The Denver Broncos face the San Diego Chargers on Monday night and the winner goes into the bye week in control of the AFC West. It’s only week six, but this one feels like a game in the middle of December. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but not by much.
If the Chargers win, then they have a two game lead in the division and would have beaten every other team in the AFC West. If the Broncos win, then they move into a tie with the Chargers but would be in first because of the head-to-head tiebreaker. More importantly for the Broncos, a win on Monday means they would have survived the first six games of the season and could look forward to a bit of a softer schedule after the bye week.
Offensively the Broncos don’t need to change much, just hang on to the football. They are moving the ball up and down the field, but mistakes are killing them before they are able to turn those drives into points. They scored 21 points last Sunday versus the New England Patriots, but they probably left 14 to 21 more points on the field with fumbles and drops. If the Broncos quit stopping themselves, then they should be able to put up a fair number of points on Monday night.
Peyton Manning has to be chomping at the bit to get to that Chargers secondary, a unit that Drew Brees lit up last week. Combine that with the fact that Manning is getting better every week and it could be a big night for the Broncos passing game. Running the ball versus the Chargers is probably going to be more difficult but the Broncos need to do it some to slow down the aggressiveness of the front seven. The Chargers will give up yards, but through the first five games of the season, they are the best at forcing turnovers. The Broncos have had trouble taking care of the football but are going to have to do just that versus a defense that prides itself in taking it away.
The Chargers are still led offensively by Phillip Rivers, who has been a Bronco killer over the years. Ironically, though, Rivers had had better games in Denver, but the Broncos have to keep him contained. As great as Rivers is, the Broncos’ first goal has to be stopping running back Ryan Matthews. Matthews, when healthy, has also been a difficult matchup for the Broncos and stopping him is the first priority. Rivers is going to make plays in the passing game, he’s just too good not to but if the Chargers can run the ball then the Broncos are in trouble.
If the Broncos can slow down the Chargers running attack, then it all comes back to the pass rush again. We talk about this every week and until the Broncos can generate a consistent pass rush, nothing else will matter. Believe it or not, the secondary for the Broncos has not played that badly, but if there’s no pass rush, then it doesn’t matter how good the secondary is. Von Miller is coming of his best all-around game of the season and he must continue to play well.
The time has come for both Elvis Dumervil and rookie Derek Wolfe to step up and make some plays on big third downs. The Broncos are playing pretty good defense on first and second downs, but cannot get off the field on the money down. That has to change and it starts with Dumervil and Wolfe. The Broncos must also be wary of the tight ends because the Chargers have a couple that can hurt you. Everyone knows about Antonio Gates and he appears to be healthy. They also have former Bronco Dante Rosario, who has already made some big plays this season. The defense, mainly the linebackers, have really struggled in covering opposing tight ends this season and the Chargers will try to expose that weakness.
The good news for the Denver Broncos is that they almost always play well in San Diego. It is not what anyone would call a hostile environment. It’s a huge game for both teams, but it is a little bigger for the Broncos. Even with a loss, the Chargers are still in a tie for first place. The Broncos know that they cannot fall two games behind the Chargers, even this early in the season. Because of that, give me the more desperate team. Broncos-31 Chargers-23.
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