Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
The AFC West rivals will battle for first-place in the division in San Diego.
Two divisional foes coming off painful road losses will clash on Monday Night Football, when the San Diego Chargers host the Denver Broncos at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. The Lightning Bolts appeared to be on their way to a 4-1 start with a 24-14 lead over the Saints late in the third quarter last week, but New Orleans would rally with 17 unanswered points to win 31-24 and send San Diego home with a 3-2 mark. The Denver defense was gashed in New England eight days ago, as the Patriots piled up 251 rushing yards in a 31-21 defeat of the Broncos.
When the San Diego Chargers have the ball:
The Chargers offense entered the weekend ranked 23rd in the NFL in yards per game (334.8) but 13th in scoring (24.8 ppg), so Philip Rivers and company have done a good job of capitalizing on their opportunities. The veteran quarterback has spread the ball around this season, as five San Diego pass catchers have double-digit receptions. And that does not include offseason signee Robert Meachem, who had two touchdowns versus New Orleans. The Chargers will look for a big game from running back Ryan Mathews, who had 139 total yards and a score last week and has torched the Broncos defense in the past.
The Denver defense has been very inconsistent under new coordinator Jack Del Rio, digging early holes against top opponents. In their three losses to Atlanta, Houston and New England, the Broncos have allowed a combined 58 first-half points. That must stop if Denver is going to compete with the Chargers in the AFC West. The Broncos must also start generating turnovers, as they have totaled only four takeaways in five games. Denver will look to limit Mathews while pressuring Rivers, who has been sacked 14 times this season.
When the Denver Broncos have the ball:
The Broncos have started to adjust to new quarterback Peyton Manning, but turnovers, offensive line injuries and an average running game have hurt the offense. The four-time MVP has thrown for 975 yards and eight touchdowns against no interceptions over the last three games, but Denver has lost two of those contests. The Broncos have a potential star in receiver Demaryius Thomas, but he has lost a fumble in three straight games. Denver needs to get more out of veteran runner Willis McGahee, but the early deficits have hurt his opportunities.
The Chargers defense has been solid against the run this season, ranking fifth in the NFL. McGahee has had past success versus San Diego, so he will be a focal point as the Chargers look to make the Broncos one-dimensional. Manning struggled against San Diego during his days with the Colts, and John Pagano’s unit will try to continue that trend by adding to its 10 takeaways on the season.
The Broncos defense must simply solve its first-half issues and not keep putting the team into uphill battles in key games. The team that can establish a running attack will have a huge advantage in this Monday night battle. The early AFC West lead is at stake in San Diego, and we’ll take the home team to prevail with Rivers and Mathews leading the way.
Chargers 27 Broncos 23
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)