Coming off of two very physical away games, the Denver Broncos must rally in week 5 to give AFC West rival, the San Diego Chargers, a run for their money.
The Broncos will be physically and mentally tired walking away from games in Tennessee and Green Bay, but the team has just one more game left before a much needed bye week.
By the time these two teams meet, the Chargers will have already faced Minnesota, Kansas City, and Miami at home, and New England on the road. That’s certainly a schedule no team envies.
The Chargers cruised into autopilot once again at the end of last season winning their last 7 of 9 games, but they failed to make the playoffs. They finished the year 9-7, and decided to stick with head coach Norv Turner as their leader for 2011.
The Chargers put up 27.6 points per game last season which was good enough for second best in the league. Their passing offense was ranked 2nd and their rushing offense was ranked 15th. Defensively, the Chargers were ranked 4th in rush defense and 1st in pass defense. So how does a team that is so strong on both sides of the ball, statistically, end up 9-7 and missing the playoffs?
Two words: Special teams.
During the time the team went 5-4 in their first nine games, special teams voided everything the offensive and defensive squads were doing on the field. In week 1 against the Chiefs, Dexter McCluster returned a 94-yard punt for a touchdown. The following week, punter Mike Scifres had a punt blocked. Then against Seattle, the Chargers allowed Leon Washington to return two kickoffs for a touchdown. At the beginning of October, the Chargers lost to the Raiders after having two Scifres punts blocked. In the Chargers’ final game against the Broncos, they gave up a kickoff returned for a touchdown to Cassius Vaughn and then allowed Denver to recover an onsides kick.
Special teams coach Steve Crosby was fired at the end of the season, but his unit’s mistakes make it easy to see why the Chargers failed to make the playoffs.
Philip Rivers led the league in passing throwing for 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns, and giving up 13 interceptions. Antonio Gates was his leading receiver and Malcom Floyd was a close second in receiving yards. The thing that helped Rivers lead the league in passing was having a dual threat in the backfield with Mike Tolbert and rookie Ryan Mathews. The two backs combined for 1,413 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 6 fumbles.
Shaun Philips had 11 sacks on the season and Kevin Burnett added 6 more on the team’s season total. Eric Weddle led the team in tackles and Antoine Cason led the team in interceptions with 4 and pass deflections with 17. There were four other Chargers that had at least two interceptions for the team.
The Chargers already seem to have the right pieces in place for a playoff run. The key for them is getting the coaching staff, particularly on special teams, to key in on mistake-free football.
The Broncos will have their hands full on October 9, but they can leave everything out on the field knowing that a rest week is upon them after 60 minutes of hard-nosed football.
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