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Chargers vs. Broncos Week 14: What’s behind Russell Wilson’s resurgence?

The Los Angeles Chargers earned another week of regular season relevance with their win against the Patriots last week. Ian St. Clair answered some pressing questions concerning the upcoming matchup against the Broncos.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the Chargers’ record leaves much to be desired, if there’s one sliver of hope, it lays in the fact that the Bolts have four of their six divisional games remaining on their schedule. Should they somehow win out, they would go 4-2 against divisional opponents and would win the tiebreakers if the Chiefs were to lose an additional two games.

If the Chargers should win this weekend they would still have a losing record, but at least the 2-1 in the divisional breakdown would look positive. We asked Ian St. Clair of Mile High Report how he thinks the Broncos will attack the Chargers, to better understand this Sunday afternoon matchup.

If you’d like to see my answer to Ian’s questions you can find them here.

1) The Broncos defense has really started to gel the last few weeks after having a rough start to the season. What has been the catalyst to the unit’s improvement?

Turnovers. Entering the Week 13 game against the Houston Texans, the Broncos defense forced 16 turnovers over their five-game winning streak. We all saw what happened to this team when the defense failed to force turnovers. The other big aspect of the turnaround is health. At points early in the season, Denver was without Justin Simmons, Baron Browning and Josey Jewel, to name a few. Now that the Broncos are healthy, they’re getting used to each other and Vance Joseph’s system.

This turnaround hasn’t been dominate by any stretch, however. Denver’s defense still struggles against the run and has the tendency to give up explosive plays. Those are two things that could be an issue heading into Sunday’s game with the Chargers.

2) Ja’Quan McMillian is currently your highest PFF-rated defender, a slot-DB that currently is only allowing a 86.4 QB Rating when targeting and only missing 9.1% of his tackle opportunities. That’s a really impressive sophomore season for an undrafted player! He’ll likely face off against Keenan Allen most of the game, who is one of the most talented slot receivers in the league. How confident are you in his ability to minimize the damage Allen can do? Does Vance Joseph have confidence in his one-on-one ability, or is Allen in for a game of bracket-coverage?

McMillian is another reason for the defense’s turnaround. As you highlighted, he’s been phenomenal since getting the opportunity against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. In terms of Sunday’s game, I’d prefer if Joseph shadowed Allen with Pat Surtain II. Surtain is the best cornerback in the NFL. Allen is LA’s best receiver. As good as McMillian has been, I’m not confident he’d be able to match up with Allen. Put Surtain on Allen and leave McMillian to cover one of the other Chargers receivers.

3) Although the Broncos struggled to extend drives against the Texans last week, they had some impressive explosive passing plays. The Chargers have struggled this year with coverage discipline and mixing up their assignments in the secondary, averaging 4.0 plays of 20+ yard passing gains through the first 13 weeks. How aggressive do you anticipate Sean Payton to be when attacking this defense?

My guess is we’ll see the same balance as the Texans game. What Payton will emphasize this week is making more plays. Russel Wilson left some plays on the field and Courtland Sutton dropped a deep pass on the Broncos’ opening drive that would have set up the offense. The biggest thing for the Denver offense is converting on third down and in the red zone. Against Houston, the Broncos were 0-for-11 on third and just 1 of 3 in the red zone. That must improve on Sunday, whether it’s explosive plays or in the running game. For the Denver offense to be successful, it needs to run the ball effectively. That didn’t happen against the Texans. If the Broncos are able to do that on Sunday, the explosive plays will be there for Wilson, Payton and the offense.

4) What has been the biggest contributor to Russel Wilson’s impressive comeback season?

Sean Payton. There’s no question that the Broncos head coach is why Wilson has played better this season, last week against the Texans notwithstanding. Wilson needed and demanded hard coaching. That’s Payton’s style and he’s obliged. We saw that again after the Houston game when Payton was the hard-nosed leader that Wilson and this team needs. In the five-game winning streak, the Broncos offensive line played really well. It didn’t against the Texans and we saw what happens. Wilson is rushed and makes bad throws. The Denver offensive line needs to play the way it did against the Cleveland Browns when it manhandled that defensive front.

5) DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Broncos as 2.5-point underdogs, however, the Broncos have had an impressive stretch of play as of late while the Chargers have been underperforming. Would you feel pretty confident betting on the Broncos this week?

I’m never comfortable betting the Broncos, which is why I usually don’t do it. But Denver has matched fairly well against the Chargers over the last few seasons and now Payton is onboard. I think the loss to Houston will motivate the Broncos and they’ll play much better on Sunday. I get the line, especially since LA is at home. I think the Broncos leave SoCal with the win, 24-17.