Broncos look to climb in the standings, keep Chargers in the AFC West basement
Good football teams aren’t supposed to lose after a bye week. Good teams aren’t supposed to lose to the worst team in the league. And good teams darn sure aren’t supposed to lose after a bye week to the worst team in the league.
That’s what makes the Broncos’ 23-10 home loss last week to the winless Giants, a team that has been in complete shambles both on and off the field, so baffling. From the snap, Denver looked like a discombobulated junior varsity squad, let alone an NFL team that is supposed to compete for a division title and possibly make a run in the playoffs.
Denver now heads to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers, winners of their last two, in a soccer stadium that will be as lively as bingo night at my grandpa’s local VFW. It’s no surprise that the Chargers are winless in their new home, the 27,000-seat StubHub Center, a venue that rivals most MAC stadiums, just with better weather.
Denver at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 22 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Three Things to Watch
1. “Super Slow-Start Chargers”
We all know the old saying, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.” Well, the Chargers’ offense has been taking the adage to heart, and not in a good way. The Chargers find themselves in terrible company as one of four teams (Bills, Bears, Browns) that have yet to score a single point on opening drives through the first six games. Likely future Hall of Fame quarterback Phillip Rivers is completing just 18 percent (2-for-11) of his passes in the first drive of the game, averaging a measly 1.8 yards per completion, with one interception and obviously no touchdowns. Baffling.
Somehow, it gets worse when you realize that the Chargers have only scored seven (Really, seven!) first-quarter points all season long. That’s seven (7!) points in what amounts to 90 minutes or a game and a half of football time.
Perhaps the oddest part about the Chargers’ first-quarter futility is the fact that All-Pro running back Melvin Gordon (above, right) does most of his damage in the first 15 minutes. Of Gordon’s 356 rushing yards this season, 160 of them have come in the first quarter, to go along with 10 of his 22 first downs.
If the Chargers want to upset a Broncos team hungry for a bounce-back win their offense is going to have to get it going early.
2. Return & debut of Jake Butt
There may be no better example of the volatile business relationship that exists between college football and the NFL than that of Butt. One of college football’s top tight ends last year, he also was one of the most sought-after NFL prospects at the position. The All-American from Michigan hauled in 97 catches for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns over the course of his junior and senior seasons in Ann Arbor. His ability to run block and protect the quarterback made him the total package that NFL coaches crave.
Butt likely would have gone within the first three rounds of his year’s draft, but he tore his ACL in the Wolverines’ one-point loss in Orange Bowl to Florida State. The injury likely caused Butt to slide all the way to the third day of the draft before finally being selected in the fifth round by the Broncos at 145th overall. While Butt was covered with a $500,000 insurance policy, the injury still likely cost him millions.
Now, Butt is finally off the PUP list and ready to return to the field and make his Denver debut on Sunday against the Chargers — and at the perfect time. The Broncos’ receiving corps is completely hobbled as Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie have been ruled out for Sunday’s game with ankle injuries, while Demaryius Thomas (calf) and Cody Latimer (knee) were limited at practice this week. Butt’s ability to open up the middle of the file could pay immediate dividends, but it’s his pass protection capability that will give quarterback Trevor Siemian some relief against the Chargers’ Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, a duo that has already combined for 13 sacks.
3. Broncos’ ground game
Last week’s surprising and inexcusable loss to the Giants cost Denver more than just a win, as all four Denver wideouts were stricken with some sort of injury, as well as Siemian, who was forced out of the game for a spell with a tweaked shoulder.
But the Broncos’ offensive struggles have been ongoing since dropping 42 points on the Cowboys a month ago. Since that win, Denver has averaged a mediocre 14 points per game — not good enough for a team competing for a division title.
Lucky enough for the Broncos, the Chargers have the worst rushing defense in the NFL — by far — giving up a ridiculous 152.5 yards per game, the perfect opportunity for running backs C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles to rebound from their combined 46 rushing yards last week against New York.
The Raiders did the Broncos a major favor last night, knocking off the first-place Chiefs at the last second, keeping Denver within striking range of the top spot in the AFC West. After last week’s debacle against the Giants, the Broncos should be poised, for as banged up as they are, to take out their frustrations on the Chargers and their middle of the road offense. Look for a heavy dose of Denver’s run game and a low-scoring affair.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Chargers 17
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.