Here are five keys to the game heading into Monday night's opener between the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos:
1. Minimize Miller – Von Miller is going to make his fair share of plays. That's to be expected out of one of the premiere defenders in the NFL who is a perennial All-Pro, Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl MVP. The key is to not allow the edge rusher to single-handedly wreck a game. Miller has a knack for coming through in the clutch, whether it's taking down the QB or authoring a strip-sack. The Bolts are keenly aware of Miller's dynamic abilities, with Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt saying it best when describing the linebacker:
"I don't think there's any question he's one of the best players in the league. He's a very good player. You definitely have to be aware of him; that's for sure…They do a good job of moving him around to create matchups, so at some point, you have to block him one on one. That is what they are trying to do. A lot of times, they are going to accomplish that at some point of the game just like we as an offense try to scheme matchups to take advantage of those at times. But, you have to do everything you can to try to get help on him because he is so disruptive."
2. The Running Back Edge – Melvin Gordon has emerged as a bell-cow back for the Bolts, while Branden Oliver returns to give the team a solid one-two combination. A trademark of Head Coach Anthony Lynn has been pounding the rock, establishing a ground attack that opens it up for Philip Rivers and his arsenal of weapons. On the flip side, C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles complement each other to a tee for the home team. Anderson is powerful between the tackles while Charles has been one of the most versatile options in the passing game out of the backfield. Chargers fans know just how much Broncos' Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy likes to deploy his running backs, doing whatever it takes to maximize each one on the roster. Whichever team asserts their rushing attack will have a leg up throughout the match. It won't be an easy task for the Bolts to limit Anderson and Charles, with Defensive Coordinators Gus Bradley recently explaining how much focus the team puts into the opposition's running backs:
"Every week you look at the running backs and their running styles. When he's in what kind of style does he have, and when this other running back is in (what kind of style does he have). And what types of runs to do they like to run with certain guys. So that's part of the game plan for the run and the tackling plan that we have, because they do really all three have different styles."
3. KA13's Return – Keenan Allen has not played a game against the Denver Broncos since the 2014 season. That was only his second year in the league. Up until that point, some of Allen's finest performances came at Mile High. He announced his presence with authority his rookie year, catching a pair of TDs on Thursday Night Football, including his soaring touchdown in which he leapt over a defender and then powered his way into the end zone. Allen followed that up with a six-catch, 142-yard effort that postseason in Denver, in which he scored another pair of touchdowns. The last time he played in that stadium, he tied his then-career high with nine catches. With Allen fully healthy and returning to the field exactly one-year to the day he went down with an ACL injury in 2016, Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib knows he's in for a challenge:
"He's great on the line. He's a big body and he's a big target for Philip (Rivers). He's a super competitor. Any time you at the level that he competes, you're going to be a pretty good player."
4. Smash Siemian – Much has been said about the Chargers pass rush led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram all offseason. Now it's time to see them in action against QB Trevor Siemian. The key for any defense is making the quarterback uncomfortable, and the Bolts firmly believe they have the weapons to do just that. It's imperative against a Broncos team that features several top options at the skill positions, led by an elite pair of wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Bradley weighed in on what makes Siemian so hard to defend when given time in the pocket:
"The accuracy. He's a guy that can extend plays. Maybe different than getting out of the pocket, extend plays, but his ability to get first downs on third down; those are things that we're aware of. Makes good decisions. Accurate. Knows where he wants to go with the ball and gets it to them. Just more of a guy that you rarely see make any mistakes. He's got some threats on the outside (and) the tight end spot. The running backs are coming along. We anticipate they'll try to mix it up, both run and pass."
5. Altitude Adversity – The Broncos famously have one of the toughest home field advantages, thanks in part to the elevation a mile above sea level. Head Coach Anthony Lynn is aware of how the altitude impacts the game, having won two Super Bowls during his four-year playing career with the Broncos. However, the reasons he shared it's an advantage for the home team may not be what you think:
"I think it's more psychological, to be honest with you. I never knew we had those signs (saying we were a mile above sea level) in the visiting locker room until I came back the first time as a visitor. I saw it in the locker room, and that's what everyone started talking about. So I think it's more of a mental thing than anything."