After an impressive (and for this Denver Broncos’ fan, a scary good) 27-10 victory by the San Diego Chargers over the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday’s wild card playoff game, we now know that the Bolts will be heading back to (Sports Authority Field at) Mile High Stadium to take on the Broncos in the divisional round of the tournament. It will mark the third time in the 2013/2014 season that the divisional rivals will clash. However this matchup has much greater ramifications to it as the winner advances to the AFC Championship game on January 19th. Denver and San Diego split the season series, each winning a close game on the road.
Week 9: Broncos 28, Chargers 20. Denver came out of its week 8 bye and headed west to San Diego. The Broncos came out firing on its first possession as Peyton Manning hit Julius Thomas on a 74 yard touchdown pass that saw Thomas do most of the work. The Bolts dominated time of possession in the first half to the tune of 23+ minutes to 6+ minutes but trailed at the half, 21-6. The defense gave up a lot of yards, but played well in the red zone. The offensive line was inconsistent as it gave up two sacks and many hits and HURRIES, HURRIES of Manning. Then in the fourth quarter, we saw the scariest moment of the 2013 season. The Chargers defense got to Peyton and forced him off the field limping due to a sprained ankle. At the end of the day (I know, I hate that saying too) the orange and blue escaped with the “W”.
Week 15: Chargers 27, Broncos 20. Four days after week 14 wrapped up for both teams, they were back at it for Thursday Night Football. In the Broncos’ ugliest game all season, it posted its low mark for points in a game. Now this was not a case of the Broncos playing badly as much as it was the game plan put forth by former Denver offensive coordinator and current Chargers’ head coach, Mike McCoy. The Bolts controlled the clock on offense and on defense, kept Manning and the Broncos offense out of sync all game long. The final TOP numbers were 38+ minutes for San Diego and 21+ minutes for Denver. The defense put very little pressure on Chargers’ quarterback, Phillip Rivers and could not stop running back, Ryan Matthews. Matthews had 29 carries for 127 yards. The Broncos’ defense did not force a single turnover and gave up the rock once. They did sack Rivers twice. At the end of the day (AANNNNDD there it is again!) the Bolts just punched the Broncos right in the mouth.
In advance of next Sunday’s divisional playoff tilt, the strategy for Denver is quite simple. They must be more physical than the Chargers and counter-punch them right back in the mouth. The defense MUST get off the field and not allow San Diego to control the clock as it did in the first two games. I am not saying that Denver has to win the TOP battle. After all, the Broncos score in less time per possession than any team in the NFL. Thus, it is expected that they will be on the short end of that statistic. However it cannot be as one-sided as it was in the first two meetings. Oh, and it would be nice to see the defense turn the Chargers over at least a couple of times. For the Broncos’ offense, it’s not how long it holds the ball, rather how many possessions it gets. The more PFM is able to get those horses on the field, the more likely it is that Broncos Country will be the site of the AFC Championship game. One thing is for sure, there is no way that Manning will be as horrible against the Chargers defense as Cincinnati Bengals’ QB, Andy Dalton was in their wild card showdown. So therein lies something about which to be encouraged.
On another positive note, if the Broncos can get the offense on the field often enough to get in rhythm, pressure Rivers, and avoid the long drives by the Chargers, I don’t think Denver can lose. Just like last January, the Broncos’ opponent has to be a lot closer to perfect than the Broncos do in order to advance in the tournament.
Any way you break Sunday’s game down, this blogger and orange-and-blue-bleeding Broncos’ fan is more than a little concerned about the matchup. Rivers seems to be inspired whenever he plays Denver (especially in Denver) and lately all the games turn out to be close slugfests. The Broncos are a good matchup for the Bolts because of how stout they are in the trenches. To add to my consternation, it doesn’t help that the game falls on January 12th, a date that will forever live in infamy.
Kickoff is set for 2:40 PM Elway Standard Time on CBS. I just hope that my antacid works overtime.