The Broncos are facing an identity crisis this week as they face division rival and current leader of the AFC West at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Chargers come into Denver with a 3-1 record with victories over the Dolphins, the Chiefs and the Vikings.
To this point in the season each of those teams are a collective 1-11. The one loss the Chargers suffered was to the New England Patriots and it wasn't even close (35-21).
The Chargers are a beatable team this week against a battered Broncos team who has faced four teams all of which with even or winning records. The Broncos have faced the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, the 3-1 Titans, the Raiders and the Bengals. These teams have a combined 11-5 record.
Several of these games the Broncos were in until the end when the game slipped away from them. This matchup proves to be an exciting one which should be decided in the closing minutes of the game.
Here are this week's keys to the game against the San Diego Chargers.
Probably, one of the Broncos most-hated opponents in the division is Philip Rivers.
He is arguably the best quarterback in the AFC West and because of his ability, he has kept the Chargers competitive year after year.
However, the Broncos cannot get into a game like they did last week against the Chargers.
Vincent Jackson returned to practice on Friday for the Bolts which is a good sign for Philip Rivers who will likely be missing their future Hall of Famer tight end Antonio Gates this week as he needs to rest before the bye next week. It doesn't bode well however for the Broncos.
One thing that is promising for the Broncos is that it is looking more and more likely that Champ Bailey will be back in the lineup since his injury on Monday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders.
Bailey needs to play at a very high level against the banged up V-Jax and the rest of the Broncos secondary has to step up.
Or else this one might devolve into something very similar to the debacle in Green Bay last week.
Besides the Monday night game with the Oakland Raiders, the Denver Broncos have only given up 221 yards rushing, 73.67 yards/game on average against Cedric Benson and the Bengals, Chris Johnson and the Titans, and James Starks and the Green Bay Packers.
John Fox and Dennis Allen must have had a serious talk after the Raiders game with the Broncos front seven as they have seriously stepped up their game so far this season.
Ryan Mathews is the latest running threat the Broncos face this season against the San Diego Chargers, but he is reminiscent of former Chargers star, LaDainian Tomlinson because he can beat you not just on the ground but through the air.
Mathews has been an all-purpose back with 288 yards rushing and 254 yards receiving out of the back field.
At the front line the Broncos have to stop Mathews from big gains from the line of scrimmage and the linebackers have to keep a close eye on him out of the backfield, picking up huge gains in open space. First chance tackles is key in order to stop Mathews from having a huge game in Denver.
This is going to be crucial for the Broncos.
Through four games, Philip Rivers has five touchdowns and six interceptions. These key turnovers is what has kept bottom-feeders like the Fins, the Chiefs and the Vikings in the game against the Chargers.
In the stomping against the Patriots, it was the four times that the Chargers coughed it up that gave the Patriots an easy victory in Week 2.
Three of those four turnovers happened inside the Chargers own 35-yard line.
Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman will be busy keeping Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd in check, but they should also keep an eye out for errant Rivers' passes.
The Broncos have to take the ball away from the Chargers to set themselves up for short fields and easy scoring opportunities.
The Broncos have to get touchdowns after turnovers as well to make them really hurt.
Just as crucial for the Broncos to create turnovers, is to not turn the ball over themselves.
The Broncos are 15th in the giveaway/takeaway margin with -6. The Chargers are 12th with -4.
Both teams have been sloppy with the football so far this season, and this week it would be nice to see the Broncos turn a corner and reduce the mental mistakes and tighten up their ball security.
Through four games, Kyle Orton has thrown as many interceptions as Philip Rivers has with a total of six. Orton has also coughed up two fumbles. One fumble was the phantom drop against the Oakland Raiders, and another came on a sack by the Titans in Week 3.
That is eight turnovers to eight touchdown passes for Orton—that's not cutting it.
In addition to Orton, the Broncos as a team have three more fumbles.
The Broncos need to have zero interceptions and zero fumbles to have a chance this Sunday.
This one is kind of a doubleheader.
The Broncos are near the bottom of the league offensively as they are 24th in the passing game and 26th in the rushing game.
Because of their offensive woes they need to make every trip in the red zone count. They can't settle for field goals and stops on the goal line. They have to punch it in the end zone. They have to be more desperate in the red zone and more creative.
The Broncos need to get serious push on the offensive line and need to create less predictable plays to propel them into the end zone.
When the Broncos come up with a big turnover, they can't go three-and-out on offense. They have to get points off of turnovers, preferably touchdowns.
The Broncos are giving up an average of 27.8 points per game, while only mustering an average 20.3 points per game.
One or two more touchdowns per game instead of a field goal could be the difference from a 1-3 record and a 3-1 record as three of the Broncos games so far this season have been decided by three points or less.