AFC Divisional Round
4:40 ET January 12, 2014
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
The Cinderella story that is the San Diego Chargers season rolls along after going into Cincinnati and defeating the Bengals 27-10. But this Cinderella isn’t wearing a ball gown; it’s wearing a bolo tie. Phillip Rivers’ taste for the bolo tie (a gift, hand made by a fan) has got San Diegans running wild to get their own and has every fan pumped up for the Divisional Round against the #1 seed Denver Broncos. The Chargers already shocked the world when they defeated the Bengals at home last week, where they were 8-0 during the regular season. The Chargers stifled Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense all day and Phillip Rivers played mistake free, leading to the Bolts victory.
This brings us to the rubber match between the AFC West rivals, the San Diego Chargers (9-7) (4-4 Away) and the Denver Broncos (13-3) (7-1 Home). They each won away from home, with the Chargers winning 27-20 in Denver (their only home loss this season) on Thursday Night Football in December. A lot of talk about that game was the time of possession the Chargers had; setting up a solid blueprint for how to beat the Denver Broncos. The Bolts controlled the ball for 38 minutes of the game, sustaining long drives that were led by the rushing of Ryan Mathews. Mathews rushed for 127 yards and 1 touchdown on 29 carries. Leading Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Keenan Allen only caught two balls but they were both for touchdowns, as the defense did a great job disguising coverage’s and blitzes. The Chargers defense also held the Broncos to 18 yards rushing that made them extremely one-dimensional.
A couple of key players that were missing from that game in December was Denver wide out Wes Welker who sat out with a concussion and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who sustained a shoulder injury in their game against the Patriots. Both of these players returning are going to be vital in what the Chargers have to key on tomorrow. Wes Welker will be playing for the first time in almost a month and Manning will be looking for him early and often. As for Rodgers-Cromartie, he will most likely be covering Keenan Allen and it will be imperative that Rivers and Allen can get on the same page early and get Phillip in a rhythm.
Keys for a Chargers W
Controlling the clock/Running the ball: The Chargers held the Broncos to their two lowest point totals this season, and that’s no coincidence. The Chargers held the ball for 38 minutes in both contests, but in the first matchup were unable to stop the big play which led to quick scores for Manning and the Bolts had to play from behind most of the game. The key to round 3 will be for the Chargers to continue to have success on the ground and make sure they finish their drives with TOUCHDOWNS and not settle for field goals. Ryan Mathews has been held out of practice
all week as he is battling an ankle injury that he sustained in the win over the Bengals but all signs pointing to him playing. There will also be a heavy dose of Danny Woodhead rushing and catching balls out of the backfield as well as some Ronnie Brown sightings. It was Brown who sealed the win for the Chargers with a 58-yard burst in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter in Cincinnati. The key will be keeping Manning as a spectator on the sideline, let our defense rest and control the line of scrimmage.
Limiting the big play: Something the Broncos have been doing all year is taking their matchup advantages and turning them into big plays. There’s a reason why Manning set the new single season record for passing yards and touchdowns; this offense is potent and he has a ton of playmakers at wide out. In the first matchup, Manning connected to Julius Thomas for a 74-yard touchdown on their first drive, setting up a long day for the Chargers defense and secondary. The Bolts defense has got to focus on wrapping up ball carriers and making sure that the Denver screen game (Denver loves the receiver screens) is thwarted and does not go for big chunks of yardage. Stopping Demaryius Thomas will be key to this, as Manning’s big target has had success this year against the Chargers getting in the end zone, Eric Weddle and the secondary has to be physical and make some big plays tomorrow.
Disguising coverage’s/blitzes: The last time they matched up in Denver, the Chargers did a great job of disguising where the blitz was coming from. Peyton Manning, who is arguably the best pre-snap QB, was getting confused by what the Chargers were doing for most of the game. They were lining up in different spots and sending guys who looked like they were dropping into coverage. Eric Weddle had a huge game stopping the run, blitzing from the edge and playing coverage on TE Julius Thomas. It will take a full team effort to stop this well-oiled offensive machine. It’s no coincidence that the Chargers defense has played well during their 5 game winning streak with the return of Melvin Ingram. The pass-rushing linebacker was been key in getting pressure on opposing QB’s and has taken a lot of pressure off of the secondary. He also had his first career pick against Andy Dalton last week in the Wild Card round. Look for him to get after Peyton and disrupt their offensive flow.
Coming in as the biggest underdog this round (as far as points go) a lot of people have not given the Chargers a chance in this one. I like being the underdog though, I think this team likes being the underdog. We get to surprise everyone, and I think these guys center around that and play for each other. This team is full of confidence, as fans we are confident. I think the Chargers go into Denver and pull this one out. BOLT UP!!!!!!
Prediction: Chargers 31 Broncos 27
Keenan Allen for Offensive Rookie of the Year