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Game Preview: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

So, the bye week sucked, huh?  Back to business in a big way this week with the Week 6 AFC West Championship Super Bowl Extravaganza (W6AFCWCSBE for short).  I am both excited and terrified for the game, which makes me very happy to be busy all weekend so I don't have to dwell on it.

If the Chargers lose this game, we all know what happens.  The traffic at BFTB dips, sdsuaztec4 unplugs his computer from the internet, and Marty Schottenheimer lets out a heart laugh.  Also, all hell will break loose in the locker room.  On the opposite side, a win on Monday means everything.  With games against the Chiefs and Raiders in the next two weeks, the Chargers could conceivably be at 5-2 and tied with the Broncos after Week 8 (after the Chargers, the Broncos have a bye and then face the Ravens and Steelers).  That's a position we'd all like to be in, with our backs to the wind and competing.

So, how do things look for Monday night's game?  See for yourself after the jump.

When the Broncos Have the Ball: The Broncos rank 6th in the league in offensive yards per game, but 22nd in points per game.  So while they may be moving the ball a whole lot, they're not punching it into the end zone very effectively.  In fact, the Broncos have less rushing TDs inside the red zone (2) than the Chargers (3) even though they've played 5 games to the Chargers 4.  

Denver runs a balanced offensive attack, but the strength of their passing game is in matchups.  They have at least 4 legitimate WRs (Marshall, Royal, Stokley, Gaffney) to go up against the Chargers 3 CBs.  With Gregory being the most likely guy to fill in as the 4th CB, even though he's the starting SS, the Chargers may be forced to put Kevin Ellison on the field more than they'd like to.  This passing attack is exactly the type of thing that could give the Chargers nightmares.  The only options for defending it are 1) praying that Kevin Ellison is really good or 2) trying to rattle Orton with blitzes to give our CBs a chance to cover their WRs and get interceptions.

The Broncos running game gets better seemingly each week, as Knowshon Moreno improves.  Now there's reports that Correll Buckhalter, who has been very good this season, is expected to play on Monday night.  I think Denver's gameplan involves running the ball into the Bolts' defensive line until the Chargers prove they can stop it.  As usual, the key to winning this game is big performances by the Jamal Williams fill-ins.  Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Ian Scott, Travis Johnson....take note.  Big games from you guys will give the Chargers a good chance to win.

Advantage: Broncos.  Make no mistake about it.  Until the Chargers prove they can play better, and until the Broncos prove they can't maintain this level of play, this is Denver's advantage all the way.  If the Chargers' fans feel silly praying for a great defensive game, it might be more appropriate to pray for FGs instead of TDs in an offensive shootout.


When the Chargers Have the Ball: I hope this doesn't sound too desperate, but I'm hoping for a big game from LaDainian Tomlinson on Monday.  He is eager to prove to the entire world (which will be watching) that he's still one of the best, if not the best RB in the league.  The offensive line is getting healthy and better (Mruczkowski no longer scares me as the starting Center).  LT is probably as healthy as he was going into Oakland, if not even healthier.  The Chargers know that keeping Denver's offense off the field will be key, and that Sproles can't carry the load.  A big game from LT and Antonio Gates goes a long way towards getting first downs and winning the time of possession battle.

Will it happen?  I have no idea.  This is as healthy as the offensive line has been since being jumped by the Raiders.  This is as healthy as LT has been probably since the beginning of the 2008 season.  There's a possibility that those things combine to stabilize the running game and balance the Chargers' offense, but there's really no way to tell.

Passing the ball and depending on mis-matches is not going to work in this game.  Vincent Jackson is not a mis-match for Champ Bailey.  Denver has at least three very good cornerbacks, as well as two ILBs and two Safeties that could cover Gates without looking foolish.  This game will have to be won with strategy, and a strong game from the offensive line to give Philip Rivers a chance to breathe before having to throw the ball.  That will be much easier to do with a running game to lean on.

Advantage: Tie.  I know, it's probably wishful thinking.  I know Denver's defense has been historically good for these first 5 weeks, but if the Chargers actually show up before the second half and the running game is at least decent they should be able to at least stay competitive throughout the game.  It will become great talent and great scheming (Denver's D) against great talent and very good scheming (Chargers' O) mixed in with desperation.

Denver has looked like a far better team in 2009.  The Chargers have a few things in their favor though. 

  1. They're as healthy as they've been since Week 1. 
  2. They've had two weeks to gameplan (probably the first time any Chargers offensive line has spent two weeks together and healthy since last year). 
  3. They're at home (if they show up early, the fans will get behind them in a big way).  The fans, who are worried about losing the team, are ready for the team to garner local support with a big season.
  4. They're desperate (a win in the W6AFCWCSBE is their entire season, but is mostly a moral victory and a nail in the coffin for Denver).
  5. They're hungry to prove the naysayers wrong on national TV.  A great game shuts up the critics of LT, Merriman, Rivera, Turner and everyone else.
  6. Philip Rivers wants this game more than anybody else.  He's ready to carry this team in spectacular fashion.  The Chargers only need to improve the rest of the team incrementally to allow him to turn this into a strong, winning team again.

Go Bolts.