Posted Sat Sep 13th by Monty
“In the Trenches” – your weekly scouting report on what to expect in the upcoming game, with emphasis on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Because, in the NFL, the game of football is won or lost in the trenches…
The San Diego Chargers have had the Denver Broncos‘ number over the past two seasons. Last year, a combined score of 64-6 humbled the Broncos and was a big part of the team’s 7-9 record. Statistically, the Chargers were only responsible for 2 losses, but the method in which the Broncos were defeated did a lot more damage than the final score. The Chargers dominated – DOMINATED – the Broncos units up front in both games. Quarterback Jay Cutler was running for his life. At the sound of the final whistle, quarterback Philip Rivers had not a grass stain on him.
Even though the Chargers may be reeling from injury (see the Chargers-Broncos Injury Report), they still have a very strong front, especially defensively. Though Pro Bowlers OT Marcus McNeill, C Nick Hardwick, and OLB Shawne Merriman will not play, this still leaves the Chargers with players up front who have made three Pro Bowls in the past two seasons. That’s three more than the Broncos. This will not be easy.
Broncos Offense vs. Chargers Defense
The Chargers defense got burned last Sunday against the Panthers. If the Broncos were the surprise offense of the AFC in Week One, the Panthers were the surprise offense in the NFC. They’ll need to dominate the line of scrimmage as well as the Panthers did, and after taking a look at the tape, the Panthers did a mighty impressive job. Even then, after burning San Diego for plenty of yards on the ground and in the air, it took a last-second touchdown to TE
Rosario Dawson Donte Rosario to seal the victory. This Chargers defense is dominant, deep, and determined, and the Broncos will have to bring their A-Game again to come out on top. Luckily, they have a few things going well for them on this side of the ball.
NT Jamal Williams is and always has been the centerpiece of the Chargers defense. Last year, a biceps-less C Tom Nalen (remember that Nails played the Week 6 match with a torn biceps he sustained early in the game) and backup C Chris Myers (ugh) couldn’t handle Williams. Inside linebackers were able to hit the hole, blitz, and fill the gaps with ease. This year, the Broncos have enlisted C Casey Wiegmann instead of Myers. Based on the history between the Chiefs and Chargers, Wiegmann has been able to handle Williams much better than Myers. Williams hasn’t looked all too impressive either, also dealing with injury.
Defensive ends Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky are nothing to sneeze at. They’re designed to eat up blockers and allow blitzing Chargers linebackers to make the plays. To that end, they’ve done very well against the Broncos. The Broncos are returning Ben Hamilton to LG, however, who will do better than Myers or (current RG) Chris Kuper, and tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris are particularly better than last year’s counterparts.
As I mentioned in the preview, I expect the Chargers to blitz like crazy. I expect them to send everything but the kitchen sink – and then that too – at this Broncos front, trying to find a weakness. They’ll get creative, they’ll get nasty, and they’ll get frustrated. If the preseason and Week One are any indication, they won’t find one. This offensive line, as young as it is, is solid from left to right at all positions. Add Daniel Graham to the equation and Cutler has a wall from which to pass.
In the running game, the Broncos runners need to hit the hole harder and faster than they did last week. Chargers linebackers missed tackles on repeated plays against the Panthers, but if the running backs don’t get going, they won’t have that success. I didn’t like what I saw from Broncos RBs at all last week. I saw hesitance, and I saw uncertainty. That can’t be the case, because these LBs are beatable – especially ILB Matt Wilhelm, who got torched last week. The Broncos have a strong passing attack, and that will help them set up the run, but the running backs need to do their part to keep the Chargers honest in turn.
Advantage: Broncos. Denver didn’t score a touchdown against the Chargers last year, but this Broncos unit appears much better, especially up front. Things are looking up, but this will be the first true test for this offensive line. No preseason. No
Junior Varsity Raiders. I don’t think Cutler escapes pressure-free this time around, and without a strong running attack, I don’t see us putting up 41 points. We do have enough weapons to do some damage, though.
Broncos Defense vs. Chargers Offense
Here are the numbers you need to know: 119.8. 64. 4.
119.8 – the QB Rating of Philip Rivers in his career starts against the Broncos. The Broncos haven’t intercepted Rivers since November 2006. They’ve only sacked him 3 times in the past 2 seasons – and those numbers reflect just about the only pressure Rivers ever had. As a result, Rivers has dominated, and the Chargers put up 64 points on the Broncos last year. Rivers never completed more than 19 passes in these games – it’s a very conservative passing attack. Yet the Broncos still can’t stop it, and the running attack torched the Broncos for over 350 yards last year. As a result, the Chargers are undefeated against the Broncos in the Cutler era – 4-0.
With McNeill out, the Broncos have a real matchup problem in their favor – RDE Elvis Dumervil vs. backup LT L.J. Shelton. The Chargers will try to double team Dumervil and slow him down, but the Broncos have a much-improved interior front with DTs Dewayne Robertson and Marcus Thomas. Both looked good last week against Oakland. Without Hardwick at center, they’ll be asking for two backups to pass block against two of our strongest pass rushers. This situation definitely favors the Broncos.
The return of SLB Boss Bailey – or, to be more accurate, the debut – brings with it his coverage ability of tight end/Bronco-killer Antonio Gates. Our corners, with safety help on Bly‘s side, should be able to handle Chargers WR’s. For the first time, the Broncos have answers to the problems the Chargers pose – that is, everywhere except against the run.
It’s the single-biggest thing the Broncos need to do to come away with a win – stop the run. No matter how you try to sugar-coat it, the Raiders had some nice runs against the Broncos last week, the 50-plus yarder by Justin Fargas notwithstanding. RB Ladainian Tomlinson expects to play, which isn’t good for the Broncos in the least. The difference in my mind will be the linebackers taking solid angles and sure tackles. Last week was a mixed back – a big play by Nate Webster followed by a head-scratcher.
Advantage: Chargers. DE John Engelberger will need to have a repeat-solid performance, and the linebackers will need to step up. Let’s see what type of effect Boss has, and let’s get Rivers’ jersey really, really dirty. Even then, they have enough weapons to get creative and put up some points.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Chargers 24.
Photo credits: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images