Breaking down how the Chargers (6-4) and the Denver Broncos (5-5) match up heading into their game at 1:05 p.m. PST on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High. The game will be carried on CBS.
When Chargers have the ball: A week ago, the Chargers scored on all five possessions — three touchdowns and two field goals — through the first three quarters against Pittsburgh. They ended up totaling 41 points in a fit of productivity that followed some extended empty stretches over the previous four games. Denver is among the NFL’s top 10 in total defense and third in points allowed. The Broncos have held three of the last four opponents to 17 points or fewer. Denver likes to disguise looks, but a lot of what it does should be familiar to the Chargers’ Justin Herbert. Under coach Brandon Staley, L.A. runs a defensive scheme similar to what Denver’s Vic Fangio employs. When coaching in college, Staley studied Fangio, who then hired Staley in 2017 in Chicago. The two also worked together for a season in Denver. Running back Austin Ekeler will return to his home state coming off a career-best four-touchdown game. “Yeah, it’s special because that’s where I started,” Ekeler said. “I have some roots there. I still have family back in Colorado. It’s always a great time to get back to the state.” Something else to note: Denver returns from its off week, while the Chargers won a draining, emotional game that featured 41 points in the fourth quarter.
When Broncos have the ball: The Chargers have generated only two turnovers — fumbles against New England and Minnesota — over the last four games. They don’t have an interception since Kyzir White picked off Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson twice on Oct. 17. In Teddy Bridgewater, they face another quarterback who’s stingy with the ball. The veteran has thrown five interceptions in 222 attempts. Kirk Cousins, Ben Roethlisberger and Jalen Hurts — all recent Chargers opponents — also rank among the top seven in interception percentage. Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill, noting how much the team works on forcing turnovers in practice, predicted a bunch could be coming. “We have to continue to stay on it and not just assume that it’s going to happen on Sundays.” The Chargers’ run defense has been trending in the right direction, but the pass defense suddenly has sprung a few leaks, thanks in part to some injuries. Bridgewater’s 14 touchdown passes are tied for 12th in the league. He also has been sacked 27 times, which is tied for the second most. Denver has some impressive size at wide receiver in Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick — both 6-foot-4 — but Bridgewater has to get them the ball.
When they kick: Dustin Hopkins is seven for seven on field goals and 11 for 12 on extra points since joining the Chargers four games ago. He has steadied the position — for now, at least. Denver’s Brandon McManus can be a legitimate weapon. He’s the second-most accurate kicker (behind Matt Prater) in franchise history, hitting 82.8% of his field goals.
Jeff Miller’s prediction: Here we go again, another game the Chargers should win. But their very recent history in Denver is more than a little spotty. Still, there’s a growing belief that the 2021 Chargers are better equipped to handle game-winning moments.
CHARGERS 24, BRONCOS 20