With two straight wins, the Chargers (3-4) have changed the trajectory of their season and will attempt to get back to .500 this week when they play the Broncos (5-2) in Denver, after playing in San Diego only 17 days prior. The Chargers won the first meeting 21-13, but the Bolts were up 21-3 before allowing the Broncos to come all the way back and get a chance at a game-tying Hail Mary, so I expect this game to be much more even.
The last time the Bolts had a 2-game winning streak inside its division was when they won three games in the last three games of the season against the Broncos, Raiders, and Chiefs to make the playoffs in Mike McCoy’s first year in 2013. This is arguably the toughest game left on the Chargers remaining schedule, with teams like Carolina (1-5) and Houston (4-3) both not looking as good as they did at the start of the season, and getting to play Oakland (5-2) and Kansas City (4-3) at home in their next meetings.
The Broncos offense struggled mightily in the first matchup against the Bolts, with only 304 yards of total offense and even most of that coming in desperation time late in the fourth quarter. Trevor Siemien was hampered by a shoulder injury in the first game and it showed, as he had a QBR of only 22.8 in their first matchup and did not have a passing play go for more than 20 yards. Denver got some bad news this week in their backfield as they learned that C.J. Anderson is going to miss significant time with a knee injury, and although he didn’t hurt the Bolts in the running game, he was by far their best pass-catcher out of the backfield, which has been a weakness of the Chargers defense. Now rookie Devonte Booker will take over, and he averaged 9 yards per carry in the first game of this series, but only had five carries and has been prone to fumble this year with two already. The Broncos will try and get back on track, after no receiver in the first matchup went for more than 40 yards, and held the duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmannuel Sanders to a combined 75 yards, 0 touchdowns, and a fumble.
The Chargers offense has scored the most points in the AFC and the second most in the entire league so far with 29.4 points per game but scored only 21 against this great Denver defense in Week 6. One of the keys to the game will be the health of rookie tight end Hunter Henry, who is in the league’s concussion protocol and is questionable but was a full-participant in practice, and he said he thinks he’ll play. Henry and Antonio Gates will have to attack the middle of the defense, as Denver is the best there is against wide receivers, so having both of these players will be key. Melvin Gordon will look for his second 100-yard rushing game of the season, as he takes on the 22nd rank rushing defense after finishing with 94 yards in their last matchup. Philip Rivers was limited in the last game, so the Bolts will give Melvin Gordon around twenty carries in this game, if not only to keep Denver’s deadly pass-rush off-balance. San Diego’s receiving will probably struggle against this secondary again as Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin, the Bolts top-two options, have dealt with injuries this week and are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game and although I expect them both to play, I am limiting expectations.
The Broncos defense looks to bounce back after spotting the Chargers a 21-3 lead in the last matchup, but actually did not have a bad game keeping the Bolts to only 178 yards passing, and 99 yards rushing. The Broncos did a great job taking away the Chargers wide receivers in the first matchup, and will use a similar strategy in this game but will need their best cornerback Aqib Talib to get that done but he is questionable to play this weekend with a lower back injury. The Broncos have led the league so far with 22.0 sacks on the season but had no sacks last week against Houston, they could get some help this week as Demarcus Ware has returned from injury this week and if he plays, even in limited snaps, could be dangerous in obvious passing situations. Another big injury that could limit the Broncos defense is the injury to inside linebacker Brandon Marshall who might not play, and if he can’t go it would be a big loss in the center of their defense, in the passing and running game.
In the last matchup with the Broncos, the Chargers defense had maybe its best game of the season when they allowed only thirteen points while forcing and recovering two fumbles, and causing a safety. Sound tackling will be huge in this game as Trevor Siemien has struggled with the deep ball, so there will be many short passes and they will have to limit the yards after the catch. Since Joey Bosa was inserted into the lineup he has had four of the Bolts seven sacks, he will undoubtedly attract extra attention so the rest of the defense will have one-on-one opportunities to create pressure. Brandon Flowers has officially been cleared to play in this game for the first time since Week 3, which is big news for the Chargers defense since it has had to use very inexperienced players the last few weeks because of the injuries and Flowers should look better with the improved pass rush. The Chargers run defense will be put to the test this week after the huge loss of defensive tackle Caraun Reid for the season, Gary Kubiak loves to run the ball so we will see how this group does, especially in the fourth quarter when visiting teams start to feel the altitude of Mile High Stadium.
The Chargers will have to have a great game to win this week in one of the toughest places to play in the league. They are currently four-point underdogs even after beating Denver only less than three weeks ago, and I agree with that this week. I have a bad feeling about this game, I think the Chargers keep it close but fall to the Broncos 20-16.