First of all I want to apologize for not getting some in depth film studies and offensive/defensive breakdowns out there this week. I want to ensure MHR and Broncos Country this will not be the norm going forward.
In the absence of those things though, I have the opportunity to talk a bit more casually about our opponent so let me break some things down as I've seen them.
- I have to give former Bronco OC Mike McCoy a lot of credit for how he's adapted things this year. It isn't a surprise to me that Phillip Rivers been playing at such a high level after two rather mediocre seasons. What does Mike McCoy do best? He puts his players in optimal situations to succeed.
- Phillip Rivers is playing better because he's more poised, more patient, and therefore more accurate. One thing that seems to be different about his play is how he is more apt to check things down rather than force them downfield. The numbers from last year to this year throwing down the field are not worlds different, but the way the vertical passing game is being set up certainly is. More heavy sets, play actions, back shoulder fades to the outside. All in all it is just a more efficient set up and more efficient offense.
- On one play near the redzone, McCoy uses 13 personnel with the lone WR split left and the three TE all used as receivers along with Woodhead who is flexed out of the backfield leaving an empty set. This essentially puts the Cowboys defense into their base personnel with a couple of linebackers in coverage against Woodhead and gates.
- Think of the same tactic against the Broncos. This heavy set will put the Broncos in the "under" defense, and in a similar shift would probably at the very least leave Woodhead against Trevathan or Von Miller. If the Chargers choose to attack with more 2 back and 2 TE sets, it will at least keep the Denver defense honest with Von Miller and make him play LB more than he should.
- Thinking of Eddie Royal, if he is a no go, it wouldn't keep the Chargers from running 11 personnel. Why? Because they could easily slide Danny Woodhead into the slot and leave Mathews in the game. It would give them 5 viable receiving options to go along with several short outlets and even a couple of blockers depending on the call.
- Woodhead against any of our LB's (even Trevathan) is a mismatch.
- Keenan Allen is going to be a big time player. He can run the entire route tree and has great control of his body. He already understands when to break off a route on a backshoulder fade, and he knows when to jump for a ball to meet it at it's highest point. This should be an interesting matchup for DRC.
- There are some sacks to be had from the outside against their tackles. King Dunlap on the leftside has given up 2 thus far. He is a giant of a man at 6'9" and 310 and though he is athletic, can be beat when his frame is off balance. Speed to the outside and some misdirection moves should work. Will not give much ground up to bull rush with his length and leverage.
- On the otherside, rookie DJ Fluker will have his hands full with Von Miller. He's given up 2 sacks to this point, but he does not have the speed necessary to deal with Von. Expect the Chargers to keep a TE to that side frequently to help slow Von Miller down.
- From the middle, they have given up 1 sack and are downright stingy against the pass rush.
Depending on how much the Broncos choose to run 12 personnel, we might see Manti Teo slightly more than he saw his girlfriend. The standard operating procedure seems to be to keep nickel or dime against the Broncos 11 personnel. Against that lineup we will see either a three man front with Kendell Reyes (91) rush from one end, (94) Corey Liuget rush from the 1 tech, and (51) OLB Larry English rush from the other edge. Against a four man line, that would tend to be Liuget and Reyes as 3-techs with OLB (90) Thomas Keiser and English as your rush ends.
- From what I've seen so far, Manti Teo can be exploited over the middle on crossers with the TE. You have to be in 12 personnel in order to get him onto the field though.
- From 11 personnel, I have a feeling especially on 3rd downs that the Chargers will opt to rush 3 or 4 and drop 7-8 in coverage. They won't get a lot of pass rush up front or from the edge. In fact, I've seen them fake the rush with English only to drop him into coverage and bring 3.
- When they do decide to rush, more often than not they elect to bring an overload to one side or zone blitz in order to protect the deficiencies they have on both edges.
- Liuget is a mean man, and I fully expect him to be able to push the pocket on some occasions and log some hurries against Zane Beadles or Manny Ramirez. Chris Clark can rest easy for once in a couple of weeks, his assignment will not be at the level it has been.
- The only Chargers defensive backs that have graded out positively thus far are their safeties. Though people will universally point out that Weddle is their best player in the secondary, he has been targeted 34 times and allowed 24 receptions for 279 yards.
- Their other DB's include starters (29) Shareece Wright (36 targets, 23 receptions, 334 yards and 1 TD), (22) Derek Cox (50 targets, 33 receptions for 484 yards and 3 TD/1INT) and in the slot either (26) Johnny Patrick (32 targets, 23 receptions for 151 yards) or (31) Richard Marshall (29 targets, 23 receptions for 273 yards and 2 TD).
- This secondary isn't the least bit intimidating.
McCoy's value to this team is not what he knows about Manning, but rather what he knows about this defense. His strength is knowing our personnel and how he can limit the impact of that speed rush from the edge. Offensively, I expect the Chargers to throw a variety of looks at the Broncos, choosing to go with heavier looks that will keep Von Miller honest in his role as a LB. On defense, the Broncos are going to have to find a way to shut Danny Woodhead down coming out of the backfield.
Just like most weeks it comes down to making 3rd down less manageable for the offense. Make it 3rd and 6 or more consistently and will not see as much of their playbook. The Chargers have to be patient. They have to march down the field and gain yardage as it comes. If they start to force things and put themselves behind on later downs, they have no chance at sustaining offensive momentum.
Ryan Mathews is not the type of runner that gives our front issues. He is running harder with more determination, but he will not be able to get to the 2nd level consistently enough or make guys miss if he does get there. Danny Woodhead probably doesn't have the toughness to run straight up in power sets, but he is shifty in space and can cause the Broncos some issues if they choose to run 3 WR sets.
The key matchups I see here are DRC against Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead against one of our linebackers (take your pick depending on set up) and Antonio Gates either against Trevathan or a safety. Not knowing if Adams will get the start over a dinged up Ihenacho, I can tell you Adams struggled mightily last year against Gates.
Defensively, the Chargers just don't have enough there to compete. There are mismatches across the board if the Broncos run 2 TE sets and try and punish the middle of the field, there are mismatches across the board in 11 personnel.
If somehow the Charger defense can confuse Peyton on some blitzes, there could be some issues. The entire key to their game tomorrow will be whether or not their defense can force some turnovers or get some pass rush going from the middle with guys like Liuget and Reyes.
The Chargers have to keep this game close so the Broncos don't settle into their defensive strengths.
Broncos 34 Chargers 24
I just don't see enough here to keep the Bronco offense in check