While the 5-5 Broncos were resting and recuperating during their bye week, the heavyweights in the AFC spent their weekend expanding on their lead in the playoff chase. With seven games to go that include five matchups against the AFC West Denver still has control over their own destiny, but there’s no longer room for miscues. Up first is the Los Angeles Chargers, who found a way to survive a valiant comeback attempt from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There’s no question L.A. is one of the scarier matchups the Broncos have faced this year. The Bolts are 6-4 with one of the most promising young quarterbacks in football, a talented receiver duo, and arguably the best pass rusher. The Chargers also have Brandon Staley as head coach, a wunderkind who knows the Fangio system like its his own.
To get a better grasp as to how the Broncos can find their way on Sunday, I reached out to Bolts from the Blue’s Michael Peterson.
What an incredibly bad decision. https://t.co/F7JnPeGM42— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) November 23, 2021
1st and 10
It’s hard to overlook how the Broncos and Chargers currently feel like two teams moving in opposite directions. LA has their franchise quarterback and a defensive wunderkind head coach along with oodles of cap space in 2022. Are things as great as they appear from this side of the fence?
Peterson: Honestly....yes. No matter how hard the pessimist in me wants to believe nothing has truly changed for the Chargers this year, I can’t ignore it anymore. Brandon Staley has this team in a completely different state of mind in comparison to the prior two head coaches. This is 21st century football being played and coached in Los Angeles and fans couldn’t be happier. Add in the cap space next year, the excellent performances of young players at several important positions, a vastly improved culture change, and the Chargers really seem to be poised for inevitable future success.
Of course, I’d be wrong not to mention that this still has several problem areas, such as tackling and special teams. After the blocked punt by the Steelers this past Sunday, I’m pretty confident in saying this is still the league’s worst third phase of the game.
Steelers are in 2-man. Defenders are in trail tech and Herbert is still able to get the ball over the trail defender but ball comes in fast enough to beat the split safeties about 35-yards from the launch point. pic.twitter.com/NAqCXUZOWC— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) November 22, 2021
2nd and 8
I’ve already mentioned Justin Herbert, but I can’t help but feel as if Broncos Country has yet to grasp how good he really is. He combines elite physical tools with the kind of mental makeup you pray for in a young passer. How can Fangio and the Broncos defense slow him down? What would you do to attack the Bolts’ offense?
Peterson: While at times Justin Herbert seems unflappable, all you have to do is look at the Chargers’ games against the Ravens and Patriots to get a good idea on how to throw a wrench into the Chargers offense. First, it starts with exploiting the right side of the offensive line which is currently being held down by Michael Schofield and Storm Norton. Both have been quite pedestrian since being thrusted into the starting lineup and each struggled immensely against teams with notable defensive head coaches.
Keeping the Chargers behind the sticks early in the game also seems to go a long way in interrupting the offense’s flow throughout. Herbert usually can bounce back from bad starts, but when that’s coupled with his pass-catchers dropping balls, things start to unravel fast. The Chargers are one of the best teams when it comes down to third-and-long conversions, but relying on your second-year quarterback to throw the team out of those situations over and over again is not a recipe for success.
Chargers Run Block/Pass Block Grades vs. Steelers— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) November 23, 2021
Slater 55.6 / 87.6
Feiler 70.7 / 67.4
Linsley 56.7 / 74.3
Schofield 46.3 / 74.3
Norton 50.1 / 52.0
3rd and 3
Joey Bosa is the kind of game wrecker that doesn’t really need a lot of ink. Outside him, the Chargers have had their struggles this year. How should Pat Shurmur, Teddy Bridgewater, and the Broncos’ offense attack this defense?
Peterson: Both the Ravens and Patriots were able to throw multiple blockers at Bosa all game. This left their other linemen to win their one-on-one matchups against guys like Jerry Tillery and Justin Jones. Unfortunately that strategy worked far too well in those games, as you can see. The Chargers also lack any real depth at cornerback. Asante Samuel Jr. is currently out with his second concussion and Michael Davis is having one of his worst years in coverage. If guys like Tevaughn Campbell and Kemon Hall are pressed into duty, the Broncos should be able to use the big bodies of both Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick to pick apart the back end.
Teddy Bridgewater with a 44-yard checkdown for a touchdown to Tim Patrick.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 7, 2021
Broncos with a two score lead over the Cowboys pic.twitter.com/v4P2gViNNK
4th and inches
Tom McMahon has been a joke of a coordinator since John Elway hired him in 2018, but LA actually has a worse special teams by DVOA. The kicking game’s improved since Dustin Hopkins signed, but they still allowed a blocked punt last week and struggle to cover punts or make open field tackles on a weekly basis. Are you at all concerned about the Broncos taking advantage of these issues?
Peterson: Yes. I’m very concerned. Mostly due to the Chargers making whomever they play look like a First-Team All Pro kick/punt returner. Their special teams unit has been so bad over the years that it’s essentially a meme at this point. The addition of Andre Roberts has given the return game some life, but coverage units have been very inconsistent and as you mentioned above, they still will allow the occasional blocked punt. I personally believe Long needs to be more mindful of the rush and get the ball out faster, but that’s just one issue I have with a unit full of them.
What’s your prediction for the game? Broncos win if...? Chargers win if...?
Peterson: I believe the Chargers win another close one 24-21.
The Broncos win if they pick off Justin Herbert and win the time of possession battle. As of week 12, the Chargers are 2-4 in games where Herbert throws a pick. The only two wins were this past weekend and week one against Washington.
The Chargers win if Herbert plays a mistake-free game and utilizes his legs to keep the team ahead of the chains. It’s a morale destroyer when mobile quarterbacks turn would-be sacks into first downs so I believe a handful of those types of plays will go a long way in keeping the Broncos offense off the field. If this somehow turns into another shootout, it’s hard not to lean L.A., as well.
Who wins the Broncos game against the Chargers?
Broncos by a ton.
Broncos by a little.
Chargers by a ton.
Chargers by a little.
We all lose. Eat at Arby’s.