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Key Matchups: Chargers vs. Broncos
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Here are five keys to the game heading into Sunday’s match between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos:
1. Jason Verrett vs. Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders – Jason Verrett’s string of squaring off against an elite receiver continues this week. The up and coming cornerback has already faced top talent in A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffery, Steve Smith, Sr. and he’ll be tasked with going up against a Pro Bowl wide receiver once again in either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas ranks sixth in the league with 72 receptions for 911 yards and two touchdowns while Sanders has 52 catches for 752 yards and four scores. While the Chargers are used to seeing Peyton Manning at quarterback, they’ll get their first taste of Brock Osweiler. The Bolts have been very impressed by what they’ve seen from the 6-8, 240-pound quarterback, which makes covering Thomas and Sanders even more important. President of Football Operations John Spanos broke down Osweiler’s game, and what makes the passing attack tick:
“He looks good so far. Obviously a really talented guy coming out of Arizona State. He was really only a one year starter in college, so I think the feeling was this guy has got a lot of upside. Not a lot of playtime under his belt, but a lot of physical tools to work with. Start with his size and his strength. He’s 6-7 and 240 coming out. Really great arm strength, and of course, the height really helps his vision in the pocket. Accurate thrower with the ball, and for a guy that size, one of the interesting things is he’s very deceptively athletic. Has really great feet. You talk about set-up quickness in the pocket. They are able to move him outside the pocket (and) get him throwing on the move with some boots and some rollouts.”
2. Rock Brock – Since taking over for an injured Manning, Osweiler has been the talk of the league as he’s guided the Denver Broncos to wins over the Chicago Bears and previously undefeated New England Patriots. For the season, he’s 57 of 93 (61.3%) for 666 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions with an 88.4 passer rating. However, the quarterback has also been under duress, sacked 11 times in 10 quarters for nearly half of the 26 sacks Denver’s surrendered. Osweiler explained that while he must cut down his sacks, he understands taking it on the chin is part of being an NFL QB:
“I just believe that if you're going to make throws downfield, if you're going to make reads downfield, if you're going to work through your progressions from one, two, three to four, your eyes have to be downfield. Hits are a part of the game. Sacks are a part of the game. Obviously, I need to eliminate the sacks in the red area. I knocked us out of field goal range by taking that sack on third-down last week. That's something that I will learn from. Hits are just part of the game. I don't worry about that. Everybody gets hit. My job is to go through my progressions and find the open guy.”
3. Air Battle Royale – It’s the number two offense in the league against the number one defense when Philip Rivers leads the Bolts against the Broncos. The Chargers are the only team in the NFL boasting six players with at least 300 receiving yards and three touchdowns, but they are in for their toughest test this season. While San Diego averages 308.7 yards per game through the air, Denver only allows 253.9. The Broncos also have 10 interceptions including three pick-sixes, so there is always a threat they can take it the other way. Rivers paid their defense a high compliment by stating he is impressed by the overall roster from top to bottom:
“It’s a defensive coordinator I have a great deal of respect for, and it’s a defense that is really good. It’s a heck of a defense. There is no, ‘Oh, there’s a weak spot. Let’s go there.’ It’s just not that. Top to bottom, they do it all. They play against the run well. They play against the pass well. Shoot, they’ve won a couple games this year and they didn’t get a touchdown from the other side. So that’s impressive. The defense has scored and done those things. It’s a good group. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
4. Protect Philip – Fittingly, the Chargers must do the exact opposite on the other side of the ball by keeping Rivers upright in order to be successful. The Broncos have notched the most sacks in the league with 37, led by Von Miller (7.0) and DeMarcus Ware (6.5). Overall, 14 different players have gotten to the opposing team’s quarterback. The Bolts have done a strong job keeping Rivers upright this season. While the 26 sacks given up are the 12th most in the league, it’s a relatively small amount considering the number of times number 17 has dropped back to throw. Nonetheless, Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich explained how the offense is in for a challenge going against the Broncos’ vaunted pass rush:
“You’ve got Von Miller on one side, and then when you talk about DeMarcus on the other, that’s about as good a tandem as you can get. So it’s a challenge. You like to help your tackles every now and then. Everybody knows (when) you play pass rushers like this you chip, you thump guys and try to do different things to slow them down on the edge. When you’ve got two good guys like they have, it makes it a little bit more challenging.”
5. Bottle Up the Run– A staple of a Gary Kubiak coached team is a strong rushing attack, and true to form, the Broncos boast a talented pair in Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson. Hillman has been the top dog for the most part as the former San Diego State Aztec has 138 carries for 587 yards and six touchdowns. However, Anderson has come on strong lately and is the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week after carving up the Patriots for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries along with four catches for 40 yards. Pagano explained why the Broncos are so effective on the ground, and how the defense can limit their productivity:
“They do a great job blocking up front. They get you running. They want to get you just sliding one way and the backs are downhill, one-cut guys and they make it happen. That’s what makes that run game so outstanding. Their two runners, Hillman and C.J. do such a great job of seeing the keys and running. It’s not just setting the edge, but it’s that back side cutoff that you have to deal with. When you handle those two things, you’ve got a good chance. They did a great job last week of really opening up that run game.”