San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos: Complete Week 8 Preview for Denver

Travis Wakeman@@traviswakeman10Featured Columnist IVOctober 22, 2014

San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos: Complete Week 8 Preview for Denver

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Following a rout in Week 7 of the San Francisco 49ers, the Broncos now turn their attention to Week 8 and a game on Thursday night.

    There, they'll be presented with their first big test of the season inside the AFC West division—the San Diego Chargers.

    Though the Chargers are coming off a loss last week, they'll be excited to deal the Broncos a loss at home in front of a national audience.

    Currently, the Broncos are listed as 7.5 point favorites by Odds Shark, likely because of Denver's recent performance against San Francisco.

    For the Broncos, they now have Peyton Manning's record for career touchdown passes in their rear view and they can focus on each challenge that lies ahead. They'll likely be favored in every game.

    Here, we have a full preview for this week's game including an injury report for the Broncos and key matchups to look for on Thursday night.

Week 7 Recap

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    The dominant storyline going into Week 7 for the Broncos was Peyton Manning's chase of the career record for touchdown passes. It didn't take him long to knock Brett Favre out of first place on the all-time list.

    Manning tossed the record-breaking pass to Demaryius Thomas, and the Broncos went on to rout the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 42-17.

    It was definitely the Broncos' most complete victory of the season.

    Denver put up 304 yards through the air and added another 115 yards on the ground. Defensively, the team came up with six sacks and an interception of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. They also limited the 49ers to converting just three of their 13 third downs.

    The Broncos could not have played much better, and they performed well against one of the league's better teams. This was a highly encouraging victory for Denver.

News and Notes

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Pat Bowlen Statue Added to Denver Ring of Fame Plaza

    Last Saturday, the Denver Broncos unveiled a beautiful statue of Pat Bowlen, the team's current owner, outside of Sports Authority Field.

    It goes without saying that Bowlen deserves this honor, but it also creates a symbol of something the Broncos can draw strength from this season.

    Bowlen has stepped away from control of the team as he battles health issues, and that should be all of the extra motivation the Broncos need to get to the Super Bowl and win another championship for their great owner.

    This statue will add a terrific element to home games for the Denver Broncos.

    Philip Rivers Knows Denver's Defense Presents a Tough Matchup

    Just before the Broncos and Chargers clash on Thursday night, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is showing the surging Denver defense the respect they deserve.

    As told by Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post, Rivers is preparing for a stiff challenge.

    "You got two of the top pass rushers in the league now on the same team — one that's way up there in sacks as far as on the all-time list, and one that's already there. One that's already way up there," said Rivers, referring of course to Denver's DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.

    Ware and Miller have combined for 15 sacks on the season. That's more than 14 teams have registered in 2014.

    Rivers realizes he could be under serious pressure on Thursday night. The Broncos better respect the ability of Rivers as well, however.

    On the year, Rivers has a 113.0 quarterback rating and has thrown 17 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.

Injury Report

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
    Chris HarrisCornerbackKneeProbable
    Corey NelsonLinebackerHamstringProbable
    Quinton CarterSafetyHamstringProbable
    Steven JohnsonLinebackerAnkleQuestionable
    T.J. WardSafetyKneeProbable
    Montee BallRunning BackGroinOut
    Omar Bolden CornerbackGroinProbable
    David Bruton SafetyAnkleProbable
    Brandon McManus KickerGroinProbable
    Juwan ThompsonRunning BackKneeProbable

     All injury statuses courtesy of CBS Sports.

    Montee Ball will not play in the game on Thursday night, and that should come as no surprise. In what was a bit of a surprise, the Broncos have decided to call up former Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs from their practice squad.

    Bibbs has yet to play in an NFL regular-season game, but he did lead the nation in rushing touchdowns last year at Colorado State.

    The other injuries to watch are linebacker Steven Johnson and defensive back Omar Bolden. If the Broncos are without the services of Johnson, it would be a bit of a blow to their special teams.

    Mike Klis of The Denver Post reports that Bolden is not expected to play on Thursday, despite CBS listing him as probable for the game. In addition, Klis notes that kicker Brandon McManus was held out of practice on Tuesday.

    McManus has been dealing with a groin injury in recent weeks. If for some reason he can't play, Denver would have a bit of an issue at the kicker position. They'd be left with signing a free agent off the street or using punter Britton Colquitt to handle the placekicking duties.

X-Factor Player and Matchups to Watch

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Denver Run Defense vs. Branden Oliver

    San Diego has a very good passing game, but they know the Broncos have Peyton Manning. If the past is any indication of what San Diego will try to do, they will try to keep Manning on the sidelines by possessing the ball as long as they can.

    It worked in Denver last year. San Diego had the ball for nearly 39 minutes en route to beating the Broncos 27-20 in Week 15. Any doubt they try to play that way again?

    In that game, the Chargers ran the ball 44 times. While they may not call that many run plays on Thursday, they will definitely look to run the ball first.

    In recent weeks, the Chargers have found a gem on their roster in lieu of injuries to Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown.

    Branden Oliver, an undrafted rookie out of Buffalo, has run for 316 yards and two touchdowns on the season. He is also averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

    The Broncos need to be ready not only for the explosive running style of Oliver, but also his elusiveness. At 5'7", he can be very hard to find on the field.

    Oliver could cause problems for the Denver defense.

    T.J. Ward vs. Antonio Gates

    At 34 years old, tight end Antonio Gates has put together a very good 2014 season. On the year, he has 27 receptions for 363 yards and seven touchdowns. When in doubt, Rivers always looks for Gates.

    In three games against San Diego last year (including the playoffs), Gates was held to a total of eight catches for 95 yards. He had no touchdowns.

    The Broncos have had success against Gates, and keeping him out of the end zone will be a key on Thursday night.

    Safety T.J. Ward could be very useful in slowing down Gates.

    With a background in basketball, Gates is a very athletic player who can certainly make plays on jump balls. But if Ward gets physical with him, he'll slow him down considerably.

    Isn't that what Denver brought Ward in to do? It's time for him to do it.

    Paul Cornick vs. San Diego Pass Rush

    Denver chose to start Paul Cornick in place of Chris Clark at right tackle on Sunday night against San Francisco. If they make the same move against San Diego, he needs to be a lot better than he was in his debut.

    Cornick did not look ready to see the field, being called for a false-start penalty before later being beaten very badly by San Francisco linebacker Aaron Lynch, who recorded a sack on the play. 

    Cornick would be matched up primarily against San Diego defensive end Kendall Reyes, but he could also see pressure from that side from linebacker Jarret Johnson.

    Unless they have confidence in what they've seen out of Cornick in practice this week, they should consider turning back to Clark for this game.

    X-Factor Player: Juwan Thompson

    Ronnie Hillman has been excellent lately, rushing for 174 yards and two touchdowns in Denver's past two games. But he isn't the only player who can make an impact in the running game for Denver.

    Juwan Thompson shows all the signs of being a future star.

    Thompson runs with a purpose and seems to be gaining more and more confidence with each carry. He's also averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

    While he'll likely only get a handful of carries against San Diego, he'll be effective with each one and will move the chains. If Denver is looking to close out a close game late, Thompson may be the best option on the roster.

Prediction

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This will be an extremely important game in the AFC West race. In fact, an argument could be made that these are the two best teams in the AFC.

    San Diego will be looking to bounce back from their 23-20 loss to Kansas City in Week 7, but going to Denver and getting a win against the red-hot Broncos is a tall task.

    The fact that this game takes place on Thursday night changes the dynamic entirely.

    San Diego will have to travel to Denver and get ready to play a team fresh off of a 25-point victory on just three days' rest.

    Now Chargers have to play all banged up on a short week vs. the Broncos. Uh oh.

    — Christopher Hansen (@ChrisHansenNFL) October 19, 2014

    The average margin of victory on Thursday night this season has been 21.7 points, and the home team has won five of the seven games. That doesn't bode well for San Diego.

    But Denver has to take care of business, especially at home. Anything can happen on a short week, and the Broncos and their coaching staff need to make sure they don't suffer a letdown following their best performance of the season in Week 7.

    The Chargers can look to their win in Denver last December to draw motivation, but the odds of beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos at this juncture of the season seem very slim.

    Prediction: Broncos 31, Chargers 20