Here are five keys to the game heading the Week 7 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos:
1. A Fast and Furious Start – The Chargers have made marked improvements the past two weeks as they've gone on a two-game winning streak. Still, they've stressed there are important areas that must be shored up, including a lackluster start to games. L.A. has been outscored 50-7 in the first quarter over the first six games of the season. While technique issues are easy to improve through repetition and practice, trying to rectify slow starts is harder to tangibly work on. According to Philip Rivers, it all comes down to having a better sense of urgency to start the game:
"It's a collective approach, but we've always had it," he said. "So I don't know that, 'Oh, this week in practice, we're going to do this in a drill to start our practice, and we're going to really start fast this week.' No, I don't think you can (do that). I think the best way I can try to make it make sense is just (to have) more of a sense of urgency, like we seem to have when it's 16-14, when the game's on the line, or when it's 7-0 and it's the drive before the end of the first half. We've been awesome in those situations. We've gone 90 yards. We did it against New York. We did it against Oakland last week. (We need to) find a way to put ourselves in that mind frame and do that from the beginning of the game."
2. Be Balanced – Denver's defense will be as tough of a test the Chargers will face all season. The Broncos boast the number one overall defense (261.8 ypc), ranking second against the run (70.2 ypc) and sixth vs. the pass (191.6 ypg). In order to have success, the Bolts will need to maintain balance on offense. If they resort to simply airing it out, Denver can get after the quarterback with Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Shaquil Barrett, while deploying a trio of lockdown corners (Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby) and a pair of impressive safeties (Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart). Even though they are tough to run against, the Bolts must keep them off balance. Denver certainly expects to see a fair dose of Melvin Gordon, as Head Coach Vance Joseph believes he's the key to L.A.'s success:
"The guy that's been their spark has been Melvin Gordon. He's had two great games. He's their leading rusher obviously and he's their second leading receiver. He's a special player…We have to be aware, in certain areas of the field, whether he's going to be a receiver or not. In the red zone, he's scored three touchdowns — one against us. So we have to have some awareness in the red zone of where he is, and on third downs. He's made some big plays on third down in the screen game. Obviously, situational football, finding him is going to be important."
3. Keep the Turnovers Coming – After struggling to turn the ball over early in the season, the Bolts have had a pair of takeaways in two straight games. Against the Giants, they forced Eli Manning into two late game giveaways. Last week, Trevor Williams picked off Derek Carr early, while Hayes Pullard's interception in the red zone kept Oakland off the board. The Chargers now face a quarterback in Trevor Siemian who has recently struggled to protect the rock. He's thrown four interceptions over his last four games while fumbling twice. As with every team, Head Coach Anthony Lynn explained how creating turnovers is what this defense was built for:
"Play fast, play physical and create turnovers in that scheme. And we got some of those last week, and we need to get a few more. That's what we want to do, put our guys in positions to make plays."
4. Ignore the Injury Report – The Broncos will be without some of their key players on offense. A trio of wide receivers, including Pro Bowler Emmanuel Sanders will be sidelined, while starting right tackle Menelik Watson and his backup Donald Stephenson will also be out. In their stead, veteran guard Allen Barbre is expected to start at right tackle. Still, as Trevor Williams explained, the Bolts can't afford to look past their replacements:
"I got a chance to study those guys; they're pretty talented. We're all in the NFL, so you've got to have some type of talent to be at this level. I'm excited about the matchup. I can't wait."
5. Punting's Not a Bad Thing – Denver's defense is going to make its fair share of plays. The worst thing the Bolts could do is start pressing, leading to bad decisions and possible turnovers. Philip Rivers admitted as much earlier in the week. He has a great deal of respect for the Broncos defense, stressing it's better to punt than risk a costly mistake. That's especially the case with the way punter Drew Kaser has been booming the ball:
"When you're balanced, when the score is where it is, within the game, you have to weigh all those things. I remember learning as a young player that a punt can be a positive play. Yes, we want every first down. Sometimes it's, I don't know (if I can make this throw). It's a little tight. Let's let Drew punt. The way he's been punting, (let) our D play and see if we can pin them back there and get a stop. Get it right back at midfield."