5 Chargers the Denver Broncos need to worry about
By Noah Smith
Five Chargers the Denver Broncos need to worry about
The 2020 NFL season is coming to a close for the Denver Broncos in a disappointing way. For a fifth straight year, the Broncos are out of the playoffs, and finishing their fourth season with a losing record.
The Broncos will have a chance to finish strong with two games against divisional rivals in the final two weeks. Both the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders are struggling to finish out the season, and could be winnable games for the Broncos as they look to close out the 2020 season.
The Broncos have struggled with injury all season, and this weekend against the Chargers will be no different. The team will be without their top two cornerbacks as well as their top two pass-rushers in Von Miller and most recently Bradley Chubb, who was ruled out on Saturday.
A defense that was already struggling to stay healthy will face one of its toughest challenges of the season with injuries decimating the roster. Vic Fangio will need to be at his best if the Broncos’ defense is going to slow down the Chargers’ offense.
The Broncos will need to put it all together to steal a win over the Chargers on Sunday. The Chargers’ roster is loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball, and will certainly be a tough out for a struggling Broncos team.
Here are five Chargers the Broncos need to worry about on Sunday:
Herbert’s outstanding play has put him as the frontrunner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Herbert’s rocket arm and athleticism have transformed the Chargers’ offense into a formidable unit.
Herbert has proven that he can elevate his playmakers, and help carry an already talented offense. Herbert’s ability to stretch the field with his arm has shown up all season, and will certainly be a point of emphasis for the Broncos as they prepare for the Chargers.
Herbert played well against the Broncos in their first meeting, finishing with 278 yards passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions per ESPN. More importantly, Herbert sparked the Chargers’ offense in the second quarter of that game, and helped propel them to a huge lead at halftime.
The Broncos defense will have to be on high alert when playing Herbert. With both the secondary and pass rush struggling with injuries, Herbert will likely have plenty of time to scan the field and find his targets.
Fangio will have to build upon his game plan from Week 8, and find a way to slow down Herbert. If the Broncos can make Herbert uncomfortable, they will have a chance to escape Los Angeles with a win.
Chris Harris Jr.
A longtime Denver Bronco, Harris left for Los Angeles in free agency during the offseason. Harris has struggled with injuries throughout the 2020 season, but when he is on the field he is a difference-maker in the Chargers’ secondary.
Harris is one of the premier slot corners in the NFL, but has the versatility to play outside as well. Wherever he aligns, he is a problem for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers.
When looking to pass, Drew Lock will need to be quick with his decisions, and will need to be wary of Harris’ presence in the secondary. While his athleticism isn’t what it once was, Harris is still capable of baiting quarterbacks with his eyes and taking interceptions to the house.
Overall, the Broncos should avoid throwing Harris’ way as much as possible. When the Broncos target Harris, they will need to be smart with how they attack him in the passing game, and neutralize his impact as much as possible.
While Mike Williams also poses a threat to the Broncos’ secondary, Keenan Allen will keep the Broncos’ defense on its toes. Allen has become a go-to guy for Herbert, and Allen will certainly get plenty of looks on Sunday.
Allen’s route running makes him nearly unguardable in one-on-one situations, and will be a huge problem for the Broncos’ young cornerbacks. Michael Ojemudia will likely see plenty of snaps against Allen, and will have to play technically sound in order to keep up with him.
If the Broncos are going to hold Allen in check, they must emphasize sure tackling and not allowing Allen to work after the catch. Allen’s elite route running will likely leave him running free on short routes, where the Broncos’ defense can rally and bring him down before he breaks off huge gains after the catch.
Allen will surely “get his” against the Broncos’ inexperienced secondary, but slowing him down will be a huge emphasis for Fangio. If the Broncos can hold Allen down, the Chargers’ offense will be much easier to defend.
A long time veteran of the Minnesota Vikings, Joseph has had a quiet first season with the Chargers. However, Joseph could be in position to feast on Sunday against the Broncos.
Joseph was signed to bring interior pass rush to an already explosive unit. However, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram out on Sunday, the onus will be on Joseph to bring the heat on passing downs.
Joseph has been a good run defender this season, with 52 total tackles per ESPN. His presence on the interior will play a huge role in the Broncos’ ability to run the ball, especially without Phillip Lindsay.
Joseph’s biggest impact may come from his pass rush on Sunday. Rookie Lloyd Cushenberry has struggled against bigger and stronger interior defensive lineman, and could be taken advantage of by Joseph.
The Broncos’ guards have also struggled throughout the season. Dalton Risner has struggled with consistency in his pass protection, and Graham Glasgow is still recovering from a nagging injury. With the questionable play on the interior line, Joseph has a prime opportunity to rack up numbers on the Broncos.
Keeping Lock clean will be a huge key to stealing a win over the Chargers, and slowing down Joseph could be the difference in a close game. If the Broncos can keep Lock clean, the Broncos can put up points and keep pace with the Chargers.
Ekeler isn’t the focus of the Chargers’ offense, but he is more than capable of tearing up the Broncos’ defense in a number of different ways. Shutting Ekeler down will be a key for the Broncos’ defense on Sunday to leaving Los Angeles with a win.
Ekeler is a true dual-threat back, capable of shredding a defense both on the ground and through the air. The Chargers move Ekeler around to maximize his usage in their offense, and often take advantage of Ekeler against a linebacker in space.
Since Mike Purcell suffered an injury in Week 7, the Broncos’ defense has struggled to stop the run effectively. The Broncos must commit extra resources to stop Ekeler on the ground, and trust their secondary to hold up.
Ekeler can also destroy a defense in the passing game, out of the backfield or lined up out wide. The Broncos must be sound in their matchups against Ekeler in the passing game, using a safety or defensive back to help cover Ekeler in space.
Slowing down Ekeler will help the Chargers’ offense become one-dimensional, and will help the Broncos’ battered secondary hold up throughout the game. If the Broncos can make the Chargers’ offense one dimensional, the Broncos will have a chance to steal a win.