Can the Bolts Bounce Back?
After losing their second straight game last time out in Mexico City, the Chargers look to gain momentum after their bye week in a divisional clash with the Denver Broncos.
“We’ve lost a couple of games in a row, and you can get down this late in the season,” head coach Anthony Lynn said. “You start looking at the playoff picture and things can look a little bleak. I’m just trying to keep these guys focused one week at a time and see if we can crawl our way back into this thing.”
“I think they needed that time off just to get away mentally and physically,” Lynn said. “Today, I thought it was a spirited practice. Everyone was happy to be back.”
Now, the Chargers head to Denver to take on the Broncos in search of some late-season momentum.
“We’re looking forward to playing,” Lynn said. “We haven’t played in a while, and we want to get that bad taste out of our mouth. We know going to Denver is not going to be easy. It’s gonna be a hard-fought game, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Derwin James and Adrian Phillips to Return?
The Chargers’ efforts to get back in the win column will could be aided by the return of Pro Bowl safety Adrian Phillips, who was designated to return off injured reserve two weeks ago and is participating in practice this week. At this time, Phillips has yet to be added to the active roster, but the Chargers still have time to do so within the 21-day window.
“He practiced last week,” Lynn said. “I thought he looked good at the end of the week. I think this week, his chances (to play) are a lot better.
Phillips, who was placed on IR after breaking his forearm Sept. 15 against the Lions, is looking forward to eventually returning to the Chargers secondary, who had been starting Roderic Teamer and Jaylen Watkins at safety in Phillips’ absence.
“I’m back to doin’ what I love,” Phillips said. “Being able to get back on the field and run around, it just feels good.”
Meanwhile, Lynn revealed that safety Derwin James had also been designated to return from injured reserve. Like Phillips, James also has yet to be added to the 53-man roster. While it’s still unknown whether James will play Sunday, teammates such as Philip Rivers are looking forward to seeing James return to the field.
“It would be great,” said Rivers. “Him and (Adrian Phillips) both are impact players for us on defense. They bring a lot (with how) guys line up and energy (levels) and all those things… (James) ran around pretty good, but I make no predictions. I really don’t know (if he’ll play)...but he looked good running around the other day.”
QB Uncertainty in DEN
After Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco’s suffered a neck injury that turned out to be season-ending, Brandon Allen has started Denver’s last three games at QB. The Broncos are 1-2 in that span, as Allen has gone 39-of-84 with three touchdowns, two interceptions, and an average of 184.7 passing yards per game.
In losing to the Bills by a score of 20-3 last week, Allen and the Broncos extended their number of quarters without a touchdown to six.
Consequently, the Broncos may turn to rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who has spent the season up to this point on injured reserve. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio mentioned that the team will increase Lock’s reps “significantly” this week, as the team will come to a conclusion on who will start before Sunday.
While Sunday could mark the long-awaited debut for Denver’s 42nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, coach Lynn said that the uncertainty surrounding Denver’s quarterback situation doesn’t impact the Chargers’ preparation.
“We’ve faced so many different quarterbacks this year (that) it doesn’t really matter (who) they put out on the field,” Lynn said. “It’s more about us.”
Meanwhile, Lock is excited about the prospect of making his first career NFL start on Sunday.
“I want to try and build this into something special, for sure,” Lock said. “I want to be able to give the confidence every single week to my teammates and the people upstairs that if we ride into this in the offseason after however many games it takes (until I start)... hopefully I end up being here for a long time.”
Regardless of who starts at quarterback on Sunday, Broncos players are confident that whoever takes the field will give them a chance to win.
“I know both of those guys are gonna work their butts off to make sure that they’re prepared,” wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. “I know that everybody in the receiving room is gonna go out there and make sure that we run every route hard, so we can make sure they have a good look, and we’re gonna help them as much as we can in the huddle and just making plays, so they can feel comfortable back there.”
Broncos Don’t Turn it Over
Despite their inability to score, the Broncos hardly turn the ball over. They are the only team without a fumble on rushing attempts this season, and Allen hasn’t fumbled the ball in each of his three starts.
Additionally, Denver’s 12 total turnovers are the seventh-fewest in the league-- a testament to the team’s discipline despite their struggles.
“We emphasize ball security with whoever has the ball in their hands,” Fangio said. “We make that a priority from day one and the guys have done a good job with that.”
Although the Broncos aren’t susceptible to turnovers, Denver struggles to take the ball away, amassing a mere 10 takeaways, the second-fewest in the NFL.
Despite their lack of interceptions and a rotating cast of characters, the Broncos secondary has been effective in limiting the opposition’s passing game. Denver’s 207.5 passing yards allowed per game ranks fifth-best in the NFL.
“So far it’s been hard,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “For me, I’ve had different corners opposite me every game. It’s hard to get the continuity but we’re still in the top five in pass defense, so I gotta say we’ve been able to operate pretty decently, but it’s definitely been hard with all of the new faces and reshuffling that we’ve had to do this year.”
Meanwhile, the Chargers’ 205.3 passing yards allowed per game ranks fourth in the NFL, a total which could improve even further with the return of Adrian Phillips and Derwin James.
The similarities between both secondaries continue, as both teams rank in the top half of the league in point prevention, as the Broncos are tied for ninth with 19.7 points per game and the Bolts are tied for 11th with 19.8 points per game.
Chargers Edge Broncos in Passing Game
Due to injuries at quarterback, the Broncos have struggled in the passing game this season, as their 192.3 passing yards per game ranks 29th in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Chargers rank fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game with 276.9.
Mike Williams’ Big Plays
With a 50-yard reception in last week’s game, Mike Williams once again showed his propensity for making big plays.
“We gotta do a good job of covering him,” Fangio said. “He’s a really good receiver and he makes big plays.”
The wide receiver’s catch was his fifth 40-plus-yard catch of the season, bringing his yards per catch to 20.0, the highest average among qualifying receivers in the NFL. However, Williams still seeks his first touchdown of the season.
Broncos Players/Matchups to Watch
RB Phillip Lindsay
With Denver’s recent struggles in the passing game, running back Phillip Lindsay may see the ball handed his way even more than usual. In the teams’ most recent meeting in Week 5, Lindsay had his best rushing performance of the season, compiling 111 yards rushing and 147 total yards.
“When we do well running the ball, we win games,” Lindsay said. “They gotta trust us to run the ball and get more carries in the run game...We gotta run the ball to win the game. That’s what Denver has always been known for. We gotta keep doing that.
LB Von Miller
While the Bolts were able to limit Miller to just two tackles in their last meeting, the linebacker is a three-time Pro Bowler who should not be discounted. Miller leads the Broncos with six sacks and nine tackles for loss.
WR Courtland Sutton
Despite Denver’s struggles in the passing game, Courtland Sutton has excelled when given the opportunity, ranking 14th in yards receiving this season. This was apparent in the wide receiver’s last game against the Chargers, as Sutton finished with four receptions and a touchdown for 92 yards.
Sutton has been the No. 1 target for Broncos quarterbacks this season, while his 16.6 yards per catch is tied for 10th highest in the NFL, proving that plays such as the receiver’s 70-yard touchdown catch in Week 5 can happen again.
QB Brandon Allen
If Fangio elects not to start rookie quarterback Lock Sunday, Allen will make his fourth start of the season.
“I’m always preparing to play, that’s whether you’re starting or the backup,” Allen said. “Like I said with the preparation, nothing’s going to change for me... I’m going to prepare like I’m going to start, and if not, you’re always one play away, and you got to be ready to go in.”
Allen played his college football at Arkansas with Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, with eight of Henry’s nine touchdown receptions as a Razorback coming from Allen’s right hand.
Last Time Out
The Chargers lost, 20-13, to the Broncos in Week 5, despite a stellar day from running back Austin Ekeler who caught a career-high 15 passes for 86 yards. Los Angeles also recorded three sacks on the day.
When asked how a Week 13 Chargers team compares to the one the Broncos faced in Week 5, Fangio mentioned that running back Melvin Gordon’s return to form is something for which Denver will need to game plan.
“(Gordon) was just returning the first time we played them,” Fangio said. “You could see (now) he has his feet and legs under him and he’s running normal like you’re used to seeing, and he’s a great runner.”
Another difference in the Bolts offense has been Hunter Henry, who did not play against the Broncos in Week 5 due to injury.
“Obviously Hunter Henry being back has been another really good receiving threat to go with (Keenan) Allen and (Mike) Williams,” Fangio said. “(Henry’s) obviously a really good receiver, both intermediate and down the field. It’s obvious that Philip (Rivers) likes throwing to him and is confident throwing to him. He has an expanded route tree, more than most tight ends. He has great hands (and) runs good routes-- he’s a great player.”
For the Broncos injury report, click here.
Chargers Watch Parties
This week, the official Bolts Watch Party will be at Hennessey's Tavern in Seal Beach! Doors open at 12:00 PM for kickoff at 1:25 PM. For more information on this watch party, along with the others that will be held across Southern California, click here.
- Sunday, Dec. 1, at 1:25p.m. PT
- Empower Field at Mile High (Denver, CO)
- TV: CBS - Andrew Catalon (play-by-play) and James Lofton (analyst)
- Radio (English): KFI-AM 640 - Matt “Money” Smith (play-by-play), Daniel Jeremiah (analyst) and Shannon Farren (sideline)
- Radio (Spanish): KFWB-AM 980 - Mario Solis (play-by-play) and Jorge Villanueva (analyst)
- APP: Chargers Mobile (iOS), Yahoo Sports (Android)
For more information on how to watch the game including the mobile app and live streaming, click here.