The AFC West steps into the primetime spotlight for Monday Night Football in Week 6. Here’s the tale of the tape for Monday’s divisional tilt between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers:
The Broncos offense has spiked with Peyton Manning under center. Denver is posting 287.2 passing yards per game – fifth in the NFL – and is averaging 27 points a contest. Receiver Demaryius Thomas is emerging as a deep threat while TE Joel Dreessen is a prime red-zone target, catching three TD passes in the past three games. The Broncos’ rushing attack is 17th in the league, rumbling for 101.2 yards per outing on the shoulders of veteran RB Willis McGahee. However, while McGahee has shown he still has plenty of tread on the tires – with two 100-plus yard games – his fourth-quarter fumble inside the red zone sunk Denver’s chances of a comeback versus New England last weekend.
The Bolts' scoring attack has regrouped since being limited to just three points in a loss to the Falcons in Week 3. San Diego QB Philip Rivers passed for a season-high 354 yards in a loss to New Orleans last week but has had trouble with turnovers in recent games. Rivers has thrown five INTs in his last four contests. Running back Ryan Mathews is beginning to get healthy after missing the start of the schedule with a collarbone injury. He rushed for 80 yards and a score in the loss to the Saints and averaged 6.7 yards per carry in that contest. Mathews is expected to start after coming off the bench the last two games.
The Broncos were bowled over by the Patriots in their loss last weekend, allowing Tom Brady and New England to pick up a team-record 35 first downs. The defense did tighten up in the second half, especially with the pass rush. Linebacker Von Miller led a disruptive front seven that sacked Brady four times. The Broncos had trouble slowing down New England’s ground game and have watched opposing rushers run for 120.2 yards a game this season. That’s allowed opponents to control the clock and keep Manning off the field. Denver ranks just 24th in time of possession this season.
The Chargers' stop unit has been stout against the run, giving up just 74 yards an outing. Opponents are averaging 3.7 yards per carry versus San Diego but those numbers are a bit skewed thanks to a porous pass defense that is allowing foes to throw for 260 yards per game – 20th in the NFL. The Bolts do have some dangerous playmakers on defense though, and have picked off six passes this season. Antoine Cason and Eric Weddle each have two INTs. San Diego has also forced seven fumbles, recovering four of those loose balls.
Edge: San Diego
Denver ranks near the bottom of the AFC in kick returns and averages just 7.4 yards per punt return. The Broncos have countered that with solid kick coverage, allowing an NFL-low 16.2 yards per kickoff and an AFC-best 5.6 yards per punt return. Kicker Matt Prater is 7 for 7 on FG attempts, delivering on two kicks from 50-plus yards this season.
The Chargers average 25.8 yards per kick return but just 5.8 yards per punt return – an AFC low. The Bolts have held opposing special teams to 24.4 yards per kick return and 10.9 yards per punt return – ninth in the NFL. Kicker Nate Kaeding is also a perfect 7 for 7, connecting on three FGs between 40-49 yards. He has yet to attempt a FG of 50 or more yards.
Word on the street
"It's an area where we can be better in. We've got good pass rushers, we've got good cover people. We've just got to do that part a little better, eliminate some of the exposure we've had. That's an area where we feel we can significantly improve in, and right away." – Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio on stopping teams on third down.
“I anticipate our crowd to be loud. They will be a big part of how we play and they can really affect the game. When you are playing a team that is no huddle and you are asking your crowd to be loud, you have to make calls, too. We have to make our adjustments. I just want them to get that feeling of the no-huddle.” – Chargers coach Norv Turner on facing Denver’s no-huddle offense.