This week’s “5 Questions with the Enemy” features the Bolts From the Blue’s Jamie Sewell, as the Denver Broncos will be facing the Los Angeles Rams in what is always a classic AFC West matchup. Let’s get right to it...
1) We seem to be in the thick of things when it comes to minor injuries (and some major ones). With specific guys like Chargers WR Keenan Allen and DE Joey Bosa being questionable, what are your expectations from them if they play? Who steps up if they don’t?
Keenan Allen is good to go, thankfully! He seems to frequently find his way onto the injury report every week with weird injuries (it was a tooth injury a few weeks ago...) but he’s come off the injury report ahead of Sunday’s game. It’s mildly concerning that he was only Limited in practice on Thursday and Friday, but with Friday just being walkthroughs I don’t think - hope! - there’s anything to worry about. WR Mike Williams was also added to the injury report in midweek, but like Allen is ready to go on Sunday. That means a healthy dose of Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, although with Mike and Keenan potentially carrying some small knocks that might mean Travis Benjamin sees the field a bit more. Benjamin seems to step up against Denver, but realistically he offers very little to the Chargers anymore, and has too many weaknesses as a receiver (doesn’t go up for jump balls, scared of contact, doesn’t fight in traffic) to be of much use the majority of the time.
Joey Bosa looks set to make his first appearance of the season on Sunday, but I wouldn’t expect to see him on the field very much. He’s been out since the beginning of Training Camp, and with the Chargers facing a good chance to be playing football in January, only an incompetent franchise would rush him back onto the field now, so we can probably expect him to play every snap on defense as well as Special Teams.
All joking aside, he’ll probably play just 10-15 snaps while they ease him back in, which is more than enough. The Chargers pass rush was performing miserably without Bosa at the beginning of the season but they’ve turned it around now, and boast 26 sacks on the season, which is 18 more than the Raiders have. 2017 7th round pick Isaac Rochell has stepped up his game in the past couple of weeks and has been able to get after the passer, and he’s likely to see a lot of snaps opposite the always dangerous Melvin Ingram. Damion Square has also made major strides after being moved from DT to DE, and combined with 2nd round draft pick from this year Uchenna Nwosu (who’s been promising, but clearly raw as a pass rusher), that’s the three guys you’re looking at to replace Joey Bosa. However, the Chargers have had a lot of success with pass rush from an unlikely (or likely, depending on who you’re asking) source - Derwin James! DC Gus Bradley loves moving Derwin all over the field, and he especially loves bringing him in to blitz:
Good lord, Derwin James. pic.twitter.com/HnI2OVWpiz— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) November 11, 2018
Slot CB Desmond King is an excellent blitzer in his own right, too. Gus Bradley looks to bring pressure from everywhere and try to confuse the offense - although unfortunately that often results in Melvin Ingram dropping back 10 yards into coverage. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
2) A lot of teams this year have had troubles stopping the Broncos run game. Seems like every week this season, we have to bring up the two rookie Bronco RBs that have been really hard to slow down. With Royce Freeman expected to return from injury and Phillip Lindsay quietly making cases for ROTY, what do you expect the Chargers to do in order to stop or slow this powerful running game, that’s still averaging 5.2 yards per rushing?
This is probably the worst time to be playing the Broncos, as the Chargers run stuffing specialist was MLB Denzel Perryman, who suffered an LCL and hamstring injury last week against the Seahawks and is out for the season. That means we’ll probably see Hayes Pullard take over as the MIKE LB, who was on the streets until the Chargers picked him back up a couple of weeks ago. It also probably means a lot of Kyle Emanuel playing on the EDGE. Emanuel is a pretty good run defender but an absolute liability in coverage (the same could be said about Perryman, in fairness), so there’s the potential for some major mismatches there. The Chargers are majorly talented in the secondary and not so much at LB, so it’s rare for them to have less than 5 DBs on the field at once, and 6 is pretty common, too. One change lately is that S Adrian Phillips has been pushed into more of a LB role, and he’s excelling there. Phillips has been on the roster for a few years and was usually a scapegoat whenever he saw the field (for the simple reason that he was pretty bad) but the Chargers have stuck with him, and he’s rewarding them with an excellent year. I’ve called Phillips a JAG (just a guy) many times in the past, but there’s even an argument to be made that he’s been the best player on defense for the Chargers this year.
With all that said, I expect the Chargers to stop the run the same way they did against the Seahawks - by scoring! The Broncos will likely have some success on the ground against the Chargers (not to say that the Chargers defense is poor against the run, because after a few terrible years against it they’ve improved substantially this year), but the Broncos are likely going to need to keep pace with the Chargers, and they’ll have to put the game in Case Keenum’s hands eventually - hopefully, anyway! If the Chargers can go ahead, the more the Broncos will need to throw, and that plays into the Chargers hands. If the Broncos can get a lead and hold onto it, this one could be interesting.
3) It feels like the Broncos have been playing against Chargers QB Phillip Rivers for an eternity, now in his 15th season (there is some envy here, I wish Denver had a decent QB for that long). After watching the “No Fly Zone” open it’s air space, What weaknesses do you think Rivers will look to exploit in the Denver secondary?
For better or for worse, Philip Rivers will throw the ball at anybody. He had a terrible track record against Marcus Peters, but he’d keep throwing balls his way (and often, Peters would take them back the other way!). I don’t think this is about picking at a specific matchup so much as it is taking what’s there. The Chargers have an abundance of pass catching options. Keenan Allen is one of the hardest receivers to cover one on one in the league, Tyrell Williams is quietly having an incredible season (he’s on pace for close to 1,000 yards and 10 TDs as a number 2 WR), and Mike Williams is a big body receiver with (mostly) strong hands. Then you’ve got Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, two of the best receiving backs in the NFL (in my unbiased opinion!) and while I’m not a fan of Travis Benjamin, he’s useful to stretch the field and causes defenders to stick with him deep, opening up space underneath. The Chargers passing attack is a pretty strange one this year. OC Ken Whisenhunt lives for underneath routes and crossing patterns, and while those are the Chargers bread and butter, I’m not sure if anybody (even the Chiefs!) are throwing the ball deep downfield as often as the Chargers are this year. With Keenan Allen causing havoc at the intermediate level, Tyrell Williams has really taken the next step, and been mightily impressive as a deep ball receiver. He’s second in the league only behind DeSean Jackson for Yards Per Catch (interestingly Courtland Sutton is third, and Mike Williams fourth!).
I hate it when fans of other teams try to make it sound like their offense is incredibly unique or overpowered, but it’s pretty accurate for the Chargers this year.
On a per-play basis, this season features three of the four most prolific offenses since the 1970 merger, and two of them - the Chiefs and Rams - play Monday night. pic.twitter.com/BhFuklDZME— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 15, 2018
4) Via Ian St.Clair; Not so much for this game, but what kind of impact will Joey Bosa have for the Chargers? How much better could he make them; especially in the race for the AFC West?
Good question! I think it’s hard to know, in fairness. Bosa is one of the best pass rushers in the league, and getting him back to combine with Melvin Ingram should make this defense a lot more dangerous. Nearly every member of the secondary has had a down year from last year (only Desmond King, Adrian Phillips and rookie Derwin James have remained unscathed), and that may be because they’re having to do their jobs for longer without Bosa there to get after the QB. In reality, though, he hasn’t played a down of football in close to a year, and a Lisfranc injury is likely to cause him discomfort and potentially limit mobility all season. I think the AFC West is probably out of reach for the Chargers, but if they could get a healthy Joey Bosa back for the playoffs, he could help them cause some real damage. The Chargers offense is probably fourth best in the league this year (and that’s only because the Saints, Rams and Chiefs are so damn good), and if the defense could start to reach the level that most fans were hoping for in the offseason (personally, I thought the defense would be the best unit on the team!), then the Chargers might actually have a shot at this thing.
5) Everyone likes to use the term “Any Given Sunday...” but it seems to be a more relevant term when talking about division games. Very rarely do we get to witness big time blow outs. If it comes down to a nail biter or a game, who do you expect to have the advantage of a less-than-one-score-game?
I think this probably will be a nailbiting game. The Broncos are definitely a better team than their 3-6 record suggests. The Broncos defense will provide one of the biggest tests of the season for the redhot Chargers offense, and, like usual, Special Teams mistakes will probably help swing the game in the Broncos favour. I was speaking to a friend about the game, and he reckons the Chargers will win it by a FG. I’m a bit more optimistic, and I’ll say the Chargers by 7. The Broncos will push the Chargers all the way, but I expect the Chargers to be able to get a lot of pressure on Case Keenum behind somewhat of a patchwork OL, and that’ll be the difference. 27-20 Chargers.
Thanks Casey! Some great questions and great answers by you as well! Best of luck on Sunday and for the rest of the season!