It feels like it was just yesterday that the Denver Broncos (11-2) played the Thursday night season kickoff game against the Baltimore Ravens in which they dominated 49-27. It also felt like I waited centuries for that game and yet the regular season is almost over in the blink of an eye. Denver has now clinched their playoff spot with a win against the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday and now they have a short week with a Thursday night matchup against the San Diego Chargers (6-7) in the last home game of the regular season at Sports Authority Field (6:25 pm mtn).
Mike McCoy, former offensive coordinator of the Broncos, seemed fairly frustrated with his team in his post game interview after a 37-17 loss the New York Giants in which he said that, “we’re going to beat Denver on Thursday night, not play close.”
The Chargers’ pass rush has only gotten worse since we last played them in week 10, in which the Broncos won 28-20. Their pass defense was ranked 25 and has now moved down to 28th. McCoy is correct in that the game shouldn’t be a close game.
The Chargers allow a quarterback completion percentage of 67.1, third worst in the league and the same ranking for quarterback ratings of 99.5. Manning had a rating of 91.6 against the Titans in which he threw for 397 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in below freezing temperatures. He should do just fine in making sure it is not a close game against a defense that allows such statistics. Needless to say, Manning proved all the cold-weather critics wrong, including me.
One factor that will play a part in the Denver offense is the fact that Wes Welker is unlikely to play due to a concussion. Because the concussion protocol says that players can have limited, no contact practice on Thursdays, Welker should be unable to participate. This shouldn’t be a devastating impact on Denver’s receiving options considering all the other receivers are healthy however Trindon Holliday has still been limited in practice so kickoff returns may be returned by Eric Decker like we saw Sunday if Holliday doesn’t play.
The Broncos have a very similar playing style as the Chargers. Both offenses are built around the passing game, and both defenses have a strong front that stops the rush but a weaker secondary that allows more receptions than they would like.
Phillip Rivers has the best completion percentage in the league with 70.3 so the defense needs to continue to make him feel pressured in the pocket. In the last matchup Denver only allowed a 65.5 completion percentage not to mention only 20 points. The Chargers only average 24.3 points a game which says that although Rivers may be able to complete most of the passes he makes he is unsuccessful in the redzone.
Because the Broncos have clinched their playoff spot we may see some changes on defense much like last week. Defensive team leaders Wesley Woodyard and Duke Ihenacho saw less playing time against the Titans and Paris Lenon and Omar Bolden saw the brunt of the plays.
Coach Fox said Lenon is a “veteran guy and he’s played a lot of football, and we haven’t given him a lot of opportunities. Some of this is giving guys opportunities to see what they can do.”
I’m not implying by any means that the Broncos will slack off but I am saying they are now comfortable to make some risks and see what changes can be made to make a more effective defense.
With those hopeful positive changes in the Denver defense and the decrease in pass-rush success from the Chargers this should be less of a close game than we saw last time.
Denver Broncos 38 – San Diego Chargers 20
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