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Ultimate Fan: Broncos should win but can’t overlook a still-deadly Chargers team

Khalil Mack will be a menace, and the Chargers offense isn’t without talent, so Broncos need to bring their A-game to L.A.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Ok, ultimate fans, although we did not make it through unlucky week No. 13 unscathed, we are moving right past that heartbreaking loss to the Texans and looking to get back on the plus side in the win column.

Helping us do that is none other than stat guru and former MHR staffer Topher Doll. Married to a former Chargers fan, he always has great insight into the L.A. team, and with this weirdly bad talented-but-not-very-good Chargers team, that knowledge is critical.

Not to steal his thunder, but here’s Topher’s ticket for a Broncos win - “Stuff the run, collapse the pocket, watch Herbert squirm as his receivers struggle to get separation.”

Sounds great to me! Go Broncos!

Week 14: Broncos at Chargers

MHR - Welp, the wheels didn’t come off the bus, but the bus definitely got a flat tire on Sunday. What were your opinions of the game? Still believe the Broncos can be the real deal (and by that, I just mean…a potential Wild Card team!)
TopherDoll: The Texans aren’t a great team but losing to a likely Wild Card opponent is nothing to be too upset about, though after beating teams like the Chiefs and Bills, it is a little deflating, especially for those who bought fully into the Broncos being near the upper tier of the conference. I do think the Broncos have an outside shot at the playoffs; the Steelers losing on Thursday certainly helps but the Bengals, Bills, Colts, Texans and Browns, along with the Steelers, make it a very, very crowded Wild Card field. Heck the AFC South could field three playoff teams if the Jags, Colts and Texans all finish 2-3 or 3-2.

MHR - The Chargers are 5-7 and just scored six points in their recent win, but Vegas has them with a 2.5-point advantage over the Broncos. Do you agree with this? Are these teams really about the same level of talent (as that line would indicate)?
TopherDoll: The Chargers are a weird team, they have a lot of talent but that talent is either aging/lot of tread on the tires (e.g. Keenan Allen, Austin Ekler), injured (Joey Bosa, Derwin James) or young and inexperienced (Zion Johnson, Asante Samuel Jr.). I think they have the talent to compete with the best (which they have) but between injuries, age and poor coaching from Staley, they have underachieved this season for sure. As for the money line, yeah that is odd, especially since the Chargers are at home, which isn’t really a home game. I do think both teams are equal in talent, if not leaning the Broncos way, but I don’t think the Chargers ever really have everything lined up for them to show off what they have.

MHR - The Chargers have had a weirdly bad year sooner rather than later. But Justin Herbert is still Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen is a problem. How do you think the defense - particularly the pass rush and secondary - fares against this Chargers’ team?
TopherDoll: Despite injuries and players slowing down with age, I think Kellen Moore has done a solid job coaxing a good offense out of the Chargers. They are still a deadly team with some serious talent and good coaching, but Moore does have a tendency to call a few bad plays a game, and combine that with Herbert having to shoulder more of the offense, and it has led to a few more turnovers than I think they’d want. VJ has vastly improved the defense since that horrible start but Moore tends to run a different system than what the Broncos have faced during their winning streak, so while I don’t expect the Chargers to tear up the Broncos, I would expect the Chargers offense to have a good day.

MHR - I saw a headline in LA media that read something like “Denver is going to laugh at this Chargers’ running game.” Despite having Austin Eckeler on the team, the rushing attack for the Chargers’ offense has been rather paltry. Is this a good game for the Broncos’ defense to really stuff the run?
TopherDoll: Kellen Moore designed a very good run game when he was with the Cowboys but he had different backs there than he has with Ekeler. Throw in a less effective run blocking offensive line and you have an offense that is still in flux and Moore is still not the most experienced offensive coordinator. The crazy thing is the week one production from Ekeler and Kelly was monstrous, and against one of the better run defenses in the league no less (The Dolphins haven’t allowed any team to rush for 150 or more yards on them since and only have three other games where teams ran for over 100 yards). They’ve also put up good rushing games against the Chiefs, Raiders and Packers. Then you throw in some horrendous games against the Vikings, Cowboys, Bears and Pats, and I have no idea what we’ll see.

The Chargers have shown they can run against good run defenses and struggle against bad ones, though they seem to be in a pattern of good game, bad, bad, (maybe another bad), good game and if this likely random patterns continues, the Broncos could be in for a long day against the run.

MHR - Alex Singleton had a very costly - and stupid - penalty last week, and our own Joe Mahoney did a report on how he has missed an amazing amount of tackles. Yet, he has also been kind of a dawg on the defense too. What are your thoughts about Singleton - and Josey Jewell - and the inside linebacker corps in general - for the Broncos? Will it be able to keep Herbert and the offense from gaining big yards?
TopherDoll: Denver fans have a real loving relationship with linebackers and safeties who bring the heat. They have for decades. It also means they tend to defend thumpers who struggle in most areas because they love the big hits and that has been the case for the Broncos linebacking corps since the Broncos had a solid string of all around linebackers in DJ Williams, Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan. While Singleton and Jewell are both okay players, they are consistently making mental and physical mistakes, as Joe M noted. I’ve wanted the Broncos to draft a linebacker early for years but with so many needs, I get avoiding the problem and going with what you know. But man, I’d love to get back to having a linebacker who really does it all. They are rare so I’m wishing on a star, but it would help this defense so much.

The Broncos could do worse than Singleton and Jewell. I mentioned the good players above but I also remember the guys who made me really fear anyone attacking the middle of the field, like Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, Nate Irving or Steven Johnson. Playing linebacker is hard, so no knock on those guys, but the Broncos have had worse groups than they currently field.

MHR - Which defensive unit will be the most important on Sunday - pass rush? D-line? Linebackers? Secondary?
TopherDoll: If this were a decade ago I would consistently answer “linebackers” because Schotty/Norv and Rivers would uses guys like Gates and Tomlinson to just demolish the middle of the field and then when the safeties had to watch and help, they’d take the top off with Jackson or Floyd. The current Chargers aren’t constructed like that so I say the defensive line. The Chargers don’t have the passing weapons they used to and while Allen can still kill you as a route runner, he’s never been the guy to destroy a corner on a deep route consistently. So to me the Broncos defensive line’s ability to push the middle while shutting down the run will make Herbert’s life hard and while Ekeler is still a deadly checkdown, the Chargers lack the variety of weapons they once had, even two years ago. Stuff the run, collapse the pocket, watch Herbert squirm as his receivers struggle to get separation.

MHR - The Broncos’ offense struggled mightily last week - especially Russell Wilson. Although we know he’s not been elite like early Seattle days, this season has featured a much better Wilson. Do you anticipate a bounce-back performance? What do you think he needs to do (or Sean Payton needs to scheme) to make sure that’s the case?
TopherDoll: It is hard to say, so much of the “good Wilson” we saw was due to incredibly short fields and playing safe, smart ball. We saw that even in wins, when the good field positions dried up, he struggled to lead long drives. Now is it all on him? No, the line hasn’t been consistent, the run game rarely makes as many plays as we’d want and Payton still makes some dumb calls. But like a lot of the things we saw in the win streak, much of it felt flukey or hard to accomplish consistently across a season.

Now luckily the Chargers defense is pretty terrible. I say that because they rank below average in so many categories but it should be noted that their players are individually playing some great football. Mack is back to his old Raider form, and Bosa, when healthy, is a force. Murray and James are two monsters in the middle when healthy as well. But Staley is just not doing his job. The players are dominating but the unit sucks…such a weird thing. So it feels like a game where they sack Wilson a ton, pick him off and steal a fumble and still allow 25+ points.

MHR - A lot was made this past week of Russ missing Jerry Jeudy so many times. While it’s frustrating to watch as a fan, do you think this is an actual problem of Wilson’s - such as not going through the progressions, maybe not having enough time to find Jeudy, or maybe just locking in on Sutton too soon? OR was last week just last week and we shouldn’t freak out so much about this?
TopherDoll: Wilson has never been known, even at his peak, for being great with progressions. He’s not Rivers or Peyton and Mahomes. He’s a two-read guy who then buys time and hopes someone gets open. I also don’t buy the lack of time with Jeudy, QBs and WRs do take time to get on the same page but not two seasons. I can’t possibly speak to chemistry or anything like that but the fact fans wanted to trade Sutton for a late-round pick six months ago and then Sutton became the very clear No. 1 guy says a lot to me about trust in the room. Whether that is what is going on, or Payton’s having a say, or maybe Jeudy and Wilson aren’t playing as well as they could…heck, in reality, it is likely a combination of a little bit of everything.

MHR - Thanks to the Miami game, the Broncos’ defensive ranking is still near the bottom (though it moved up some after a few solid games). But the Chargers’ D is now 32nd - rock bottom in the league. How does that help the Broncos’ offense this week? And what part of the game would you like to see Payton dial up because of it?
TopherDoll: It always help to play a bad defense, and Staley to me deserves most of the blame. The players just seem lost so often, and these are Pro Bowlers, leaders, not guys lost because they lack the experience but because the coaching is failing them. I will say, since their bye the Chargers have only had two real bad defensive games, against the Chiefs and Lions - two offenses that it isn’t a shame to struggle against. They also held two top offenses, the Cowboys and Ravens to 23 or fewer points, not bad on their part. I don’t think defense is horrible, 19th in scoring, but they are certainly underachieving, and I think the Broncos can attack a defense that tends to give up a lot of yards but then buckle down in the red zone by using those big bodies in the end zone (Sutton is one of the best red zone targets in the league this year) and power running.

MHR- Last week the O-line didn’t hold as well as they seemingly had been. How much of a problem do you expect Khalil Mack to be for our offensive line?
TopherDoll: Mack has been terrorizing the Broncos since those early Raider days and with the rip he’s on this year, I don’t expect that to change, especially with the struggles the offensive line has had this year and Wilson’s career norm of taking a ton of sacks. Luckily for the Broncos offensive line the rest of the Chargers front seven is regularly hurt or inconsistent and with a few chips from the backs and tight ends, things should be okay for the most part.

MHR - What are your opinions of the Broncos running backs? A writer for Bolts from the Blue believes Brandon Staley seems likely to dare the Broncos to beat the Chargers on the ground…which seems like a weird bargain to make given our RB production. What do you think?
TopherDoll: I had really high hopes for this group, though I never bought into the “Perine is the #1B back” hype because he’s never shown that and this year he’s clearly being used in light rotation, which is where he shines. But Williams is struggling this year, even on a play by play basis, he’s not performing to the levels of Perine or McLaughlin. Even watching the film he’s not hitting holes with the same speed or decisiveness he did the past two years, he’s dropping some passes and his pass blocking has been questionable. I realize his injury impacts this and that the line isn’t playing up to their contracts but Williams worries me that he won’t return to the ascending player we saw his first two season.

I do think the unit as a whole is OK. They rank about average in attempts, yards and efficiency but I don’t think anyone has been really scared of them, though the run game did carry Wilson and the offense against the Browns, Packers and Chiefs.

MHR - Denver has the top kick and punt returner in the league in Marvin Mims. How long has it been since we could brag even a little on special teams? What are the odds Mims can get a return for a touchdown in this game?
TopherDoll: Mims is weird in that he is near the top of most returning numbers but every time he catches and has a good gain, I rarely am wow’d. He does have the only kick return touchdown in the entire league but I haven’t been as impressed with him as with the blocking. Maybe because the Broncos have had such horrible return units since the days after David Bruton left, I am more wow’d by competent blocking than a huge return, haha. But saying that, sure, I say give Mims a touchdown, heck, give him one of each. It would be an Eddie Royal miracle repeat from 2009 against the Chargers.

MHR - Broncos Country always travels well to L.A. Will this be another home game for the Broncos?
TopherDoll: Yes, the Chargers lost most of their fans when they moved to LA and they could play a high school team and have fewer fans. Though the Broncos have lost their last three games in LA, so who knows?

MHR - The Broncos remain on the very outside looking in. But it’s pretty nice to even be thinking about an offseason at this point - especially after the way things started. In your mind, are the Broncos a playoff team? What would prove that they are?
TopherDoll: The Broncos have won in such flukey ways that it is hard for me to say they are a playoff team yet, but they are on track - especially if they can either squeeze a little more from Wilson in 2024 than he’s shown in 2022 and 2023, if Payton humbles himself a bit, and if they can have another good draft (and maybe stop signing free agent offensive linemen).

As for proving it, I guess making it, you are what you do. If you’d given me a vague “are the Broncos a good team and how could they prove it?” I would answer something like “splitting their final games” or “not getting swept by the Raiders and Chargers” but the Broncos are a playoff team when they make the playoffs, pure and simple.

Predictions

Stats for RUSSELL WILSON? 15 of 25 for 175 yards and one TD and INT

Stats for each Broncos RB? I suppose throw 65 yards Williams’ way and let the others scrap over 50 or so yards with a touchdown for the unit.

Number of yards receiving/TDs for the receivers? No one over 100 yards, but Sutton snags another TD on his redemption tour.

Longest FG for Lutz? 45 yards

Number of sacks to Justin Herbert? Herbert is hard to bring down, but we’ll go 3

Broncos player with the most tackles? Alex Singleton

Who gets the first sack of the game for the Broncos? Allen has been close the past few games, we’ll give it to him.

How many times will Wilson get sacked because he holds onto the ball too f-ing long? Haha, Wilson does love his sacks…let’s go 3

How many INTs/FF/FR for the Chargers D? 1 INT and 1 FF

How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos’ D? 1 INT and 2 FF

How many holding penalties for the Broncos? Well keep it low, two

Final Score? Broncos 27, Chargers 21

The Favorites

Favorite John Elway win outside of the Super Bowls? Seems to vary based on my mood haha, but I will say that since Elway loved beating the Browns in the playoffs, his smashing of them in 1993 under Wade and Fassel was a near perfect game for me.

Favorite Broncos win ever? Again not set in stone but right now I’m partial to the Broncos upsetting the Steelers in the playoffs after the 2011 season.

Favorite Peyton Manning win? 2013 season opener in the revenge game against the Ravens, just a shellacking.

Team you love to beat the most in the AFC West? It changes based on who is beating the Broncos the most and right now the Raiders own quite the long winning streak against the Broncos so I say them.

Coach you laugh at the most in the NFL? In a funny way? Mike McDaniel, guy is just odd and I love it.

Coach you most want to throw an egg at? Maybe Bill Belichick

Team you hate to lose to the most in the rest of the AFC? Steelers

NFC team you could cheer for in the Super Bowl? I don’t really love or hate any NFC teams but I do love a good underdog or loveable team, player or coach so probably the Lions. Love Campbell’s attitude and love Goff’s revenge tour.

NFC team you want to face more than any other in the Super Bowl? 49ers, they just demolish the Broncos when it matters and a little payback would be nice.

Favorite game so far this season? Of the Broncos? Probably the Bills game, that was pretty wild and a crazy ending.

Easiest game left on the schedule? Patriots

Toughest game left on the schedule? Raiders, they have beaten the Broncos seven straight times and while McD is gone (he always beats the Broncos) I think they are a better coached team, and if they win two or three games, that final game of the season could mean something to both teams. Throw in that the Broncos haven’t gone on the road and beaten the Raiders since 2015, it certainly won’t be an easy game, even if we as fans love to knock the Raiders.

Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? None on the current team have really won me over enough to buy a jersey to geek out about them yet, but I’ll say Justin Simmons or Garett Bolles.

Favorite Broncos player of all time not named John Elway? Champ Bailey

Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? I have been a bit impressed with Delarrin Turner-Yell as he’s taken snaps here and there on defense and his special team work has looked good as well.

Food/Snack you have to eat on game day? Nothing special, just something salty and a finger food.

Favorite game analyst/commentator? Joe Buck and Troy Aikman

How did you choose your MHR handle? Currently it is just my name but prior to that I went a bit geeky with a science callback and used MaxwellsDemon because I loved the image of heat being transferred between two objects by a little demon that opens a door.

If YOU were giving a tour of the Ring of Fame, who do you highlight?

I think a lot of fans really note the great offensive players the Broncos have had over the past 30 years, but to me the Broncos have been a defensive team. Their three Super Bowl wins? All top 10 defenses. The Broncos may have had some legendary QBs, but the defensive players to me hold my heart.

How did you become a Broncos fan?

One wild ride involving growing up in an area with no team nearby, Mike Shanahan, maybe a few dark times during the Cutler years and then maybe one too many arguments with Tim about Orton-Tebow. It is weird to say, but during those McD years, I almost left following the Broncos but the fiery discussions with the staff, and then eventually joining them, helped reignite why I loved football instead of hating it.

Poll

Favorite defensive Bronco in history?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Tom Jackson
    (8 votes)
  • 16%
    Randy Gradishar
    (24 votes)
  • 32%
    Steve Atwater
    (46 votes)
  • 26%
    Champ Bailey
    (38 votes)
  • 4%
    Dennis Smith
    (6 votes)
  • 3%
    Al Wilson
    (5 votes)
  • 10%
    Your choice!
    (15 votes)
142 votes total Vote Now