Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 8 match between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.
1. What's the Book on Booker? – Although C.J. Anderson will miss an extended period of time with a knee injury, the Broncos have another potent running back ready to take over in Devontae Booker. The rookie has carried the ball 51 times for 244 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry with one touchdown. He's also caught nine passes for 69 yards. The Bolts are well aware of how dangerous Booker can be as he averaged 9.2 yards per carry on five attempts against them in their first meeting. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano provided a scouting report on Booker while also noting how Denver has a potent rushing attack no matter who is carrying the rock:
"(He is a) slash, one-cut type of runner that is going to see the hole, is going to hit it and read what he gets. He is a really good football player (and) been a solid back for them. They always for some reason find a way, Denver, (that) whoever they put back there (does) such a great job. With the coaching staff and offensive line, guys just do what they do there. They run the ball at a high level."
2. Mitigate Miller – Von Miller has been at the top of his game all year long, and the Chargers saw first-hand how disruptive he can be two weeks ago. Miller had six tackles, one sack and a pair of QB hits when the teams met at Qualcomm Stadium. For the year, he ranks second in the NFL with 7.5 sacks to go along with 29 tackles and one forced fumble. Best known for terrorizing quarterbacks, the outside linebacker is also effective against the run. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt outlined what makes Miller such a special player:
"He's a really good football player. We know that, and I think a lot of people also identify (him) with the sacks. But he plays hard every time that he's in there. I'm really impressed. (We've) gone against him before and know how good of a player he is. But he's a great technique player. A great effort player. If you talk about a football player, and what you want him to be, he's that. He plays the run just as hard as he rushes the passer. He's definitely an outstanding football player."
3. 17 Days Later… – Seventeen days is all that separates the last time the Chargers and Broncos squared off. While the short turnaround is not unprecedented, it is certainly uncommon. It also throws a wrench into preparations and strategy. With only one new game of film to refer to, there is not much each side doesn't know about the other. As a result, the game will be a chess match between both coaching staffs. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano outlined the challenges the short turnaround presents while emphasizing execution:
"It is one of those things (where) you don't want to always do the same thing. But as coaches, we say if it's not broke, there is no need to fix it. Keep doing what you are doing, but make some changes. You have to be smart. There are such good coaches and great players in this league that teams will figure out not only from a game that was two weeks ago, but from the first quarter to the second quarter to what you are doing at half time. I think it is so important that you create different looks, and you have to do things differently. But at the end of the day, you have to do what your guys are doing best. Go out there, and you still have to tackle the guy with the football. We still have to cover them and we still have to rush the passer. You have to be creative (and) keep it different."
4. What's the Ware Factor? – Demarcus Ware has played in only two games this season after suffering a forearm injury in the Broncos Week 2 win over the Indianapolis Colts. One of the best pass rushers in NFL history, Ware returned to practice this week although his status is uncertain for Sunday. Should he take the field vs. the Bolts, it doesn't matter if he sees limited reps or his usual assortment of snaps; San Diego must be mindful of where Ware is at all times. Philip Rivers outlined what makes the 12-year veteran so difficult to play against:
"He's got (136.5) career sacks. He's way up there in his career. We've gone up against him numerous times when he was in Dallas and his time in Denver. He's long. He can still rush the passer, and he's a veteran that again is very smart. Very aware of what is going on and what you are trying to get done in both the run and the pass."
5. Ride the Momentum – After a tough start, the Chargers have a chance to sweep a division rival and get back to .500 at the midpoint. Following a pair of emotional victories, the Bolts believe they've captured some momentum. However, it is pivotal to use that momentum to continue stacking victories. Head Coach Mike McCoy weighed in on the team's attitude:
"There is nothing like winning. At some point in time during the week, you've got to move on to the next one. That's something we've done a phenomenal job of here in the four years I've been here. You go on to the next one…When you win a big game, the energy and excitement (is palpable). But at some point in time, you have to look at yourself and say that has nothing to do with this next game. It is nice to get a little momentum behind you and win a couple games in a row. But now we have to go on the road and play a good football team."