When the San Diego Chargers went on the road in Week 15 of the regular season, they were able to steal a win over the Denver Broncos 27-20 and keep their playoff hopes alive. When they returned to the Mile High City in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, they came up short as the Broncos held on to win 24-17 and punch their ticket to the AFC Championship game January 19. The difference this time around for Denver was the play of their run defense which stepped up and led the way to the playoff win.
The last time San Diego came to Denver, they were paced on offense by a running attack that rolled up 177 yards on the ground led by Ryan Mathews and his 127 yards on 29 carries with a touchdown. On Sunday, Mathews was limited with an ankle injury to just 26 yards on five carries as the Chargers’ running attack never got on track, bottled up for just 65 yards on the day. The Denver run defense stepped up and shut the running lanes down, allowing just one run over 10 yards in the game.
With Denver taking away the run, San Diego struggled to get their offense on track for the first three quarters of the game. In that time, the Broncos were able to build a lead that they held onto to win the game. Their defense starting to get gashed through the air late in the game, but their work early in the game against the run was a major piece of the winning formula in this game as they completely disrupted the offensive rhythm of the Chargers.
That run defense will be incredibly important in the AFC Championship next week against the New England Patriots, coming off comfortable win over the Indianapolis Colts where they racked up 234 rushing yards led by LaGarrette Blount and his 166-yard, four-touchdown performance. The Patriots will undoubtedly be another test for the Denver defense on the ground and how well they contain the running game next week will go a long way in determining the Broncos’ Super Bowl chances.