How can the COVID-depleted Broncos upset the Los Angeles Chargers?

Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) intercepts a ball intended for Los Angeles Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. (89) in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.
Nov 28, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) intercepts a ball intended for Los Angeles Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. (89) in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like the Denver Broncos just can’t catch a break. Following a painful loss to their hated rival, the Las Vegas Raiders, the Front Range was rocked by a terrifying urban wildfire, and now, the Broncos are suffering through a miserable COVID outbreak.

While the outbreak might not be quite as debilitating as the matchup with the New Orleans Saints a year ago, it isn’t far off it.

With that in mind, how can the Broncos hope to beat the Chargers? Let’s look.

How the Broncos beat the Chargers

Establish the run: The title of this sub-section originally had an F-bomb in it, in an effort to highlight just how important the run game will be for the Broncos, but in the interest of job security, it’s been cut.

The Broncos’ run game has been the engine that drives this offense for the overwhelming majority of the season, and its necessity to the offense was on full display when Denver was unable to generate any firepower in Vegas, despite Lock playing a pretty clean game. That inability to create scoring opportunities was largely the result of having no rushing attack whatsoever.

The importance of the run game will be even greater this week, as the Broncos are down all three of their top receivers. This latest wave of COVID has stripped the Broncos to the bone, as several players are on the COVID list.

With almost every element of the passing game having to rely on reserve players, it only makes sense that the running game will be vital to the team’s success.

Don’t try to do too much, Mr. Lock: Last week’s performance against the Raiders was one of the best of Lock’s career, purely because he took care of the football and didn’t try to do too much.

He’ll have to do that again this week, as with how depleted the roster is, it’ll be difficult for the offense to generate many points even if the rushing attack is rolling. That means Denver can’t afford to gift Los Angeles easy scoring opportunities, while also ending their own drives. Turnovers will be debilitating this week.

It should also be noted, that avoiding them might be extra difficult for Lock this week as well. A lot of his interceptions have been spurred by the need to play ‘hero ball’ and when one is down all of their receivers, it might make them feel as if they need to play hero ball.

How the Chargers beat the Broncos

Dare the Broncos to throw: The Chargers should be beyond hyper-aggressive on defense this week against the Broncos.

With so few weapons at Denver’s disposal, a weakened offensive line, and a quarterback who struggles to get his team in the right pre-snap look and was the worst quarterback in all of football last year when put under pressure; Los Angeles would be foolish to not throw the kitchen sink at defending the run.

They should stack the box with at least seven defenders on every play and should have boxes of eight-or-more men on a majority of their defensive snaps. At times, they could drop back into coverage out of this look to confuse Lock and try to force a turnover — which is easier done than said (no, that’s not a typo) — but ultimately they should bring heavy pressure early and often to suffocate the Broncos attack.

If the Chargers can manage that, they should cruise to victory.

Score Predictions and Final Thoughts

It will practically take a miracle for the Broncos to win this game with how depleted they are. It’s not only that they have limited personnel, but also that those limitations are piled up in the same position groups.

The Chargers are fairly depleted themselves, which does provide a glimmer of hope, but they have the better coaching staff, the much better quarterback, and the Raiders just provided the defensive blueprint to shut the Broncos down.

Chargers win 24-13

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