Following the disappointing loss in Vegas, the Denver Broncos’ playoff hopes are all but dead. That doesn’t mean the season’s over, though. With two AFC West contests left to close out the 2021 season and Teddy Bridgewater in concussion protocol, Drew Lock will get another chance to prove himself in Los Angeles.
To get a better grasp of what’s in store for the third year passer, I spoke with Bolts from the Blues’ Michael Peterson.
Chargers get a leader back on either side of the line of scrimmage. Hall and Marshall each return to reinforce a very shallow secondary. https://t.co/lTfM1AS3HA— ☃️Walking in a Der-Winter Wonderland☃️ (@ZoneTracks) December 29, 2021
1st and 10
It’s getting lost in the wash that LA was down 14 players against the Texans, including Michael Davis shortly before kickoff. How are things looking this week and how do you think it impacts the game? Could the NFL potentially switching the return date (will link) help the Bolts?
Peterson: So far this week, the Chargers have gotten back running back Austin Ekeler, cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, and defensive lineman Joe Gaziano from the COVID-19 list. Ekeler’s return is obviously massive, but Campbell and Gaziano’s return also gives the Chargers some bodies back with notable playing experience this season. However, by no means does their return drastically change the outlook of this game. With a number of starters still on the list and several others who have already been ruled out for this week’s game such as Mike Williams and Chris Harris Jr., I can’t help but feel like the Chargers are in for another rough outing as they’re forced to trot out a number of practice squad players on either side of the ball.
If the offense failed to move the ball against a bunch of Houston backups, how are they going to get the job done against the league’s best scoring defense? It just doesn’t compute.
Of course, there are still a handful of days left between when I’m typing this and game day, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more players return while there’s also still a chance other players take their place on the COVID list.
CB Michael Davis, S Alohi Gilman, G Senio Kelemete, DT Andrew Brown, EDGE Emeke Egbule are all being added to the COVID-19 list, as well. https://t.co/QkGPqlqbdj— ☃️Walking in a Der-Winter Wonderland☃️ (@ZoneTracks) December 27, 2021
2nd and 10
The Broncos averaged 4 yards per play despite facing one of the worst defenses in football last weekend. The Raiders were able to erase Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams on their way to pressuring Drew Lock on 50% of his passes. What parts of Gus Bradley’s game plan will Brandon Staley try to replicate in this matchup?
Peterson: This is a tough question as you’d like to think Brandon Staley would attempt to replicate Bradley’s game plan, but I can’t say with a ton of confidence that will happen. Now after the drumming they received by the Texans on the ground, the Chargers may look to ditch a lot of their foundational concepts for run defense (lighter boxes, inviting the opponent to run the ball) to make sure they aren’t gashed once again. However, with a number of pieces out of the Chargers’ secondary, I could also see Staley not wanting to open that unit up to being exploited while in unfavorable personnel packages. The Broncos receivers are all still plenty dangerous and I think Staley may stick to his numbers that tell him to keep a cap on the passing game while forcing the opponent to chip away at them with long, methodical drives.
The one thing I do hope Staley does is play the linemen who have shown to be capable as run stoppers. Breiden Fehoko has been much more efficient than Jerry Tillery, but the latter keeps getting the lion’s share of the snaps because he’s the former first-round pick.
There is a possibility the Chargers' corners are Asante Samuel Jr., Essang Bassey, Tevaughn Campbell, and Kemon Hall against the Broncos.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 30, 2021
3rd and 10
The Broncos defense is tied with the New England Patriots for the best scoring defense in the league. At the same time, opponents are converting 42.8% of their third downs and the Broncos run defense is among the worst in football. How will Joe Lombardi try to attack this defense?
Peterson: With the success of the run game as of late, I don’t see why Lombardi wouldn’t want to keep winning the line of scrimmage on offense. The Chiefs had no answer for the run game in the OT loss two weeks ago and Justin Jackson had a very efficient day on the ground against the Texans. If the Broncos run defense is as bad as you say, Lombardi won’t be able to help himself, especially with Ekeler returning this week.
Oh the Broncos have one of the worst third-down defenses in the NFL? Well the Chargers have THE WORST unit when it comes to getting off the field on third down, so this is probably fun to hear for Chargers fans. Lombardi’s offense is still very reliant on stick concepts and other short passing plays. If the Chargers find themselves in third-and-three or four, this is likely the play the Broncos will see.
4th and 5
Last time these teams met the Broncos’ pass rush played a huge role in limiting Justin Herbert. Dre’Mont Jones and company really abused Senio Kelemete. How should Fangio attack the protection now that a healthy Matt Feiler’s back in the starting lineup?
Peterson: The Broncos truly got a free pass when Kelemete was on the field. He’s been a turnstile when given the chance to play and I couldn’t be happier that Feiler is back where he belongs. Since the left side will be at full strength, Fangio will have to focus on the right side of the offensive line with Storm Norton and Michael Schofield. Oddly enough, Norton and Schofield were the team’s highest-graded offensive linemen against the Texans, per Pro Football Focus. That just goes to show how wacky last Sunday’s performance was. But still, Norton and Schofield have been playing better, but not good enough to believe the Broncos pass rush couldn’t find a way to exploit their shortcomings. Keep playing games and force them both to use elite communication to combat it.
The Broncos have a first round need for a pass rusher. pic.twitter.com/WdmGnhb2ma— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 28, 2021
What’s your prediction for this one? Chargers win if...? Broncos win if...?
Peterson: I hate to say it, but if the Chargers don’t get a bunch of players back from the COVID list I don’t see how they compete at all in this game. The offense is all the Chargers have right now and I don’t see how they compete if that unit is not at full strength. I’m calling this game a Broncos victory by a score of 24-17.
The Chargers win if they bring their A-game. When the offense is churning, there’s almost no one that can keep up with them. When it’s bad, it’s horrendously bad.
The Broncos win if they can make Justin Herbert uncomfortable enough to throw at least one interception. The team isn’t built to handle adversity. When Herbert throws at least one interception, their chance of winning plummets drastically.
Who wins on Sunday?
This poll is closed
Broncos by a ton
Broncos by a wee bit
Chargers by a ton
Chargers by a wee bit
No one wins. Eat at Arby’s.