With the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers facing off on Thursday Night Football today, we asked Richard Wade from Bolts from the Blue some questions about the Chargers season through five games.
1. What the heck is going on with San Diego this year...did Rivers trash talk a voodoo shaman? Did the team break all of the mirrors in their practice facility? Is it coaching? Is it lack of focus by the players?
The San Diego Chargers are poorly coached team (thanks for McCoy, by the way). They have suffered several season-ending injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. They lack depth in large part because their General Manager insists on trading away mid-round picks to move up to draft middling talents like Manti Te'o, Melvin Gordon, and Jerry Attaochu. There is no accountability at any level of the organization. This starts with ownership and it's a disease that has infected everyone else. Also, there's a non-zero chance that the practice facility is built on an Indian burial ground or something to that effect.
2. The Chargers are having some success on offense at times. What are the strengths you see from the offense and how have teams been able to slow them down?
Some success in this context would be defined as "have scored the second-most points in the NFL through five weeks." The only great player on the offense is Philip Rivers. He makes everything else go. The offensive line is better than last year thanks to the addition of Matt Slauson, but they're still very inconsistent thanks to frequent injuries at every position other than center. Guys like Chris Hairston (who is terrible) are still seeing frequent playing time and trying to get the franchise QB killed. Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams provide big play ability, but neither are the sort of reliable targets that Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead were. Melvin Gordon has stepped up in a big way this year with the way he runs, but his fumbling issues have returned. Rookie tight end Hunter Henry has also brought an added element in the running and passing games.
The way you beat this offense is that you take away the shallow crossing routes and force Rivers to beat you deep then hope that your pass rush can get to him first (and it should be able to get to him if King Dunlap or Joe Barksdale miss any time).
3. What weaknesses do you see on the San Diego defense and how would you attack it if you were in charge of the Broncos?
Well, the Chargers' defense has been starting rookies and a guy signed off the Raiders' practice squad at inside linebacker. They've been forced to start street free agents like Steve Williams and street free agent caliber players like Craig Mager at corner. The outside linebackers are fairly average players but are especially poor in coverage. The safety situation started the season bad and has had injuries make it worse. In earlier weeks, I would have said to challenge the linebackers and safeties in the passing game because they were the weakness. Now, everything has become a weakness. At this point, all you really need to do is not let Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward, or Brandon Mebane beat you. Pick on basically anybody else and you should have plenty of success.
4. Tell us about two players the Broncos fans probably haven't heard of, but are really showing up for the Chargers this year.
Rookie inside linebacker Jatavis Brown out of Akron was a fifth round pick this year. He has great speed and instincts. He's the only linebacker on the team that can cover worth a damn. He's very solid against the run and his biggest strength may actually be his pass rushing. He's still learning what he can and can't do at this level, but he's an impressive young player.
Rookie tight end Hunter Henry is the best run blocking tight end the Chargers have had on the roster in years that could actually catch a football. The run game is at its best this year when they can spare Henry as a lead blocker. He's also a solid route runner with great hands. He's the heir apparent to Antonio Gates and it looks as though he will step into that role without much issue if any.
5. What are your keys to the game and prediction?
The Charges need to protect Rivers. If they can keep him off his back, he can and will find the open receiver. If they can't, it's going to be a long day. The Chargers have been awful at protecting the ball in recent weeks. They need to avoid turnovers because you can't give the ball away against a superior team and expect to have a chance. Also, Joey Bosa is probably going to need to play twice as many snaps as he did Sunday and maintain his playmaking pace. I like the Broncos in this one 24-21.