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Three-Down Back: Three things to watch for against the Denver Broncos

Houston Texans v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

This week the Chargers are back home for the first time in 41 days as they host their divisional rivals, the Denver Broncos, for the first time this season.

Winners of six-straight games, the Bolts will hope to extend their streak to seven against the reeling Broncos who have found themselves stumbling through 2018 on their way to a lackluster 3-6 record.

QB Case Keenum has not been who the Broncos thought they were getting from the author of the Minneapolis MIracle and with Demaryius Thomas now with the Houston Texans, the Denver offense rests squarely on the backs WR Emmanuel Sanders several rookies, including RBs Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, and WR Courtland Sutton.

The defense has some fresh faces, as well, intertwined with their usual star-players to create an interesting mix of proven-talent and potential.

The last time the Chargers played the Broncos at StubHub Center, the Broncos were shutout for the first time in over 25 years. The Chargers left that game winners of a 21-0 shellacking which helped erase the poor taste from their loss to Vance Joseph and Co. during week 1 earlier last season.

Regardless of the past, divisional games within the AFC West are always a toss-up. The Broncos may be better than their record suggests but 3-6 is still 3-6. Is this a trap game? Potentially. They did stay close with the Kansas City Chiefs in both of their games, losing by five and seven points, respectively.

Whatever comes Sunday is sure to be exciting. It’s at home, the navy-on-navy uniforms will be donned, and Joey Bosa may even play a little bit.

What’s not to be stoked about?

1.) How will OTs Russell Okung and Sam Tevi handle one of the deadliest pass-rushing duos in the NFL?

OLBs Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have combined to record 17 sacks over the first half of the season. In fact, Miller and Chubb are the only two members of the Denver defense that have collected more than two sacks on the season, creating their own monopoly on the stat.

As a unit, the Chargers have only allowed 13 sacks the entire season. However, in their last match-up against the Broncos, they allowed Miller to sack Rivers twice. Last year, the Broncos also did not have a usable bookend opposite Miller.

Enter Chubb who, through the first eight weeks of the season, recorded 32 pressures which ranks him second all-time on PFF’s list (2006-Present) just behind Chandler Jones in 2012. His total also eclipsed Joey Bosa’s 26 from his rookie season in 2016.

2.) A match-up consisting of...two UDFA running backs that both wear #30 and played their college football in Colorado?

The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler was an undrafted free agent out of Division II Western State prior to the 2017 season. Denver’s Philip Lindsay was signed as a UDFA out of the University of Colorado, straight out of the backyard of the Broncos.

Both have been as productive as they’ve been efficient in their young NFL careers.

After a hot start to begin the season, Ekeler’s production has cooled off a bit to make way for Melvin Gordon’s streak of five games with 12-+ scrimmage yards and a touchdown. On th year, Ekeler has 59 carries for 345 rushing yards. He also has 20 catches for 246 yards and three receiving scores.

Lindsay wasted no time in finding significant playing time alongside third-round draft pick Royce Freeman out of Oregon. Linday has amassed 110 carries for 591 yards and three rushing touchdowns. He has also added 20 catches for 160 yards and another score.

As Lindsay’s average carries per game doubles that of Ekeler (12 to 6), this unfortunately won’t be a game where you will be able to watch the two duel. However, it will still be a neat site watching a pair of undrafted running backs make an impact on their teams success, especially in a divisional match-up.

3.) The No Fly-Zone is actually open for business

Two to three years ago, the Denver defense was a unit no one wanted to face in the NFL. The secondary was about as scary as it got with the likes of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, TJ Ward, and Bradley Roby.

In 2018, Harris and Roby are the only members of that vaunted group as they’re now joined by younger players in safeties Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart.

This year, the Broncos’ secondary is a bit more vulnerable. The defense has allowed twice as many passing touchdowns than they have scores on the ground (16 to 8). They’ve also allowed at least 19 points in every game so far except one. With the Chargers’ 28 offensive touchdowns coming in the form of a 21:7 split, the strengths of the Chargers should be on full display against this new Denver defense.