a lot of reasons to be excited in San Diego.
But, I’ll leave the answer of this question to you. Let’s go back to the title. Have the Chargers improved enough to keep up with Denver?
You all know the drill. There is a poll below. Place your vote and leave your justification for why you voted the way you did in the comment section at the bottom of this page.
I am really looking forward to reading what the fans have to say regarding this topic. It is going to be interesting, I’m sure of that.
Thanks a lot for reading and voting. I look forward to your comments below.