The San Diego Chargers are a paradigm of inconsistency. Just when they appear to have turned the corner and gained some forward momentum, they crash and burn, only to reignite a few weeks later still clinging to playoff hopes. While it appears likely the Chargers’ postseason dreams will finally be unplugged against the Denver Broncos this weekend, they are fighting for a Wild Card spot and they do have the personnel to knock off the Broncos.
The key for the Chargers is running back Ryan Mathews. The Bolts have won only once when Mathews has not achieved 100 yards from scrimmage or scored a touchdown, and his efficiency is crucial to keeping Peyton Manning and the potent Broncos’ offense off the field.
During the first matchup between these divisional rivals, Mathews ran the ball well in the first half, carrying the ball seven times for an average of five yards per carry. But in the fourth quarter, he only carried the ball once – and it happened to be a touchdown.
During the next Chargers’ possession, with 6:43 left in the game and down only eight, instead of safely handing it off to his running back, Philip Rivers dropped back to pass all eight times. Ultimately, he completed only three of his eight pass attempts for 30 yards and threw two incompletions, was sacked, called on a false start penalty and fumbled a snap on the other five plays. On fourth down, the Broncos got the ball back, ran out the clock and walked out of Qualcomm Stadium with a W.
However, this panicky play calling is not a mistake Mike McCoy and the Chargers will make again. Mathews had by far his best performance of the season last week against the New York Giants, when he carried the ball a whopping 29 times, for 103 yards and a touchdown. With Mathews being productive and forcing the defense to respect the run, the field opens up for Rivers (21-of-28, for 249 and three touchdowns vs. the Giants). If Mathews is able to carry the load this week against the Broncos, and slowly but efficiently create first downs, the Chargers can dominate possession and win this game.
The Broncos’ defense has struggled against the run in recent weeks, giving up an average of 132.6 yards on the ground in the last four weeks, but if they can slow Mathews early and force Rivers to win the game with his arm, this contest will likely be anything but, thanks to the return of a number of key players to full health – most notably the incomparable Champ Bailey.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @jsspina24.