Their 51-28 victory over the Titans marks the third time the Broncos have eclipsed 50 points this season. They had only done that once before in team history (804 games), but things are different with Peyton Manning.
The Broncos have the top-rated offense in the league in terms of yards per game (465.6), yards per play (6.31), passing yards per game (341.23), sacks per attempt (2.8 percent), first downs per game (27.9), third-down conversion rate (48.2 percent), red-zone efficiency (78.9 percent), points scored per game (39.6), point margin per game (plus 13.1) and yardage margin per game (plus 91). Clearly this offense is just on a different level from the rest of the league.
John Fox was back on the sidelines in Week 14 against the Titans. After the game, Fox commented on how he felt getting back into action. “I felt great, I really did. It was great to be back. I had a good week as far as practicing and the energy level and all that. I feel outstanding. It’s great to be back, I really forgot how fun that was.”
The Broncos play their final home game of the regular season as they take on the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night. This game will feature two of the most high-powered passing games in the league today.
Manning has thrown at least four touchdowns seven times this season. He’s five short of the single-season record for touchdown passes (50) set by Tom Brady in 2007. It wouldn’t be totally outlandish to see him tie (or even break) the record on Thursday night.
The Broncos will be without one of their top targets this week. Wes Welker has been shut down for Week 15 due to a concussion he suffered in the game against the Titans.
Without Welker, the Broncos will give more playing time to veteran tight end Jacob Tamme. He’s ready for the challenge. “Yeah, I just try to be ready for whatever I’m asked to do in any given game. It changes sometimes and [I] just try to be flexible and do different things.”
Defensively, the Broncos have some problems to iron out.
They shuffled the lineup last week against the Titans and may continue to do so this week. This could mean an increase in playing time for guys like linebacker Paris Lenon and cornerback/safety Omar Bolden.
The Broncos will have to scheme to slow down Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. If he is well protected, then the Broncos could be in for a long night. The Chargers offensive line allowed Rivers to be sacked four times the last time these teams played each other.
Denver ranks near the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed per game (274.3). It’ll have its hands full with targets like tight end Antonio Gates, wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Danny Woodhead.
The Chargers even have a new weapon in second-year tight end Ladarius Green. The last time these two teams played, Green was only targeted one time. With the problems the Broncos linebackers are having in coverage, we may see more from Green this time around.
Defensively, the Chargers have a poor unit. They have a pass defense that is just a tiny bit better than the Broncos in passing yards allowed per game (266.7).
Against the run, they’re not much better. The Chargers allow 115.8 yards rushing per game. They’ll have a difficult time shutting down the new-look Broncos ground game. The last time these teams played, the Broncos backfield had 20 carries. That number may close to double this time around.
Knowshon Moreno is the most trusted back on the roster, and he should get a majority of the workload. However, he could have a near 50/50 split with rookie Montee Ball. We could see Ball have another big game in Week 15.
Let’s take a look at how the Denver Broncos will attack the San Diego Chargers on both sides of the ball.
When the Broncos Run the Ball
The Broncos are going to hammer the Chargers with both Moreno and Ball. They’ll run when Manning is in the shotgun, pistol or under center.
In the play below, we see an inside-zone rushing play out of the shotgun. After the handoff, Ball has a couple of different options. He’s taught to read shoulders of the defenders getting blocked, and Ball is supposed to run to daylight.
If the Chargers play umbrella coverage to slow down the passing game, then the Broncos should be able to push them around up front. Ball had five carries for 20 yards the last time he played the Chargers. He could triple that production this time around.
When the Broncos Pass the Ball
The passing game will have a bit of a different look this week without Welker in the lineup.
In the play below, we see tight end Jacob Tamme in a bunch formation with Demaryius Thomas and Andre Caldwell. The defense is focused on Thomas in the red zone as he runs to the inside. This lets Tamme sneak out underneath near the goal line.
In addition to these bunch formations, we should see the Broncos try some deep routes during this game against the Chargers. Watch for the defense to implement a single high safety at times against the Broncos. When that happens, Denver could run twin verts, and Manning will take his choice of either deep sideline throw.
When the Chargers Run the Ball
Ryan Mathews is a battering ram for the Chargers. He’s had a strong season and has stayed relatively healthy this year. Mathews has 207 carries for 885 yards, and the team will use him to punish the Broncos defense.
In addition to Mathews, they also will feature Woodhead as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.
In the play below we see the Chargers running out of the shotgun. With Woodhead’s speed, he can get to the second level of the defense in the blink of an eye. This play goes for an 11-yard gain.
The Chargers tried to control the clock the last time these two teams played. The time of possession heavily favored the Chargers as they slowed the game down. They may try that same strategy this week.
When the Chargers Pass the Ball
The Chargers should choose to be bold against the Broncos. It’s the only way they can take down Denver at home.
If they let Rivers go wild through the air, it will give the team a puncher’s chance.
In the play below, we see a route combination the Chargers use frequently. Rivers initially looks to the first-down marker and the hook route on the outside. Instead, he likes what he sees from Keenan Allen on a vertical route. This play goes for a 43-yard touchdown.
On the other side of the field, we see Gates and Woodhead run crossing routes. This play gives Rivers four very good options to throw to.
Rivers will take the underneath shots to Gates and Green. However, if the Broncos defense gets lulled to sleep, then Rivers will take shots deep.
The Broncos have three winnable games left on the schedule. They should be able to beat the Chargers on Thursday night. The Chargers want to play spoiler and knock off their division rival.
Every week the Broncos get an opponent’s best effort. That should be no different this week. Rivers and company would love nothing more than to take down the Broncos at home.
Earlier this week, Fox talked about the team’s goal of winning the division. “Our goal every year is to win the division No. 1, and obviously [if you] you win your division, you’re in the playoffs. Sometimes it’s something before that—in this case it is—but that’s still our goal, always has been our goal, and we still have three games, and on a short week, we got a division opponent coming to our place.”
The Broncos control their own destiny. If they win the rest of their regular-season games, they will not only win the division, but they will also win home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
This could be a high-scoring game, but by no means are the Broncos going to overlook the Chargers at home.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.