San Diego At Denver: Five Things To Know
While it is still rather early in the season, the 5-2 Chargers travel to the 5-1 Broncos in what is lauded as as close to a playoff game as possible without actually being one. The Chargers' all-time record versus the Broncos is 413-403-11 and 11-17 in the postseason (including San Diego's loss after the 2013 season).
Should Denver prevail, two of the Chargers' three losses would be divisional; not an auspicious statistic. However, the Chargers have QB Philip Rivers who, thus far this season, has completed 155 of 230 attempts for 1,961 yards, 17 touchdowns, and three interceptions with a passer rating of 113 (that phenomenal five-game streak of a 120-plus rating through five games came to an end with that horrible interception tossed versus Kansas City last week with :12 seconds left, of which I, apparently, am not over yet).
Oh yeah, and then there's that Peyton Manning guy. In all seriousness, he is amazing and his record-breaking 510 touchdowns is, indeed, a prodigious feat and, frankly, Denver's offense scares me with its intimidating efficiency. Interestingly, Manning and Rivers are very close statistically this season. Manning has completed 149-of-217 for 1,843 yards, 19 touchdowns, and three interceptions with a 118.2 passer rating.
Other integral players on both teams are also statistically similar. San Diego RB Branden Oliver has 316 yards on 72 carries with a 4.4 average and two touchdowns while Denver's Ronnie Hillman has 240 yards on 55 carries; also with a 4.4 average and two touchdowns. TE extraordinaire Antonio Gates has caught 27 balls for 363 yards with a 13.4 average and seven touchdowns for the Chargers while the exceptional Julius Thomas has snagged 28 balls for 304 yards with a 10.9 average and nine touchdowns for the Broncos.
San Diego WRs Malcom Floyd (20-412, 20.6 average, three touchdowns), Keenan Allen (34-354, 10.4 average), and Eddie Royal (23-345, 15 average, five touchdowns) are comparable to Denver's Demarius Thomas (39-662, 17 average, six touchdowns including Manning's record-breaking #509), Emmanuel Sanders (38-514, 13.5 average, one touchdown), and Wes Welker (17-176, 10.4 average, one touchdown).
So, what (in addition to the abundance of data I have already spewed) should you, dear readers, know prior to watching this game?
1. In addition to the aforementioned statistical similarities among players, both teams measure up quite equally. Offensively, on average, this season the Chargers have amassed 360 yards per game, 270.7 passing yards per game, 89.3 rushing yards per game, 26.3 points per game, and have a third-down conversion rate of 51.5%. The Broncos have garnered, on average, 394 yards per game, 298.8 passing yards per game, 95.2 rushing yards per game, 31.5 points per game, and have a third-down conversion rate of 44.3%. Finally, the Chargers have a slight edge in time of possession: 1957 minutes versus 1807 minutes. In last season's win in Denver, the Chargers controlled the ball for 39 minutes and were 6-of-12 on third down conversions. This year, the Chargers are fifth in average time of possession and second in third-down conversion percentage.
Defensively, Whereas the Chargers have allowed, on average, 316.4 yards per game, the Broncos have allowed 316.8. Passing yards per game allowed amount to 209.6 for San Diego and 242.5 for Denver. Rushing yards per game allowed are 106.9 for the Chargers and 74.3 for the Broncos. Finally, whereas the Chargers' mean points per game allowed is 16.3, the Broncos' is 20.2.
2. Rivers has commaned the play-action pass this season where he is 21-of-26 for 271 yards, 10.4 average yards per play-action attempt, two touchdowns, a whopping 80.8% completion rate (5% higher than the #2 ranked Eli Manning), and a QB rating of 135.7. Manning, alternatively, has dominated the non-play-action passing game, going 117-of-170 for 1,309 yards, 16 touchdowns, one interception, a 7.7 average per attempt, an impressive 68.8% completion rate, and a passer rating of 120.4.
3. Rivers self-admittedly loves playing in Denver and, in fact, has had many of his greatest performances at a mile high (and I'm not talking Prescott, Arizona, which touts itself as a mile high but, in fact, is 5,368.23 feet above sea level). Anyway, since he became the Chargers' starter in 2006, Rivers is 6-2 versus the Broncos in Denver in regular season play with his only two losses occurring in week 2 of 2008 (38-39) and week 10 of 2012 (23-30). However, I must interject that the 2008 loss was courtesy of Ed Hochuli's horrible Jay Cutler's non-fumble BAD call. So, technically, Rivers has only lost once in Denver; not counting the postseason. Further, last season, the Chargers relied upon their ground attack and without their first three RBs, the onus falls upon Oliver who has demonstrated that he does, in fact, possess the goods to make a sizable impact.
4. Perhaps the biggest problem for the Chargers is their injuries. They will be without CB Brandon Flowers (concussion), RB Ryan Mathews (knee), RB Donald Brown (concussion), and LB Manti Te'o (foot). LB Jeremiah Attaochu is doubtful with a hamstring injury and CBs Jason Verrett (shoulder) and Steve Williams (groin) are questionable. With Flowers out, losing their #1 draft pick Verrett could be disastrous for the Chargers' secondary versus Manning. The Broncos will be without RB Montee Ball (groin) and CB Omar Bolden (concussion). LB Steven Johnson (ankle) is questionable and K Brandon McManus is probable (groin).
A quick aside: there have been far too many concussions these past few seasons and the NFL ought to look into better helmet protection. As much as I am tempted, I will respectfully not address the groin injuries.
5. Despite the tremendous quarterbacks on both of these teams, the key to victory Thursday night will be defense. Denver has revamped its considerably with the additions of DE/OLB DeMarcus Ware and CB Aqib Talib while the Chargers' tackling deficiencies were far too apparent last week in their loss versus the Chiefs.
So, can lightning (bolts) strike again on Thursday night in Denver? We will just have to wait and see (and, for my fellow Chargers' fans and me, hope).