Here are five keys to the game heading into Sunday's match between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos:
1. Denzel Perryman vs. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson– Since taking over at starting inside linebacker following the bye, Denzel Perryman has been one of the most impactful rookies in the NFL. Playing with a physical style and hard-hitting nature, he's been a magnet to the ball that's earned praised each week from the opposition. With 83 tackles on the season, Perryman needs 17 to become the first rookie in team history to reach the century mark. How he matches up against the Broncos' diverse running attack will be paramount on Sunday. Denver boasts a pair of interchangeable backs in Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson. The former has carried the ball 192 times for 746 yards and six touchdowns while the later has 137 totes for 625 yards and four scores. Denver rushed for 134 yards the last time they faced off, so Perryman will need to be at his best to help limit their ground attack. The linebacker says there's no reason his motivation would waiver heading into the season finale:
"Just finish out strong, and I'll make sure I go in with the same mindset I do every game. I'm 17 tackles short of getting 100 to be the first Chargers rookie with a 100 tackle season. So I'm looking forward it. I'm pretty excited…I just play, and the whole leadership thing falls into place."
2. Contain Thomas and Sanders– As if Denver's dangerous rushing game wasn't enough, the Broncos aerial attack is led by a pair of 1,000 yard receivers. Demaryius Thomas has 100 catches for 1,187 yards and five touchdowns while Emmanuel Sanders has 71 receptions for 1,036 and six TDs. The Chargers were able to limit both playmakers in their first meeting, holding Thomas to just six catches for 61 yards and Sanders to only three receptions for 19 yards. Nonetheless, President of Football Operations , John Spanos, explained what makes them so dangerous, especially Thomas:
"It starts with his rare physical tools. He's a guy who is 6-3, almost 230 (pounds and) ran a 4.4 so he's got height, weight and speed. An incredibly productive receiver. With that speed they use him vertically down the field. Can run past the defense, and uses that size to shield defenders from the ball. Really good at catching with a man on. Strong hands, and versatile enough where they also like to get him the ball at the line of scrimmage and let him use his outstanding run after catch ability."
3. Meet the Challenge of Denver's D –It's always important to execute at a high level, but that takes on even more importance for the offense against the Broncos. Denver owns the number one defense in the NFL in a number of areas, including total defense (280.0 yards per game), passing defense (199.1 ypg) and sacks (49). They also rank second against the run (81.8 yards per game) and fourth in points against (18.4). Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich explained what makes them so difficult, and why the Bolts need to be at their absolute best on Sunday:
"The Broncos defense is obviously the number one defense in the NFL. Good on all fronts. The toughest front seven you'll face. Physical, fast. They're good across the board. They have four or five really good pass rushers, so they present challenges for you in the protection world, because you want to help and scheme things to certain players when they have one. But they have several of them. They're a good team, but we'll have to rise to the challenge."
4. Get Secondary Up to Speed– With so many players injured, the Bolts added reinforcements this week that will need to get up to speed in a hurry. That is especially the case in the secondary as Eric Weddle and Darrell Stuckey joined Brandon Flowers on IR. Jason Verrett, Patrick Robinson and Steve Williams are nursing injuries as well, so the Bolts brought in a pair of veteran defensive backs to bolster the unit in S Brandian Ross and CB Cassius Vaughn. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano explained the challenges, and process, in getting them ready for Sunday:
"The biggest thing is the terminology. They stand right next to you at practice, and they're hearing every word your saying. They're guys that have played in this league that whether we call it purple, they may have called it red in their coverage scheme of things. That's the fastest thing that they have to get is that terminology. They are doing a great job with it. They're asking a ton of questions. We're meeting extra with them. They've been pro's in this game and are two great young men coming in here excited about the opportunity. The way things went last week, you may see them out there."
5. Close Out Mile High - The Bolts don't lack for motivation, but the chance to significantly hamper the Broncos' chances in the playoffs drives the Chargers this Sunday. Denver has already clinched a berth, but with a Chargers win and Kansas Chiefs victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Broncos would be a wild card team rather than AFC West Champs. As a result, they would have to go on the road, and a loss to the Bolts also makes it more likely they must play on Wild Card weekend regardless. Philip Rivers explained how significant it would be to make it a more difficult path for the Broncos in the postseason:
"In my mind, it's not let them play another game at home this year. Let's make this be their last home game. Let's find a way to do that. We know obviously what the game means to them and what the atmosphere is going to be like. So, we'll get a playoff type atmosphere even though it will be the end of it for us."