On paper, tonight’s Thursday Night Football match-up may not look like much as the 6-7 San Diego Chargers face-off against the 10-2 Denver Broncos. However, I am here to tell you different, contrary to belief this is a very important game, specifically for the Broncos.
While the Broncos may be 10-2 and already headed to the playoffs, they are still fighting for home field advantage in the playoffs. Now keep in mind that the New England Patriots are right behind the Broncos with a record of 10-3, so if the Broncos were to lose this game it would tie them with the Patriots and open up the door for Patriots to try to take the home field advantage for themselves. So again, I must say this is an important game for the Broncos, if their goal is to have home field advantage in the playoffs. When it comes to the Chargers, their playoff hopes are basically diminished at this point but that’s no reason to underestimate them as opponent. Plus I’m sure the Chargers would love to beat a great team like the Broncos who also happens to be a division rival.
Chargers Keys to Victory
When it comes to Chargers winning this game, it all starts with the offense. For the offense to play well it all starts with running back Ryan Matthews receiving a healthy amount of carries. Last week against the Giants, he rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries and he needs to be utilized in this game the same way. Now Matthews doesn’t need to dominate but he should offer balance. Plus running the ball helps to keep the Broncos defense on their toes and helps to open up opportunities for the passing game. Most importantly, running the ball helps to keep the chains moving which will help with the Chargers third down efficiency and keeps the Broncos offense off the field.
Which leads me to the passing game of the Chargers offense and for the passing game to have success, the offensive line must step up. While the Broncos don’t have an amazing pass rush that’s still no reason to underestimate their pass rush, so the Chargers must give quarterback Phillip Rivers time in the pocket. When it comes Rivers he must use his full arsenal of weapons. I know Eddie Royal is questionable to play but Rivers still has Antonio Gates along with Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead who are both coming off good performances. Most importantly the Chargers offense must score consistently and to do that, they must move the chains consistently which means they must convert on third down and not waste any red-zone opportunities. For them to do that, Rivers must be accurate and take what the defense gives him while the receivers must be ready to create after the catch and make the big plays in the end-zone.
Defensively, it could be a long night for the Chargers. However, for them to have any success they must be prepared to bend but not break. Last week they did a good job of creating turnovers against the Giants and they need to do their best to do the same in this game. If they are unable to create any turnovers, their best bet is to force a few three and outs or field goals instead of touchdowns. If they are able to do that, then they will have done their job and it will be up to the offense to do their part. Honestly, for the Chargers to have any chance of winning this game, the Chargers offense must play at a high level. While I think the Chargers defense is capable of earning a few stops it won’t mean much if the Chargers offense can’t consistently score the ball. The Chargers offense must keep the game close and it starts with earning early touchdowns.
Broncos Keys to Victory
When it comes to what the Broncos must do to win, believe it or not it all starts with the defense. Going into this game, the Bronco defense must be prepared to step up and it starts with making the Chargers one-dimensional. To do that the Broncos must do what they do best which is limit the running game. They are currently ranked 7th in the NFL, limiting opponents to 98 rushing yards a game. To limit the running game, Broncos defensive line must control the line of scrimmage which will allow linebacker Von Miller and company to make plays in the backfield. Slowing down the run game, allows the Bronco defense to focus more on containing the passing game and stops the Chargers from controlling the clock.
However, the other key part of the defense will be the secondary. All season long fans and experts have raved about Broncos offense which is all well in good but one of the key weaknesses of the Broncos is their pass defense. They are currently ranked 29th in opponent passing yards allowing opponents to throw for 274 yards a game. Going into this game, they can’t allow Phillip Rivers to have his way with the Broncos secondary. It all starts with limiting the big play, to do that Broncos must be able to wrap up and finish tackles in the open field, if they are unable to do that, Chargers have plenty of offensive weapons who can make plays after the catch. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio must also be prepared to make the much-needed adjustments when needed or it will be a long day for the Broncos defense.
Which leads me to the offense, who must also have a great game, starting with the run game. In the last few weeks the Broncos have found a balance between Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. So far the combination of Moreno and Ball has worked well and it will need to work well in this game as well. If Moreno and Ball can continue running the ball consistently it will be huge for the Broncos offense who plays extremely better when the ball is being ran well. Plus it offers more opportunities in the air and helps with Broncos red-zone efficiency.
When it comes to quarterback Peyton Manning, I look for him to do what he does best and for him to do what he does best, the receiving core must do their part. Now they will be without wide receiver Wes Welker, which will give the offense a different look. However, there is no reason for the passing game to not have success in this game, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker have all played well this season and they are all more than capable of stepping up for this game.
Overall, this is a big game for the both teams but more so the Broncos, which is why I am picking them to win against the Chargers. Mainly because the Broncos understand they can’t to lose their remaining games if their goal is to have home-field advantage for the playoffs. When it comes to the Chargers, I think they will put up a good fight but I worry about their ability to finish games since they have struggled all season with finishing games.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com