The Denver Broncos are 60 minutes away from a bye week…
And perhaps a lead in the AFC West.
The Broncos head to San Diego for a Monday night divisional showdown against the Chargers. It’s Peyton Manning’s second division game as a Bronco, but the Chargers are an old foe. During his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning has produced some non-Manning-like numbers when facing the Chargers, going 1-5 in his last six outings – 1-4 against Norv Turner-led teams.
But something has to give, because Manning’s performance on Monday night is about as opposite as you can get with an 11-4 all-time record, including Week 2’s loss in Atlanta.
When the NFL schedule was released in April, we all knew the Broncos faced a brutal introduction to the 2012 season: Four 2011 playoff teams and two nasty AFC West matchups against teams that Denver just edged for the division title a season ago.
Depending on Monday night’s outcome, the Broncos will enter the bye week 2-4 or 3-3 (barring an unlikely tie). It goes without saying the Broncos – and fans – would prefer the latter.
Can, or will, the San Diego Chargers execute a hurried, hurry-up offense like New England? (Courtesy Keith Allison)
When San Diego has the ball: There are fewer things in life I enjoy more than seeing Philip Rivers have a bad day. My dislike of Rivers predates his NFL arrival, thanks to what’s forever known as the “worst sports weekend in my life.” I’ll spare you the details this time around, but you can read why here.)
Luckily, here in Denver, my thoughts on Rivers are right in sync with the masses.
But for me, at least this time around, the focus isn’t so much on Rivers and company, but rather, how the Broncos defense performs, because last week was downright ugly.
Granted, the San Diego Chargers are not the New England Patriots, but given the Broncos’ third-down defense, it doesn’t necessarily matter. Denver opponents are converting on 46.7% of third-down situations. That statistic equals two things: 1) Denver’s defense is spending more time on the field, which also means 2) Peyton Manning is spending less time on the field.
Will the Chargers adopt something similar to the Patriots turbo-speed offense used against Denver to perfection? Honestly, San Diego lacks the personnel and coaching for anything breakneck speed, but in a copycat league, a “little brother” version wouldn’t surprise me…especially provided what that did for the Patriots running game last week.
The confusing thing about the Denver defense is that it went from a lockdown effort against a talented running back in Darren McFadden to a porous outfit against New England’s committee of decent backs. The Broncos shut down running games in both this season’s wins. With a talented back like Ryan Mathews, the Chargers will want to get him running downhill early. San Diego’s passing game is a threat, but could have problems if Denver’s defense is allowed to play pass for the majority of the second half.
One last tidbit: The Denver Post reports Keith Brooking, who turns 37 later this month, is expected to start at middle linebacker in place of Joe Mays.
When Denver has the ball: It’s a pretty simple concept: Don’t fumble. The turnover-prone Broncos are minus-6 in turnover differential, ranking 29th in the NFL. It doesn’t matter how well Manning plays – remember he’s gone 15 quarters sans INT – if his offensive teammates can’t hold onto the ball.
Willis McGahee has rushed for 242 yards in his last two games against San Diego. (personal photo)
In back-to-back games, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has coughed up the ball in what were high percentage scoring situations. Veteran running back Willis McGahee fumbled late in the Broncos Week 5 game at New England, squashing all hopes of a comeback.
Now back to the earlier statement of, “It doesn’t matter how well Manning plays…” because the Broncos success doesn’t depend of if Manning plays well. Manning must play well, and thus far in 2012, he has, aside from that three-interception affair in Atlanta in the Broncos’ last Monday night outing. (It’s also worth noting Manning fumbled in the 3rd quarter against New England.)
As I wrote yesterday, Manning’s struggles against San Diego are well documented: 12 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a 4-5 overall record, including two playoff losses. Manning’s minus-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio against San Diego ties with the Cleveland Browns for worst in his career.
With eyes predictably on Manning, the Broncos offense hits full stride with an efficient running game. In his last two meetings with San Diego, McGahee has rushed for 125 and 117 yards. Rookie speedster Ronnie Hillman, who played college football at San Diego State, continues to be infused into the Broncos offense, and in time could bring an added dimension to the ground game.
The Chargers defense, however, is only allowing 74.0 rushing yards per game, good for fifth in the league.
Denver 28, San Diego 23
Here’s to that .500 record entering the bye. All things considered, that sounds about right.
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