Ryan Mathews (24) is tackled by Denver Broncos outside linebacker D.J. Williams (left) and cornerback Champ Bailey (right) during the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. (Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE)

Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers: Game Preview

The Denver Broncos (2-3) hit the road for the second week in a row, this time to play the San Diego Chargers (3-2) on Monday Night Football. Both teams head into their bye week after this game so along with momentum being on the line, the Broncos could tie the Chargers with a win and have the upper hand in the division race or the Chargers could go up two games on the Broncos. The Broncos won the last meeting, a 16-13 win in overtime, but the Broncos have not won back-to-back games since 2006. In fact the Chargers are 9-3 in the last 12 meetings between the teams. The Broncos hold a 54-48-1 advantage all-time. This is the 21st consecutive year that the Broncos have appeared in at least one Monday Night Football game which is the longest active streak in the league. The Broncos are 27-36-1 all-time on Monday night. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. MST on ESPN.

Offense

Broncos: The Broncos continue to rule the fourth quarter with a +52 scoring differential which leads the NFL. The key for the Broncos offense is to get the fire stoked earlier. Turnovers have been a key concern for the Broncos, and the team ranks 29th in turnover margin at -6. After two fumbles in consecutive games, receiver Demaryius Thomas has been spotted throughout the practice week with a football tucked under his arm 24/7 as a reminder to hold onto the ball. The Broncos offense goes up against a very opportunistic Chargers defense. They have six interceptions and four recovered fumbles through five games. Statistically speaking, Peyton Manning has struggled against the Chargers throughout his career. He’s lost five of the last six to the Chargers and he’s thrown 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in seven regular season meetings. Maybe a new jersey color is just what Manning needs to shed the rough play.

Chargers: The Chargers are always a threat on offense. Currently, they’re 13th in points per game (24.8), 16th in rushing, and 19th in passing. Philip Rivers is averaging 250.2 passing yards per game and he has 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions on the season. However, his offensive line hasn’t been that great. He’s the 8th most sacked quarterback in the league with 14 sacks. Ryan Mathews and Jackie Battle have provided a strong running attack, helping the Chargers to 103.4 rushing yards per game. Mathews has really thrived against the Broncos in the past averaging 127.3 yards per game and scoring three touchdowns in three games. Malcom Floyd is leading the team in receiving with 71.6 yards per game, but newcomer Robert Meachem is a threat too. He had 2 touchdowns against his former team, the New Orleans Saints, last week.

Defense

Broncos: The Broncos’ biggest asset is Manning, but he doesn’t help the team at all if the Broncos’ defense can’t get off the field. The Broncos are ranked 29th in third down defense, and they’ve given up huge plays on third and long too much. Von Miller was the only bright spot for the Broncos defense last week as he had 2 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss, 8 total tackles, and a forced fumble against the New England Patriots. The Broncos must contain the run as well. Teams such as the Patriots and the Houston Texans have exposed weaknesses in the middle when the Broncos go into their nickel package, pulling all of their smaller guys outside. The Broncos are have just four takeaways on the year which is 25th in the league. The team needs some game changing plays on the defensive side of the ball so the team’s offense isn’t doing all the work. Starting right CB Tracy Porter did not travel with the team due to illness. Chris Harris will take his spot opposite Champ Bailey.

Chargers: The Chargers have a beast in linebacker Shaun Phillips. He has 4.5 sacks on the year, and he’s the team’s emotional leader on that side of the ball. The Chargers are great at stopping the run. They’re ranked 5th, giving up just 74.0 yards per game. They’re giving up 20.4 points per game which is ranked 11th. If the Broncos can get into the red zone, however, the Chargers will give up points. They’re 29th in red zone touchdown percentage, giving up seven points 71.4% of the time. Atari Bigby is leading the team in tackles (34), and Antoine Cason and Eric Weddle have 2 interceptions each on the year.

Special Teams

Broncos: The Broncos signed Trindon Holliday to add some zest in the punt return game. Holliday once ran back three kicks in a preseason game.

Chargers: Eddie Royal is back as the return man, and as we’ve seen plenty of times, he knows how to take it to the house. Kicker Nate Kaeding did not participate in practice all week with a goin injury and he’s been ruled out Monday night.

Coaching

Broncos: John Fox says that every game is important, but this game is extra big. A win heading into the bye week makes everyone’s week off a lot more enjoyable. Fox and Co. will pull out all stops to win this one.

Chargers: Norv Turner always seems to come up big in nationally televised games during the regular season, and he’s had Manning’s number quite a few times. After watching the Patriots’ offense last week, Turner may try to speed up his own offense.

Prediction: Broncos – 33 Chargers- 27

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