Round table: Broncos vs. Chargers Week 12 preview

Denver Broncos linebacker A.J. Johnson (45) stops Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) after a short gain in the 4th quarter at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Oct 6, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker A.J. Johnson (45) stops Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) after a short gain in the 4th quarter at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos return to Denver after a two-game road trip that dropped the team to 3-8 on the season.

Now, with Drew Lock primed to enter the lineup, what does our team of Broncos analysts forecast for the team on Sunday? Let’s take a look.

What’s the key to this game?

Aniello Piro (@MediaByAP): The key to this game will be the Broncos offense.

Assuming Drew Lock starts Sunday, he will need to provide the Broncos offense a spark after their latest showing in Buffalo. There has been a lot of hype surrounding Lock, and should he hit the gridiron Sunday, all eyes will be on him.

Alex Becker (@a_beck9): The key to this game is getting Drew Lock comfortable early.

Rich Scangarello’s play calling should be designed to allow Lock to connect on some short routes and quick hitters early on in order to get in a rhythm. As Lock’s confidence builds, the Broncos can open up the playbook to the rookie, second-round pick.

Ronnie Kohrt (@RonnieKRadio): Expose Drew Lock to all situations possible. 3rd and long, 2nd and short, etc. Short passing on methodical drives and “hit ’em deep” drives.

I want Lock getting as much practice as needed with in-game bullets where the losses and mistakes don’t matter before 2020. Allow him to play the game and call it as you normally would. No coddling or conservative “protect the QB” calls. If you’re going to start him, let him loose.

Rich Kurtzman (@RichKurtzman): The key for this game is simple: Ball control. The Broncos need to make sure they don’t turn the ball over and allow the defense to do what it does best, which is keep Denver in and sometimes win games themselves. That also means running the ball to control the clock with methodical drives, which has been a rarity this season.

Zach Segars (@Zach_Segars): While Lock’s play will be key in determining the final outcome of this game, the bigger key lies with the opposing quarterback.

Philip Rivers is having the worst season of his career and is coming off the worst two-game stretch of that season. Whether or not the Broncos defense allows Rivers to bounce back will decide the winner of this one.

What should the Broncos worry about?

Aniello Piro: Playing a division foe is never an easy task.

These two teams know each other inside and out, so the Broncos will need to be ready to rock. Phillip Rivers has been absolutely atrocious this season and it’s essential the Broncos’ defense keeps pressure on him throughout the game to keep things close.

Alex Becker: The Broncos need to focus on limiting big plays, especially in the passing game to Mike Williams. Williams is known for his big-play potential as he is second in the NFL, averaging 20 yards per catch.

Ronnie Kohrt: Vic Fangio should worry in particular about getting the team ready to play. With the season over, it’s very easy to let small things slide, leading towards the big things falling apart. This is where you saw Vance Joseph fail, leading towards blowout losses. Lately, this hasn’t been the case, which is a credit to Fangio for continuing to motivate these players even in losing times.

Rich Kurtzman: It’s all about slowing down Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon, just like they did back in Week 5. In that game, Ekeler and Gordon combined for a mere 38 yards and Kareem Jackson saved a touchdown just before half when he forced Ekeler to fumble at the goal line.

Zach Segars: The Broncos should worry about Casey Heyward and Derwin James.

Denver’s aerial attack flows through Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton, and if the Chargers are able to take those two weapons out of the picture, much like the Bills did a week ago, the Broncos offense will be anemic.

Which Bronco gets the game ball?

Aniello Piro: Von Miller will get the game ball. Miller has had a rough season this year, but with a division rival coming to town he should show-up.

Mix in the fact that Rivers is aging rapidly, and Sunday is set up to be a big day for No. 58.

Alex Becker: Von Miller gets the game ball with a pair of sacks on Philip Rivers and a couple more tackles for a loss. After being reduced to just two tackles in the teams’ first meeting this year, Miller will enjoy his best game of 2019.

Ronnie Kohrt: I fully expect the defense to have a field day. Phillip Rivers is the exact quarterback you want on the other side of the field. He’s not mobile, easily flustered when knocked off his spot and very vulnerable to inaccuracy in critical moments.

Rich Kurtzman: Phillip Lindsay. He’s had a relatively quiet season, and although he’s still on pace to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year, he’s gone over the century mark just one time this season. That game? Against the Chargers, where the Denver native enjoyed a 114-yard rushing performance with a touchdown and another 33 yards through the air. Let Lock rely on the remarkable running back.

Zach Segars: Justin Simmons should get the game ball for the Broncos. He’s played incredibly well this season and on Sunday he’ll be key in stopping the run and the pass. Mix in the Chargers’ propensity for turnovers and Rivers’ recent mistakes and you’ll get Simmons coming up with a key interception in the fourth quarter.

What’s the final score?

Aniello Piro: If Lock starts, the Broncos should be able to find a way to win this game. He will bring a breath of fresh air and confidence in the offense, and the Chargers have struggled throughout the season. Broncos win 17-10

Alex Becker: Lock withstands some early struggles and shows improvement in the second half, but it’s not enough to secure the victory. Chargers win 26-20. 

Ronnie Kohrt: I like Lock and the offense to score 17 in a respectable start, with the defense adding their first defensive score since the Arizona game last year, snapping a stretch of 20 games without a defensive touchdown. Broncos win 24-16.

Rich Kurtzman: If Denver can avoid turnovers, they’ll win. Broncos win 23-20.

Zach Segars: This is the hardest game to predict all season. The Chargers’ roster is much more talented but they’ve underperformed all season and their quarterback is playing like one of the worst in the league. On the other hand, the Broncos are starting a rookie quarterback and are coming off a beatdown. Turnovers are the difference though, and Broncos win 23-13.

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