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Scouting the enemy: San Diego Chargers

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The Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers have a historic rivalry spanning six decades. The two teams will meet for the 113th time tomorrow night. Here is what to watch for.

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A rivalry game on Thursday Night Football — what's not to like?

For six decades the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers have clashed on the gridiron.  Tomorrow's affair will be the 113th time the two franchises have met when the Broncos storm into Qualcomm Stadium hoping to rid themselves of the bad taste Sunday's defeat to Atlanta left in their mouth.

Overall, Denver holds a convincing head-to-head series lead with 63 wins, 49 losses and one tie.  This year, the Broncos are 4-1 and on tied for the AFC West lead with the Oakland Raiders, while the Chargers are at the bottom of the division with a lackluster 1-4 record.

San Diego's record may be surprising, but don't sleep on what they can do tomorrow night.  Rivalry games are almost always tough, and despite four losses, the Chargers' offense is one of the league's best.  Look for Philip Rivers and his offensive unit to give it their all against the Wade Phillips led Broncos defense.

With Head Coach Gary Kubiak sidelined for health reasons, Interim Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis will be taking over the game day responsibilities for Denver.  Will he be ready for the challenge?  You will have to tune in tomorrow to find out. 

In the meantime, here are some of my observations prior to tomorrow night's game.  Enjoy.

A Concern for San Diego - Defensive Dumpster Fire

I'm not trying to be condescending when I state this, but the Chargers' defense is an absolute dumpster fire.  Chalk them up against most any other team in the league and you will see that they are one of the worst units in the NFL. It has been a long time since the Chargers have boasted a top-tier defense capable of consistently shutting down opponents, and this year certainly isn't an exception.

They rank 28th in points allowed (28.4 per game) and 23rd in yardage allowed. Teams are throwing for nearly 300 yards a contest against them and are averaging roughly 83 yards a game on the ground. Through five games, the Chargers' defense has allowed 17 touchdowns.  Week in and week out, teams are licking their chops, eagerly awaiting to go all out, guns blazing against a porous defense that seemingly has issues everywhere.

With Trevor Siemian expected to start tomorrow evening, the Broncos' passing attack should be a notch better than it was with Paxton Lynch at the helm against Atlanta.  In the event that Siemian does not start, Lynch would have the opportunity to show off his skills against a porous Chargers secondary.

San Diego's top defensive player, cornerback Jason Verrett, won't be on the field, as he tore his ACL a week ago and is expected to miss the rest of the season.  His absence should benefit the Broncos, in particular receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders who have a shot at having big games against Williams or Desir and Craig Mager.

If there is any week for the Broncos' offense to rebound after a horrendous showing against the Falcons this would be the one.

The X-Factor for San Diego - Philip Rivers

It's easy for to understand why many Broncos fans don't like Philip Rivers, but I don't share the overwhelming sentiment of disdain Broncos Country in general has for him. In fact, I think he is a stellar player who has had a tremendous career, who unfortunately has shouldered the burden of playing on terrible teams.

Despite a 1-4 receover, Rivers is off to a phenomenal start to the 2016 season. He lost two of his top offensive weapons in Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead and still has put up tremendous numbers. Rivers has thrown for 1,469 yards, 11 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions.  His QBR of 108.4 is one of the highest in the league. 

If it wasn't for the veteran leadership and poise of Rivers, the Chargers would be a lot worse than their record indicates.  He is the primary reason their offense is able to keep pace in shootouts, and they rank second in the league in points scored and eighth in overall yardage.

The Broncos' defense has went through a gauntlet of first-round picks with aerial prowess through their first five games. Tomorrow will be no different.  Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips is well aware of the talent Rivers possesses, and holds a great deal of respect for the longtime signal caller because of his ability to overcome adversity and perform at a high level around him, even with an offensive unit decimated from injuries.

"That’s why I have so much respect for him, besides that he’s a great competitor. He’s a real talent. He has been for a long time. He continues to be that. I don’t know what it is; every week we get a quarterback that’s throwing for 300, 400, 500 yards the week before, and he’s another guy that’s an elite quarterback," stated Phillips. "

"Every week we’ve played somebody like this—not quite like him. Obviously he does some different things, but he’s a great competitor and a really great quarterback."

Key Matchup's to Watch

Von Miller vs. Joe Barksdale

Broncos star outside linebacker Von Miller has had a terrific start to his 2016 season, registering 6.5 sacks his first five games. This week he will be going up against Joe Barksdale and has a chance to add to that total.

The Chargers' offensive line has given up 11 sacks on the season, with seven of those coming in the past three days. Getting pressure on Rivers will be integral in order to stop San Diego's potent offensive attack. Look for Miller to have a big game for the Broncos tomorrow evening.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders vs. Brandon Flowers and Craig Mager

As mentioned earlier, the Chargers' defense has struggled stopping opponents in the passing game.  Teams are averaging nearly 300 yards through the air against their defense. With Verrett out for the rest of the season, the Chargers will rely on Flowers and Mager to man down their top cornerback positions. Look for Flowers to earn coverage responsibilities on Thomas, with Mager following Sanders wherever he goes.

If I had to bet on who will have the bigger day receiving wise, my vote goes for Sanders. Mager, a 2015 third-round draft pick (who was virtually considered a late-round talent by most scouting services) has struggled tremendously this season and will have another tough match-up facing off against the always savvy Sanders.

Hart's Prediction


Forecast for Thursday Night Football:  Offensive fireworks on display for both teams, but the Broncos' sticking strong late to defeat the Chargers on the road and rise to a 5-1 record at the top of the AFC West.

Broncos, 34.  Chargers, 27.