If you are anything like me, you have had this match-up circled in red ever since their last contest was dropped in week 11. That contest was at home and the Chargers were currently on a six-game win-streak before self-imploding in front of the home crowd.
It left quite a bad taste in my mouth, more so than any of the other four losses this season simply because of the way the team lost it. On Sunday evening, they have a chance to rid the themselves of that lingering cloud prior to their first playoff game in over five years.
Without futher ado, here are the three bigget things I’ll be keeping an eye on one the Chargers take the field at Mile High.
1.) With Phillip Lindsay on IR, how will the Bolts run defense bounce back?
Lindsay became just the third undrafted free agent running back ever to rush for over 1,000 yards in hist first season en route to a Pro Bowl nod. Unfortunately for the former-Colorado Buffalo, Lindsay suffered a wrist injury against the Oakland Raiders this past week and was placed on IR, effectively ending his historic season one game from the finish line.
Lindsay finished his rookie campaign with 192 carries for 1,037 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He added an extra 241 yards through the air on 35 catches with another touchdown, bringing his score total into the double-digits.
In his place, 2018 third-round pick Royce Freeman will get the call as the Bronco’s starter heading into Sunday evening. Following the draft, Freeman was pegged by most pundits to be Denver’s starter out of training camp but close to no one saw Lindsay’s rise to prominence coming in the slightest.
In his limited action, Freeman has accrued 461 rushing yards on 113 carries to go along with five touchdowns. He has seldom been used in the passing game as he has just six catches for 29 yards to his name.
After last week’s performance against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bolts’ run defense needs to use this game as a confidence booster heading into the playoffs after being pushed around from whistle to whistle by Lamar Jackson and company.
2.) Broncos pass rush will be the final tune-up before the playoffs
Just like clockwork, Von Miller is having another All-Pro season for the Broncos. It also doesn’t help opposing offenses that he has another elite-level pass rusher on the other side on the line in rookie Bradley Chubb.
The first-year player out of North Carolina State has 12 sacks on the season, just 2.5 shy of tying Jevon Kearse’s rookie record of 14.5. He also has two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 13 tackles-for-loss to his name among his 56 total tackles.
Miller’s stat line is fairly similar to Chubb’s, albeit a bit heavier where you’d expect it. His 14.5 sacks are tied with the Vikings’ Danielle Hunter for 3rd-most in the NFL behind only the Chiefs’ Chris Jones (15.5) and the Rams’ Aaron Donald (19.5).
Miller has also forced four fumbles while recovering two. He has an interception (thanks to Rivers during their last match-up) and 14 tackles-for-loss among his 45 total tackles.
Fans were likely worried about Russell Okung’s availability for this Sunday after posting back-to-back limited practices earlier this week but the captain was a full participant during Friday’s run-through and looks ready to rock this weekend.
3.) Can Rivers rebound after a pair of two-interception performances?
It took until the team’s week 11 match-up against the Broncos for Rivers to have his first multi-interception game of the season. That unfortunate performance was only compounded by the plethora of penalties and other unfortunate events that led to the team’s inevitable loss that week.
In his last two weeks, Rivers has thrown just two touchdowns (both coming against the Chiefs) to four interceptions. his 181 passing yards last week were a season-low, as well.
Up until last week, Rivers was in the thick of the MVP-race. Not because his stats matched-up well with the likes of Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes, but because of the late victories he was able to rally his team to no matter how stacked the deck was against this team.
I’ve seen some people suggest Philip Rivers is “trending in the wrong direction” because of his four picks in the last two games. Not sure I agree. Two of them were under thrown balls to open receivers (the right decision), one was essentially a Hail Mary. One was a bad decision.
— The Lightning Round Podcast (@Lightning_Round) December 28, 2018
As my fellow BFTB writer Jamie Hoyle states in the above tweet, Rivers may have a horrendous stat line over the last two weeks, but there’s still a silver-lining that should relax fans a bit before the games REALLY matter.
He is correct that two of Rivers’ picks were underthrown passes to receivers that had a step or two on their defenders. But why were the balls underthrown in the first place? Well, there was interior pressure allowed by Dan Feeney on both plays that forced Rivers to have to launch it off his back foot as he drifted away from the threat.
As for his other two turnovers, one was actualyl a poor decision and the other was a desperate heave to (blegghh) Travis Benjamin in the end zone towards the end of the Baltimore game. This play made me physically ill as it looked like half of River’s interceptions over the 2015 and ‘16 season when he would try to play “hero ball” when his team let him down over and over again.
It hasn’t been pretty, but they still pulled out that game in Kansas City before dropping a “not-so-surprising” loss to the Ravens, a team built to beat a team such as the Chargers.
In that game against the Bronocs, even with the two picks, Rivers still managed to top 400 yards passing for just the second time all season. That means this Broncos secondary can be exploited and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another spectacular game for number 17 when it’s all said and done.