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Scouting the enemy: Los Angeles Chargers

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The Los Angeles Chargers are quietly having one of the best seasons of any franchise in the National Football League. Let’s take a deeper look the staunch opponent the Denver Broncos face on Sunday.

Tennessee Titans v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Not too long ago the Los Angeles Chargers were the bottom dwellers of the AFC West in 2015 and 2016. After reaching the postseason in 2013, the franchise slid into a downward spiral enduring coaching woes and a never-ending string of injuries that hampered their ability to be successful. But that was then and this is now. Under the leadership of second-year head coach Anthony Lynn, the Chargers have embarked upon a significant transformation and are emerging as one of the most formidable football teams in the National Football League.

The Los Angeles Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints are considered by many to be the top three teams in the National Football League. Though the Chargers most certainly deserve top five consideration sporting a 7-2 record. In fact, the Chargers’ only two losses have been to the Chiefs and Rams earlier on in the season. Since their week three loss on the road to the Rams, the reborn Chargers have strung together six straight wins.

That isn’t particularly good news for the Denver Broncos, who are trending in the exact opposite direction of the Chargers in their woeful 2018 campaign. The prospect of a second half of the season turnaround for the franchise doesn’t seem likely, but a win on the road in Los Angeles would provide a small spark for optimism for the team and its fan base moving forward. But how realistic is a win for the Broncos on Sunday? Before I get to my prediction, let’s take a deeper look at the identity of the Chargers offensively and defensively and delve into some keys to the game.

A glance at the Chargers’ offense

The Chargers enter this weekend’s game against the Broncos sporting a top ten offense with respect to yardage gained and points scored. They are averaging nearly 27 points and 400 yards per contest, with their passing offense ranked thirteenth and rushing offense ranked seventh league-wide.

It all starts with quarterback Philip Rivers who is playing the most consistent football of his career in his fifteenth season. His top two receiving targets are Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams. Through nine games, Allen has 53 receptions for 687 yards and two touchdowns, while the speedster Williams has shown his penchant for being an incredible deep threat. He is averaging a whopping 19 yards per reception and has snagged 26 grabs for 497 yards and five touchdowns.

But those two receivers aren’t the only ones the Broncos defense will have to be cognizant of tomorrow. After an underwhelming rookie campaign marred by injuries, second-year Clemson product Mike Williams is starting to show glimpses of why the Chargers used a top ten selection on him in the 2017 NFL Draft. Williams has also started to pick up steam in his second season and has hauled in 18 receptions for 338 yards and 5 touchdowns. With his impressive size, Williams is a significant threat in the red zone and will be a tough player for the Broncos’ defense to defend.

The Chargers also boast an impressive rushing attack headlined by Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Gordon has rushed for 672 yards and 7 touchdowns on 125 attempts this season. His counterpart Ekeler has gained 345 yards on 59 carries. They are one of the league’s most underrated running back duos and both of them are sporting well over five-yard per carry averages. Not only that, but they are also dangerous as receiving threats out of the backfield.

Make no mistake Broncos Country, this Chargers’ offense is loaded with weapons and have the ability to strike a touchdown at a moments notice. It will take a comprehensive effort defensively in order to keep them at bay. If the Broncos can limit the production of their running game and pin their ears back to get after Rivers, they have a shot. If they can’t stop the run they will be in some serious trouble.

A glance at the Chargers’ defense

For as great as the Chargers’ offense has been this season, their defense has been equally as impressive. Their unit is allowing just a tick under 21 points a game, good enough for eighth-best in the NFL. In terms of yardage, they are middle-of-the-pack (fourteenth) giving up 356 yards per game. They have a penchant for getting after the passer and are tenth in the league with 26 sacks on the season and have forced 10 interceptions which is seventh most among all teams.

It’s truly remarkable how staunch the Chargers’ defense has been considering star defensive end Joey Bosa, who registered 23 sacks and 111 tackles in his first two seasons hasn’t played a single snap for them this season due to a lingering foot injury. He will be a game-time decision for Sunday, but if he ends up playing that will make things extraordinarily difficult for the Broncos’ offensive line that has been depleted with injuries over the past several weeks.

A tip of the hat is well-deserved and in order for the Chargers’ secondary. They boast a trio of impressive defensive backs in Casey Hayward, Desmond King and versatile rookie Derwin James. With Case Keenum’s appetite for interceptions, don’t be surprised if any of the aforementioned come away with a pick tomorrow afternoon.

Keys to the game

Usually I focus on individual or positional match ups for the keys to the game segment, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. First and foremost, the run defense needs to show up and limit Gordon’s impact on the game. Second, the offense has to actually show some efficacy and generate some points and avoid turnovers. That might be an issue considering how many lineman will be playing in new positions on Sunday, but I will cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Hart’s Prediction

I don’t mean to be overtly negative, but I’m not too optimistic about the Broncos’ chances of winning on Sunday. The Chargers are a legitimate contender, whereas the Broncos have under-performed and underwhelmed all season long. One team is consistent on both sides of the ball while the other is not. I think the Chargers have too many weapons offensively and with the Broncos’ offensive line in disarray, I expect their Chargers’ defensive front to put a significant amount of pressure on Keenum and force him to several bad decisions that result in turnovers. Another week, another disappointment.

Chargers 27, Broncos 17.