A stiff Broncos defense is on tap for the Bolts in what should be a decently hostile environment at Mile High. The Chargers should have all the motivation they need today as they look to keep from falling into the divisional scrum behind the Chiefs.
This game likely has the most original storylines of any contest the Chargers have played this season due to a number connections across both coaching staffs and rosters. That always adds a nice boost of excitement to matchups like these and should ultimately make for an entertaining outing.
As always, below you can find the three biggest themes and/or storylines that I’ll be following the closest when the Chargers take the field in Denver later this afternoon.
1.) The apprentice gets his first shot at the master
Sunday will be the first time Brandon Staley gets to square off with his former mentor Vic Fangio since becoming a head coach in the NFL. Just two years ago, Staley was in the midsts of his third year as an NFL coach while being in charge of Denver’s outside linebackers, including All-Pro Von Miller and promising rookie Bradley Chubb.
In that lone season in Denver, Staley helped a hobbled position group to 18.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss, including eight quarterbacks takedowns and 10 TFLs for a less-than-100 percent Von Miller.
This week, he isn’t going to get a chance to face his former All-Pro player, but Chubb is returning just in time to show his former position coach just how much he’s improved since their lone season together.
Fangio has his defense allowing an average of just 18.3 points per game. On the other side, Staley is struggling to curtail opposing offense on a weekly basis. The 26.5 points per game the Chargers allow on average currently ranks 27th in the NFL. For a team that owns a top-five pass defense, it paints a pretty vivid picture of the Chargers’ struggles in all the other phases of defense.
Today, Staley gets a prime opportunity to face a lackluster offense and show the league he can keep middling offenses from looking like overachievers.
2.) Can the offense continue their momentum against a stiff Broncos defense?
As I mentioned above, the Broncos are allowing 18.3 points per game, the third-lowest mark in the NFL. With the return of Chubb, that all-important pass rush is only going to get better. All-Pro safety Justin Simmons is having another excellent season as he leads the team with four interceptions and is tied for the team lead with nine pass breakups. Unsurprisingly, his 48 total tackles on the year are good for the second most on the team.
Current Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill was Simmons’ secondary coach just one year ago and had a big hand in turning him into the player he is today. While he’s going to be in charge of the other side of the ball, Staley would have been crazy not to get all the insight possible from Hill on the best ways to exploit this Broncos secondary, including getting the low-down on Simmons and where his shortcomings are.
Will those insights ultimately tip the scales in the Chargers’ favor in today’s game? If the Bolts plan on keeping some distance between them and both the Raiders and Broncos, they better make it so.
Joe Lombardi scheming things open pretty much at will + a Top 5 PBE line + Austin Ekeler + Justin Herbert processing like a veteran + Justin Herbert throwing strawberries through battleships = 41 points— Tyler Schoon (@tylerjschoon) November 26, 2021
3rd in DVOA, 7th in EPA/play. Will break Top 5 if they have another solid gm pic.twitter.com/qeosMaxecO
3.) Will the Chargers’ improved run defense spoil a Melvin Gordon revenge game?
After being throttled through the first half of the season, the Chargers' run defense has been markedly improved over their past two outings against the Vikings and Steelers. Coincidentally, the Bolts held each of those rushing attacks to a meager 3.1 yards per carry and a combined 158 total yards rushing across both games. That's a massive improvement after this team essentially allowed that many yards every time they stepped on a field during their previous eight contests.
This year, Melvin Gordon, the Chargers' former RB1, has been the Broncos' lead ball-carrier through 10 games. He's currently averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 52.2 rushing yards per game while splitting time with rookie Javonte Williams. Both backs have rushed for over 500 yards with Gordon leading the way with 522 yards and five touchdowns.
Both Gordon and Williams haven’t necessarily set the world on fire this year behind a middling offensive line which gives me some confidence in the improved rushing defense being able to go out there and keep the Broncos from shortening this game.