By Rich Kurtzman
Chargers and Broncos; it’s a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions following a tumultuous turning point a month ago.
San Diego was routing Denver at home, up 24-0 thanks to strong play in all three phases, as well as a bevy of Broncos’ blunders. Fumbles on an early punt and kickoff handed the Chargers 10 points, Eric Decker tackled himself and a miscommunication between Peyton Manning and Matthew Willis led to a pick-six. In the second half, it was Denver that was dominant as San Diego faded like an ocean sunset—a microcosm of so many failed seasons as of late. The Broncos put up 35 unanswered points, mounting the incredible comeback by playing phenomenally on both offense and defense.
Philip Rivers turned the ball over five times—six total by his team—in a game that not only boosted the Denver D’s confidence but sent the two teams in opposite directions. Including that game, the Broncos have won four straight while San Diego has gone 1-3, setting up this massive matchup a Mile High.
With a win this Sunday, the Broncos would improve to 7-3 and basically lock up back-to-back division crowns as the Chargers would fall to 4-6, three full games back with only six to play. For that reason, San Diego knows this is a must-win; they’ll put it all on the line this week.
Rivers undoubtedly wants revenge following the embarrassing showing the last time these two teams met, and he’s thrashed the Denver defense many times before. But what benefits these Broncos more than the teams in years passed is this team possesses the greatest pass-rushing front in the NFL today. Through nine games, they’ve racked up an NFL-high 31 sacks, with Von Miller leading the team with 10 alone. But the bad news is left defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who has seven sacks, will sit this week, meaning backup Robert Ayers must again step up. Part of the reason Rivers turned the ball over so much in Week Six was that pass rush pestering him, and Dumervil forced the fumble that Tony Carter returned a touchdown—the turning point of that contest.
Without Dumervil, that spectacular pass rush could struggle to get to the veteran QB, and if Rivers enjoys more time this Sunday, he’ll make sure to complete more passes. The Chargers have plenty of playmaking receivers, including Malcom Floyd, former Bronco Eddie Royal and all-time great tight end Antonio Gates. The lightning bolts don’t run the ball well—at 106 yards per game—and will almost certainly rely on that passing to attack prominently. While Gates scored twice in the Week Six loss, not a single Chargers’ receiver had more than his 81 yards; they’ll look to improve there.
When San Diego does run, Ryan Matthews brings a load, at 6′ 220 pounds. But he’s questionable due to a neck injury, and if he has to sit out, look for San Diego to throw even more.
Defensively, the Chargers are second best at stopping the run—allowing only 83 yards per game—but that’s not Denver’s strength. The Broncos throw the ball all over the field as Manning dissects defenses at the line of scrimmage, and if he hits 300 yards and three scores again this Sunday, the Broncos will win.
It won’t be easy as the Chargers must win setting up what should be a physical and fun game.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.