Coming off a Week 10 bye, the Broncos head to Hollywood to face the rising Chargers.
The Chargers sit at 7-2, are winners of six straight and appear to be a lock for the playoffs. The Chargers are the only AFC team with both a top-10 scoring offense and scoring defense. There’s even a chance that they could steal the AFC West crown from the red-hot Chiefs.
The Broncos’ season couldn’t be any more different. As Chargers fans contemplate playoff possibilities, Broncos fans ponder who they should take in the draft’s top ten, and what the future holds for this coaching staff with a loss.
Surprisingly enough, the Chargers’ most potent weapon comes on the ground instead of through the air. Los Angeles’ run game is the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 90.8. The difference between L.A. and the next-best team, the Broncos, is the same as the difference between the Broncos and the 14th-highest rated team.
The backfield duo of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler have been unstoppable. Gordon has been the bell-cow back and leads the team in both rushing yards and total touchdowns. Though Gordon is also a solid receiver — as his four receiving touchdowns indicate — Ekeler is the Bolts’ primary receiving back.
On the season, Ekeler has rushed for 345 yards and has added 246 more through the air. He’s currently on pace to finish the season with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns as the backup to one of the league’s elite backs.
A big reason as to why Los Angeles’ running backs have been so dynamic is Philip Rivers. Rivers has been having one of best seasons of his career. According to PFF, Rivers is the highest-graded offensive player for the Chargers and the fourth-highest graded quarterback overall.
Rivers is the only quarterback in the NFL this season with multiple touchdown passes in every game. In fact, his 7.7% touchdown percentage is the highest of his career by two whole points, setting him on pace to throw for the most touchdowns of his career.
The offense has been lights-out, but the Chargers host a high-end defense as well. Typically, when you think about the Chargers’ defense ,you think of their incredible pass-rushing duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. But even though Bosa’s been sidelined through the first ten weeks this season, the Chargers’ secondary has been the defense’s strong point.
According to PFF, the Chargers have the best coverage unit in the league. Headlined by Pro-Bowler Casey Hayward, the Bolts are home to one of the youngest, deepest and most talented secondaries in the league. Outside of Hayward, the secondary is full of young stars like Desmond King and rookie safety Derwin James. The two young bucks are two of the three highest-graded defensive players for the Chargers, and the secondary as a whole has four of the top seven on the Bolts’ defense.
When it comes to weaknesses, the Chargers have very few. One that stands out is the kicking struggles that have plagued the team for years. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was released after an ugly Week 9 outing that saw him miss his only field goal attempt and two of his three extra points. That nasty game brought his extra-point percentage down to 60% on the season and his field goal percentage below 70%.
With Sturgis’ release, the Chargers will have to turn to the leg of Mike Badgely. Badgely, a rookie out of Miami, had already made a couple of kicking appearances for the Chargers when Sturgis was injured. The new Los Angeles kicker is so far perfect on the year, but his lack of leg strength raises concerns on field goal range and kickoff depth.
While we’re on the topic of positions that have long troubled the Chargers, let’s take a look at their offensive line. The line is improved compared to past seasons but is still one of the few chinks in the Chargers’ armor — especially on the interior.
Second-year offensive guard Dan Feeney is the weak link. His overall grade is the worst on the offense by more than ten points and his pass blocking grade of 37.2 is even worse. Feeney isn’t the only weak line on the Chargers’ line, though.
The Bolts don’t have a single offensive lineman with a run blocking grade over 70 and have two linemen with pass blocking grades under 50.
The Chargers’ final and most glaring weakness may not even be a weakness anymore come Sunday. Since being drafted, Bosa has been the best player on a loaded Chargers defense, and the duo of Bosa and Ingram was widely regarded as the best in the league entering this season.
Bosa made his return to practice on Wednesday but was still limited due to his foot injury. When asked if Bosa could make his return this week, head coach Anthony Lynn said, “We have to be careful working him back in. (We’ve) got to get him back in slowly, and if he does well in drills and then maybe get some team reps, it is possible he could play some snaps (on Sunday).”
If Bosa does make his return, Broncos tackles Garrett Bolles and Jared Veldheer will have a long day ahead of them.