ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Another week, another marquee matchup for the Denver Broncos, a team that has already faced the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Now comes a prime-time Thursday night matchup against an AFC West foe in the San Diego Chargers (5-2).
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is 10-6 in his regular-season starts against the Broncos, which includes a 6-2 mark in Denver.
Some things to keep an eye on:
Rivers has always been a thorn in the Broncos' collective side, no matter who Denver's defensive coordinator has been. A big reason why Rivers has had the time in the pocket to do what he's done against the Broncos is because the Chargers have consistently been effective pounding the ball. In the last 16 games against the Broncos, the Chargers have topped 140 yards rushing 10 times, including both meetings last season. With injuries being an issue, the Chargers have been relying on undrafted rookie Branden Oliver, an undersized speed back with two 100-yard games in his last three outings. The Chargers are a little more traditional in their approach. They've run on 59.9 percent of their first-and-10 plays this season, 76.9 percent on second and 5, 60 percent on second and 4. That means the Broncos could be in their base defense more than they have been in previous weeks.
It will be a game to keep an eye on the interior of each offensive line. After center Nick Hardwick's season-ending injury in Week 2 and Doug Legursky's trip to injured reserve in early October with a knee injury, the Chargers have used four centers in the first six games -- Rich Ohrnberger has now started the last two weeks. Look for Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to flood the "A" gaps between the center and guards, even using edge rushers like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to do it from time to time. The Chargers, too, will look to press the issue in the middle as well with the Broncos having surrendered pressures on quarterback Peyton Manning in the middle of the field. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget has given the Broncos difficulties in the past, especially in pass-rush situations.
The shortened week will be a test on the Broncos' focus after what has been a tough opening two months. Last season when the Chargers won the Thursday night game, it was after Broncos players got a little too wrapped up in the difficulties of a short week and were not themselves for much of the December game. The Broncos have looked sharper in practice this week and from the top down the message was this: It's a short week, but it was on the schedule in April so play the game and move on. The Broncos tweaked their practice schedule compared to last year -- the players got Monday off before the Thursday game last season but not this year. Plus, the Broncos were coming off a game against the Tennessee Titans last December when the offense ran 91 plays four days before the Chargers game. This time, the Broncos are coming off a game in which they gave several key players, including Manning, the fourth quarter off in the 42-17 victory over the 49ers.
The Broncos' revamped secondary will offer Rivers a stiffer challenge as well. Last December, Rivers consistently found Kayvon Webster in coverage, including on one of Keenan Allen's two touchdowns. It will be more difficult for Rivers to locate favorable matchups this time around. As cornerback Chris Harris put it, "This is a totally different defense this time." The Broncos have to find a way to limit Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, especially down the hashmarks with offenses having targeted Broncos safety T.J. Ward in coverage.