Happy Football Monday, friends. For the first time ever, in five seasons of writing about football, I have two posts in the same calendar day. I’ve come a long way from writing one 8,000-word ST&NO every week. Today, briefly, I want to cover a few things that I think will be important in tonight’s game.
1. Sam Monson of PFF wrote a good article for ESPN Insider today that talked about Philip Rivers’s struggles against pressure this season. Per Monson:
Since the start of the 2011 season, though, his completion percentage has dropped to 45.3 percent and he has thrown almost twice the number of interceptions (nine) to touchdowns (five). His throws under pressure have also been graded negatively overall by Pro Football Focus for the first seasons since we started grading (2008).
The Broncos have some horses in the pass rush game, and the Chargers are looking like they’re going to be personnel-challenged at OT tonight. Jared Gaither really solidified the left side for San Diego last season, but he’s expected to miss the game. Jeromey Clary is pretty terrible on the right side.
For Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, this is a big opportunity to wreak some havoc and accumulate some stats. For what it’s worth, I think the inside of the Chargers’ line is just as vulnerable, and that Derek Wolfe and Mitch Unrein could have some success in passing situations too.
The Chargers are going to have a chance to win if they can protect Rivers, but if they can’t, they’ll be losing the division lead. It’s especially important on third down, where the Broncos have struggled lately, excepting the Oakland game.
2. For the Broncos, the protection concern has to be the right side, with Orlando Franklin having to stay in front of either Shaun Phillips or Melvin Ingram. Chargers DC John Pagano is good at scheming up one-on-ones with Phillips and the opponent’s weaker outside protector, and I’m sure that Franklin has been drilled endlessly on it this week.
As always, a key to the front-side protection will be Peyton Manning himself, because he’ll need to recognize when he doesn’t have enough blockers, and plan to throw into the openings created by overload blitzes.
3. The Chargers are likely going to struggle to cover the Broncos’ receivers. Demaryius Thomas is better than Quentin Jammer, Eric Decker is better than Antoine Cason, and Brandon Stokley is better than Marcus Gilchrist. That doesn’t even get into the tight ends, who will have matchup advantages as well.
The Chargers actually do their best work against short routes, and I’d expect to see a lot more vertical stuff tonight than we’ve been used to against Cover-1 looks, particularly if the Broncos run the ball well, and force San Diego to bring the eighth man into the box.
4. As with the game against the Raiders two weeks ago, the Broncos need to be hellbent on setting the edge, and forcing the Chargers’ running game back inside. Ryan Mathews is capable of hurting the Broncos outside, as we’ve seen in the past. If guys like Derek Wolfe and Von Miller are winning their matchups, he’ll have a much harder time.
5. Finally, I’ll be interested to see what Trindon Holliday brings to the table. Honestly, I’ve been fine with Jim Leonhard as the punt returner, because he catches the ball and secures it, and he makes good decisions. Holliday is a lot more dangerous, but he’s far more historically apt to fumble or do something ill-advised than Leonhard is.
This is one man’s opinion, but when you have Peyton Manning, I think it’s fine to accept Leonhard’s 6.8 yards per return, rather than Holliday’s 9.2, when the tradeoff is ball security. The 2.4 yards isn’t a very big difference when you have a QB who can march it up the field like Manning can.