We’re finally here. Well, a few days away, but, close enough. Today we’ll talk about the most important part of the game. That’s when the Chargers have the ball. In the first matchup between the 2 teams the Chargers were quite successful against the best defense in football. The offense scored on 5/10 drives. The 2nd game, not so much. They scored on 4 of 13 possessions if you don’t count the last drive. So overall that’s 9 possessions where they had a score on 23 opportunities. 39% success rate against a historically good passing defense doesn’t seem bad.
The issue is turning the ball over. The last game was an issue. 4 of those drives resulted in turnovers. You could also say moving the ball consistently was an issue, too. 5 other drives were 3 and out. 9 of 13 drives were a complete waste. The Broncos are that good. They just recently lost TJ Ward but that is more addition by subtraction in my mind. They get younger and more athletic in the secondary. They’ve added a couple interior defensive lineman but aside from that it’s the same Denver defense.
Where to run
The same cannot be said for the Chargers. Out are the slow-footed guards that had a better chance of tripping over the turf monster than blocking somebody. In are a couple of versatile veterans that fit the offensive scheme better in Matt Slauson and Kenny Wiggins. Another big change is at center. With Slauson sliding over Spencer Pulley gets the nod at center. Pulley playing sparingly at guard last year. 222 snaps to be exact. At times he looked serviceable, at times he looked like a backup. The move to center in the preseason seems to be like a good one. Pulley looks comfortable. Like he knows what he’s doing. The Broncos interior isn’t the strength of the defense. The Chargers don’t necessarily have the advantage but this is their best shot to move the ball. Last year Denver had a below average run defense. They gave up 4.6 yards between the tackles. That was good for 28th in the league last year.
New line was needed for the Bolts. They are going to have to be patient and not abandon the run. Know that 3 yards is a success. Keep pounding away. Eventually you’ll break one. An area where they’ll have the upper hand is when the Chargers are in 12 or 13 personnel. Below is a run of 11 yards when they were in 22 personnel. Hunter Henry motions into the backfield.
They run a counter away from the strength of the formation. The reason this is a notable play is new left tackle Russell Okung is very good at these down blocks that you see King Dunlap executing. Also of note, running away from Von Miller. He embarrasses pulling lineman or tight ends. He’ll make a lineman miss. He’ll toss a tight end like a rag-doll. Shane Ray has shown to be an opportunistic pass rusher but the play above is all you need to know about his run defense. It’s not where it needs to be. Basically, the Chargers should have success as long as #58 isn’t involved in the play.
Who to target
It’s a pick your poison with this Denver secondary. The 1 weakness was T.J. Ward and now they have Justin Simmons in his place who is far better in coverage, though untested. Here’s how good the secondary was. 2nd in DVOA for #1 receivers, 1st for #2 receivers. 4th for all other receivers. 5th for tight ends. Chris Harris is the best corner in NFL. Aqib Talib is a top 10 corner. Their 3rd best corner, Bradley Roby, is a top 25 corner. Targeting one of these 3 is asking for it. Targeting Harris is a death sentence. Those short crossers that Ken Whisenhunt loves to run? Not against this team. Denver does a good job of leaving a middle linebacker right over the center to reroute anyone coming over the middle. They always take those away. The Broncos are a good tackling team as well in space.
Having Keenan Allen will help in a big way. Harris has had some success against him as well, though. The secondary has an advantage over the Chargers receivers even with the addition of Allen. That’s no slight to him, they really are just that good. Where the Chargers can move the ball by throwing is with their tight ends. They have a Hall of Famer and he’s not the biggest mismatch that they have. Antonio Gates will forever be El Captain’s favorite target. Henry is the guy the Bronco’s struggled to guard last year. Henry got open early and often in the first meeting. Some of it was by scheme. The Chargers know the Broncos are a heavy man team so they will run rub routes. What I like is when they spread Denver out. Henry on a linebacker is a win for the offense and that’s what we need to see.
You run so many short routes and then you toss in the “stick nod” and a linebacker really doesn’t stand a chance there. Henry can be the guy that stretches the field for the team down the middle. That’s a good way to beat Denver.
The Chargers will run these switch route concepts that force the defense to get a banjo call and it’s always a step too late. Here is Henry, the #3 receiver to the bottom with Travis Benjamin, the #2 receiver to the bottom, running just that.
Henry on a safety is advantage Chargers as well. Even if it is Darian Stewart, who played like a top 5 Free Safety last year.
Keeping Phil Upright
You want to spread the Broncos out so you can isolate the linebackers in coverage. When you spread Denver out you leave their pass rushers 1-on-1. That, is not ideal. Against the Broncos especially Rivers has a very good mental clock. He knows when to get rid of the ball. He was sacked 6 times last year in 2 games and hit a few other times. Denver can get after you and in a hurry. Rivers was sacked by a safety off the edge when Joe Barksdale just didn’t pick him up after some confusion. Simmons also sacked him.
It’s that Miller guy that you want to keep an eye on. I get that this is Chris Hairston. But look at the amount of space Miller has to work with. He’s going to win these 1-on-1 matchups 9 out of 10 times.
This was an awful attempt of a chip by Gates. He has to slow him down here. Great players like Von avoid that and still find ways to get after the quarterback.
- 4.5 yards per carry
- 3 pass plays over 20 yards
- 60% TD conversion in the Red Area
- 2 or less sacks
- 1 or less turnover
To win the game the Chargers are going to need to keep Rivers upright, hit some explosive plays, and consistently move the ball on the ground to not only keep their defense fresh but also wear the Broncos down. Once they get down in the area to score they’ll need to convert into 6 and not settle for field goals.
Playing with the lead will go a long way. Last year Rivers was a mess in the 2nd half of games, particularly the 4th quarter. Look at these numbers. 55% completion percentage in the 4th quarter. 5 touchdowns, 9 interceptions. Last 2 minutes of the half: 46%. 2 TD’s 6 interceptions. Those are some highlights. When Rivers is playing within himself he’s so much better. The more attempts, the worse he gets. That’s kind of a “no duh” but we’ve had these discussions. Rivers needs to take care of the ball. Gordon needs to be Gordon. Henry needs to be the X factor. This is what it will take for the Chargers to win on the road Monday night.