The Denver Broncos (5-2) finally managed to put an end to a two-game losing streak with an impressive 27-9 victory over the Texans on Monday night. The much-needed victory also marked the return of head coach Gary Kubiak, who missed the previous week’s game with what has been described as “complex migraines.” Kubiak and his Broncos must now carry that momentum into a rematch against AFC West rival San Diego, who beat them less than three weeks ago. A win by Denver would not only exact some payback, it would allow the Broncos to at worst keep pace with the Raiders for the top spot in the AFC West.
Following a 1-4 start, and a series of colossal last-minute meltdowns, the Chargers (3-4) finally seem to have put their bad luck behind them. In the last two weeks, San Diego has beaten the team with arguably the best defense in the NFL (Denver), followed by the team with arguably the best offense (Atlanta). The Chargers will have an opportunity to prove that the former was no fluke as they head to the Mile High City to take on the Broncos for the second time in 18 days. Another win over the defending Super Bowl champions would give San Diego its first season sweep of Denver in six years. It also would mark the Bolts’ first win on the road against an AFC West opponent since October 2014.
San Diego at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Devontae Booker
Just as the Broncos appeared to be gaining traction with their running game, C.J. Anderson was placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee. That leaves rookie Booker, Denver’s fourth-round pick out of Utah, to shoulder the load for the rest of the season. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Since fumbling the football on his first NFL carry in Week 1 against Carolina, Booker has shown improvement each and every week. He even managed to score his first touchdown on Monday night against Houston and for the season is averaging nearly five yards per carry (4.8).
The Broncos will need to lean heavily on Booker in his first career start. San Diego has been solid against the run this season, giving up just 90 rushing yards per game. In their first meeting in Week 6, the Chargers allowed just 84 yards on the ground to Denver. Booker was effective, however, gaining 46 of those yards on just five carries. San Diego will likely focus its defensive attention on bottling up Denver’s running game, so Booker will have his work cut out for him. But the rookie has shown he’s capable of sparking the team before and will get even more opportunities to have an impact for an offense that is still finding its rhythm.
2. Denver Passing Game vs. San Diego Pass Defense
The Chargers are ranked 24th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, but did a good job in their first game against the Broncos. Trevor Siemian threw for 230 yards, but he needed 50 pass attempts, as he didn’t have a single completion of more than 20 yards. In fact, Siemian has not been able to connect with his receivers for many plays downfield all season, something the Chargers are aware of. Even though Denver boasts big-play targets like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, a secondary’s job is easier when they have no fear of getting beat over the top.
Look for San Diego to follow the same game plan it had against Siemian last time – dial up the pressure and force him to throw short passes or dump the ball off. The pressure aspect will be key, as the Chargers’ pass rush has really come to life of late. Joey Bosa, the third overall pick who got a late start because of contract holdout in training camp, already has four sacks in his first three NFL games. He didn’t get Siemian down in Week 6, but he did harass the Broncos’ quarterback throughout the game.
It is worth nothing that Siemian is healthier for the rematch against the Chargers, as he’s had more time to heal from a shoulder injury that had held him out of the Week 5 game against Atlanta. He also will have head coach Gary Kubiak on the sidelines for this game, something that can’t be understated for a first-year starter. So will different circumstances and lessons learned from the first game lead to different results this afternoon?
3. Can the San Diego Offense Overcome an Elite Denver Defense on the Road?
The Chargers’ offense is extremely dangerous. Philip Rivers is putting together another solid season, showing he’s still among the best at his position. He has big-play threats at wide receivers, two extremely capable and dangerous pass-catching tight ends and a running back (Melvin Gordon) that leads the league in touchdowns. However, the Broncos’ defense is legitimate in its own right. Denver has the best pass rush in the league, led by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller (7.5 sacks), and a secondary that takes a back seat to no one.
In the previous meeting, San Diego scored a touchdown on its first drive but after that had to settle for four field goals (and a safety) while finishing with just 265 yards of total offense. The Chargers were just 3-for-13 on third down (23 percent) and had just one pass play that went for more than 20 yards. San Diego did not beat Denver because of its stellar offense. The Chargers made the most of the opportunities they got, benefitted from 12 penalties called on the Broncos, and forced two timely turnovers. It is unlikely that San Diego will get every bounce to go its way this time around, so it’s even more critical that the offense does something when it has the ball. But the Chargers know full well just how tough this Denver defense is, and now they also have to deal with the thin air and crowd noise at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
After going through an early stretch where nothing seemed to go its way, San Diego is riding a huge wave of momentum. The Chargers have proven the naysayers wrong with back-to-back victories over two of the beat teams in the NFL, including a Week 6 home win against Denver. End results aside, San Diego got its share of breaks in both of those wins and, as this team is already well aware of, that luck is due to run out. It’s also incredibly difficult to beat any team twice in the same season. It’s even more difficult when that team is the defending Super Bowl champions on their own turf.
The Broncos will have their head coach on the sidelines this time around. And for what it’s worth, Trevor Siemian is basically at full strength. Sprinkle in Denver’s elite defense and home-field advantage, and that should be just enough for the Broncos to exact a little payback this afternoon.
Prediction: Broncos 21, Chargers 20
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.