Broncos vs Chargers: Players Who Will Decide Outcome
Monday night, the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers will face off in a game with big implications for the AFC West.
If the Chargers win they move to 4-2, furthering their foothold in the division. If the Broncos win they move to 3-3, putting them in a much better position for a late season surge.
With big arms in Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers on both sides of the ball, this one's expected to be a shootout.
So the brunt of a win will come down to a handful of players. Here are some key guys for both teams to pull out a "W."
Ryan Matthews enjoyed his best game of the season last week against the New Orleans Saints, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, while making six catches for 59 yards.
On Monday night he squares off with a defense that is 21st in the NFL against the run, allowing 120 yards on the ground per game.
In three career games against the Broncos, Matthews is averaging 127 yards rushing with six touchdowns—three rushing and three receiving.
It'll be up to the third-year back to be a catalyst Monday, and keep the ball moving the best he can.
With the news that standout cornerback Tracy Porter will miss Monday's game due to illness, it falls on Tony Carter to defend the right side of the field.
As such, the duty of stopping Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd—San Diego's best receivers—will fall on him.
If Denver wants to shut down Philip Rivers, they'll have to cover his wide receivers—something Denver's been pretty good at this season, but with Porter.
Carter has to have a big game in this one, it's as simple as that.
If Philip Rivers doesn't get sacked on that fourth quarter drive against New Orleans last week, he might not fumble the ball. If he doesn't fumble the ball, the Chargers might not have lost.
The responsibility of that falls on left tackle Jared Gaither, who Monday night will be in charge of covering Von Miller.
Miller, the Bronco's prized linebacker, has 23 tackles and five sacks on the season. In other words, he's hard to stop.
Gaither needs to have a big performance and keep his quarterback protected. If Rivers can't match Manning, the Chargers are going to have a tough time winning this one.
Demaryius Thomas is enjoying a strong season, averaging 101 yards receiving per game with two touchdowns on the season.
Without a tremendous amount of wide receiver depth, Thomas has emerged as Peyton Manning's obvious go-to man.
Good news for both of them, because Monday night they'll be facing off against a Chargers team that is allowing 260 yards passing per game—good for 22nd in the NFL.
Thomas is listed as probable for this one, due to a hip injury. However, he had full practice Friday and appears ready to go. If healthy, he should have a big day for Denver.
While San Diego's defense has struggled against the pass, it's been the one thing Denver's been good at. They rank eighth in the NFL, allowing 215 yards through the air per game.
A key to the Charger's offensive attack is their various receivers. With both Malcolm Floyd and Eddie Royal listed as questionable for Monday, things don't look good for San Diego.
Even if they both play, it's no telling in what condition they'll be. That means the responsibility of River's main target lands on Robert Meachem.
Meachem's having an okay season so far. He has just 159 yards receiving, but he's averaging 17.7 yards per catch. In his one career game against Denver, he posted two catches for 86 yards.
If San Diego wants to get the passing game going, they might have to lean on Meachem.
When it comes to the redzone, tight end Joel Dreessen is an integral part of Denver's offense. He's averaging less than 20 yards receiving per game, but leads the team with three touchdowns.
San Diego has been great against tight ends all season. Against the Saints, they held Jimmy Graham to four yards on one catch.
Dreessen doesn't need to have a huge game for the Broncos to win, but he does need to find a way to get open in the end zone.
Denver has just four rushing touchdowns on the season, compared to 11 passing. That means they need their biggest red zone weapon to pull out a win.