In the Broncos and Chargers first meeting of the season, the 3-1 Chargers head to the thin Mile High air to try and knock off the struggling 1-3 Broncos. Should the Broncos win on Sunday, it would be their 400th regular season win in franchise history. This is the 102nd meeting between these two teams in the regular season and the Broncos own a 54-47-1 advantage over the Chargers. They are 35-14-1 at home. The Broncos have lost the last three times these two teams have met. Game time is set for 2:15 MDT. (Rivalry history courtesy of the Denver Broncos).
Broncos: The Broncos are ranked 22nd, and have showed spurts of greatness on offense. They are converting on third down (ranked 7th in the league), and Willis McGahee has ignited the once dead-in-the-water run game with 100+ yard rushing days in two of his three starts. The problems on offense come in the form of ill-timed turnovers. Fumbling deep in their opponents’ territory or throwing interceptions has been the toxic bullet. The offensive line has done well protecting Kyle Orton lately, giving up just 2 sacks in the last two games, and they’ve opened up holes in the running game. It may be time for some more creative play calling since the Broncos have two very good mid to deep field threats in Eric Decker and Brandon Lloyd.
Chargers: Philip Rivers is a Broncos killer. In his 10 career starts against the Broncos, he’s 8-2. He’s not having the same productive year as in years past, but his team is starting the season well above .500 rather than well below and needing to play catch up in November and December. For only the second time in his career, he has more interceptions (6) than touchdown passes (5). His receiving corp. is dinged with both Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson not practicing all week. That doesn’t mean that this Chargers offense isn’t capable of putting up some big numbers. Ryan Mathews is ranked 13th among running backs averaging 72.0 yards per game. With him, the Chargers are not so one-dimensional on offense.
Broncos: Like the Chargers’ receivers, the Broncos are a bit beat up in the secondary. Safeties Brian Dawkins (ankle) and Rahim Moore sat out of practice on Thursday and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite was out due to illness. Champ Bailey will likely be back in the secondary, but this Chargers offense has a new scheme. In years past, the Chargers threw the deep ball. In their first four games this year, they’ve thrown short. Backfield guys Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are No. 2 and No. 3 in catches respectively. Vincent Jackson is No. 1, yet he’s only had one reception for over 50 yards. Stopping the Chargers will be all about stopping their mid-range game. In their three wins, the Chargers averaged 23.3 points per game. That was against the Vikings, Dolphins, and Chiefs who have a combined record of 1-11, and who are ranked 16th, 26th, 32nd on defense, respectively. The Chargers have yet to see a great pass rush, so the Broncos will look to test them up front with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil going in for the kill.
Chargers: The Chargers are ranked 11th on defense allowing 21.3 points per game. They are a hurt bunch as they lost Bob Sanders for the season, and Luis Castillo is out for at least half the season after having surgery on his tibia. Quentin Jammer has been bothered by hamstring issues, but has been participating fully in practice this week. The Chargers are effective in stopping both the run (ranked 12th defensively) and the pass (ranked 5th defensively), but they did give up over 400 passing yards and 3 TDs to Tom Brady in week 2. Other than that game, the Chargers have played the 24th, 26th, and 30th ranked offenses, respectively. If the Broncos can get things going in the air and on the ground, this Chargers team likely won’t look like the 11th best defense in the league.
Broncos: The Broncos gave up some big kick returns to Randall Cobb last week, but Matt Prater has yet to allow a kick to be returned in Denver. The thought of putting Knowshon Moreno on special teams to let him return some kicks/punts sounds more and more appealing. After all, he’s better when he has some room to work with.
Chargers: Richard Goodman and Bryan Walters have been handling return duties for the Chargers and neither has broken off a long return yet. It’s especially nice to see Darren Sproles in a Saints’ jersey this week. Nick Novak is perfect on the year in terms of field goals with a long of 48. Making Philip Rivers work a long field will be especially important in this game, so no one can fall asleep on special teams.
Broncos: John Fox went through a major evaluation period after the first quarter of the season. He will still rely on a heavy running game, but the play calling could get more liberal to uncover the talent that the Broncos do have on offense. Realistically, the Broncos could be 3-1 just as easily as they are 1-3 since they have lost two of their games by three points.
Chargers: Norv Turner has his team at 3-1 which is a first in the five years that he’s been with the Chargers. That can be attributed to a strong defense and an easy start to their schedule. Things will ramp up after their bye when they take on the Jets, Raiders, and Packers.
Prediction: Broncos – 28 Chargers – 21.