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Chargers vs Broncos Preview: Manning not so great on the road

We asked Kyle Montgomery of SB Nation's Denver Broncos blog Mile High Report five questions heading into the San Diego Chargers' Week 15 game. Here are his answers.

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1. Has the Broncos offense taken a step back in comparison to last year?

It's taken a step in another direction! The running game has been found, and C.J. Anderson has been terrific the past several weeks. That being said, this isn't a record-breaking offense like it was in 2013.

Does that mean it's taken a "step back"? Technically, yes, but that was always expected; regressing toward the mean is typical. There is optimism that this shift in focus from pure passing to more running will result in a more balanced, dangerous offense, and I certainly fall in that optimistic group.

2. What is the biggest weakness of the Broncos defense?

The Broncos defense is talented across the board, but it's been inconsistent at times. There are concerns at cornerback with Aqib Talib not playing as well as he was early in the year, and rookie Bradley Roby has his share of both great and bad plays (hey, he's a rookie). There are times when defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams look like world-beaters, and then there are times where opposing offensive lines are able to move them around quite a bit. It's hard to point to any one thing on the Broncos defense as a biggest weakness, so I would say their consistency is the missing link. Teams are able to stay in games at times because the Broncos players aren't playing and coaches aren't coaching to their full potential.

3. Is the Broncos road record (4-3) worrisome? What has the team done differently on the road versus what they do at home?

Generally, abstractly, it's great to play at home. Denver has an awesome home crowd, the 5,280-foot elevation is a boon, and players play better after a night in their bed than a night in some hotel. That's just life.

Peyton has a 123.6 passer rating at home vs. a 90.7 rating on the road this year

But specifically to the Broncos, I've talked on Denver radio a few times about how different Peyton Manning operates on the road vs. at home (I should really write a blog post about this). For quarterbacks like Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers I would wager - there are real football elements that are affected by being at home vs. being on the road. For Manning, probably 2/3 of the work going into reading the defenses happens pre-snap, and at home, he's a completely different animal. He has a quiet crowd and is able to do all of his crazy audibles and gestures to try and understand whether he's facing one or two deep safeties, zone coverages, all sorts of concepts. On the road, he doesn't have those pre-snap options. He's limited to doing most of that analysis in real-time after he snaps the football. It makes a big difference.

Peyton has a 123.6 passer rating at home vs. a 90.7 rating on the road this year, and it's not just the comfy bed making the difference.

4. If the Broncos don't win the Super Bowl this year, how are they set up to try again next year?

So negative, Chargers blogger. I see your gentle jab. I choose to think this question is valid whether the Broncos win this year or not!

Next year is the year of free agency reckoning for the Broncos. WR Demaryius Thomas, CB Chris Harris Jr., TE Julius Thomas, DT Terrance Knighton, G Orlando Franklin, and a handful of others are all set to be unrestricted free agents. The Broncos can't keep them all.

But the real question is: Will Peyton Manning return in 2015? We don't know. If he does, yes, the Broncos will always be in play for the playoffs and, by extension, the Super Bowl.

5. Is the game against the Chargers important to the Broncos? Do they need a win to secure a playoffs spot?

A win clinches the division for the Broncos, so that's pretty big. It's also hugely important to keep pace with the Patriots, just in case they slip. Both the Broncos and Patriots are 10-3, but New England owns that head-to-head tiebreaker. They have the tiebreaker largely because the first game was in Foxboro, so no one in Denver wants to return to New England for the rematch. Every game is important to keep the pressure on Tom Brady and company and hopefully clinch that #1 seed.