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Game Preview: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

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Here was how I started the preview for the last Broncos/Chargers matchup.

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 also predicted that all hell would break loose if the Chargers lost, but I was wrong.  I had failed to think that the Chargers could play a good game, show some promise, and still lose the game.  Silly me.  Anyways, the stakes are even higher for this week's game, which shall be dubbed the Week 11 AFC West Championship Super Bowl Extravaganza Spectacular (W11AFCWCSBES for short), aka the Unofficial AFC West Championship Game.  How exciting!


When the Broncos Have the Ball



Why does the Bronco have a horn?  Is that really a unicorn?  I think that's a unicorn, and an underfed one at that.

According to what I've picked up talking to Broncos fans over at MHR, their recent slide has more to do with the defenses problems stopping the run than anything that's gone wrong with the offense.  The poor offensive output against the Redskins had everything to do with trying to comeback with a backup QB who hadn't been in an NFL game in years.  So, in looking at the numbers, things should be relatively the same to the last time these two teams met.

Week 6:

  • 6th in the league in offensive yards per game, but 22nd in points per game.
  • 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.  

Week 11:

  • 22nd in offensive yards per game and 24th in points per game.
  • 17th in passing yards per game, 18th in yards per passing attempt.
  • 24th in the league in "explosive" passing plays (plays of more than 20 yards).
  • 16th in rushing yards per game, 16th in rushing yards per carry.
  • 21st in the league in "explosive" rushing plays (plays of more than 20 yards).
  • In the same amount of games (9), the Broncos have managed to score half as many rushing TDs in the red zone (3) as the Chargers (6).  That says to me that this is not an offensive line and a rushing attack that is going to punch you in the mouth or push you around.



In most of these game previews, I stuff the thing full of facts and stats.  Before the Week 6 game, perhaps because the game meant everything to the Chargers and we were all hoping for a performance we hadn't yet seen, I posted almost no stats and instead went for opinion and conjecture.  How's that for journalistic integrity?  Anyways, even without having anything to compare it to.....let's take a look at the current stats for the Bolts D.

  • 14th in yards allowed, 20th in points allowed.
  • Still ranked low (28th) in terms of 3rd down conversions by the opponent.
  • 11th in passing yards allowed, 16th best in terms of passing yards per attempt against.
  • Tied for 6th best in explosive pass plays allowed (20).
  • 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game, 8th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (4.1).  So the Chargers actually do a fairly good job at slowing down the run but, because there's not a ton of stops and the passing defense is so good, teams seem to be running it a lot against them. 
  • 7th in the league in terms of rushing attempts per game against.  No other team in the league has as low of an allowed YPC (4.1) and such a high number of attempts against them (29.2 per game).  The next closest is the Broncos, who allow 3.8 yards per carry and get run on 27.6 times per game.
  • 1st in the league in explosive running plays against them (2).  The Chargers have yet to allow a run of 40+ yards.  I'm no expert, but I have to attribute that to good tackling by the secondary (specifically Eric Weddle) and the team as a whole.  All of these numbers combined seem to say that the only thing missing from the Bolts having a dominating D right now is a dominating defensive line (or at least a dominating Nose Tackle like Jamal Williams).

Advantage: N/A.  I can't know who has the advantage here without know who is starting at QB.  Even then, since I have no idea how bad Kyle Orton's ankle is or how much better Chris SImms can be with a week of practice, it would be difficult.  Looking at the stats alone, the Broncos offense is very average.  It'll be San Diego's job to try to keep them there and keep their playmakers in check.


When the Chargers Have the Ball



This seems as good a time as any to announce that BFTB interviewed Kellen Winslow last night.  I'll try to post the transcription of the interview later today, but it's more likely that I'll find time to get it up tomorrow.  Kellen was awesome, had a great sense of humor, and talked a great deal about Air Coryell vs. the 2009 Chargers offense.  Really, really interesting stuff.  Also, his pick for the greatest TE of all time took me completely by surprise and it probably will for you too.

A look at the Chargers stats and rankings:

  • 18th in terms of offensive yards per game, 6th in terms of points per game.  That is exactly how you want that ratio to go, especially with a poor running game.  This means that the Chargers are converting their opportunities into points quite often.
  • 12th in terms of 3rd down conversion rate.  +2 on the turnover battle (11th best).
  • 7th in passing yards per game, 2nd in passing yards per attempt.  This is another great sign that the Chargers offense is not producing "inflated" stats with short passes and screens.  When the Chargers pass the ball, good things happen.
  • 3rd in the league in explosive passing plays (34).
  • 32nd (last) for rushing yards per game and rushing yards per attempt (3.2).  Let us not pretend otherwise.
  • 26th in the league for explosive rushing plays (3).



Where, oh where, has that vaunted Denver Broncos attacking 3-4 defense gone?  Well, the easy answer is that although the Broncos were able to bring in top-tier talent to start and therefore turn around the team in a hurry, it takes more than one offseason to build talented depth behind those players.  Now that the Broncos are beginning to battle a few injuries, and the veterans are starting to lose that extra pep they had in the beginning of the season, players with flaws in their game are getting on the field.  Let's see what the stats say.

  • 6th in yards per game allowed, 4th in points per game given up.  Sounds like a strong defense to me.
  • 17th in 3rd down conversions allowed.  2nd least defensive penalties called against them.
  • 19th in time of possession.  That's a lot of time on the field for a team of aging veterans without great depth behind them.
  • 5th in passing yards allowed, 11th in passing yards per attempt against.
  • 10th in explosive passing plays allowed (21).
  • 2nd in sacks.
  • 11th in rushing yards per game allowed, 6th in rushing yards per attempt allowed.

I don't know fellas.  Three game skid or not, the stats are saying that this is still one of the best defenses in the league.


Advantage: Tie.  So the passing game is great and the running game stinks.  What else is new?  The offensive unit, led by Philip Rivers, has been effective all season.  Usually, if the Chargers defense can hold the opponent under 30 points (which they couldn't the last time they faces the Broncos), there's a good chance the Bolts walk off the field with smiles on their faces. Unfortunately, that may not be the case when you're facing a strong defense on the road when they held you to 23 points when you played at home.


I have no idea who wins this game.  I think the Chargers' momentum and the Broncos' home field advantage cancel each other out.  I also think Orton and Simms are entirely capable of running the type of offense (short passes) that can just kill the Bolts.  The key to this game, for me, is how often Ron Rivera turns up the blitz with Kevin Ellison, Eric Weddle, Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver

Just like the last game was determined by who could score the most on special teams, I believe this game will be determined by who wins the turnover battle.  The Chargers (+2) and the Broncos (+3) are pretty evenly matched in that regard.  Actually, they're fairly evenly matched across the board.  It should be a fun, competitive game.

Go Chargers.