If the Denver Broncos are hoping to march into SoFi Stadium to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC West divisional showdown on Monday Night Football, the Broncos will have to pressure Justin Herbert, establish the rushing offense, and locate Austin Ekeler each play.

Pressure imperative for Denver Broncos defense against Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert presents the Broncos’ defense with arguably their biggest challenge yet this season from a quarterback standpoint. The Chargers’ franchise signal-caller has the arm talent to make throws just about anywhere on the field including in the quick passing game.

Entering Monday’s matchup, Herbert has led the Chargers to the league’s 2nd ranked passing offense in the NFL, averaging 291.2 yards per game through the air. In combination with that, the Chargers’ offense is also averaging 24.9 points per game which is good for 9th in the NFL.

Despite suffering a rib injury several weeks ago, Herbert has relied a lot on the quick passing game to help keep the Chargers’ offensive unit rolling. The Chargers’ emphasis on short quick passes has put their offense in a position to limit the number of sacks Herbert has taken, with opposing defenses getting home only five times this season, making him the least-sacked quarterback in the league.

In order for the Broncos’ defense to have the best chance at limiting Herbert’s ability to hurt them, they must apply pressure early and often. The Broncos have sacked Herbert a total of seven times in four career games against him. Entering Monday’s matchup, the Broncos’ defense has gotten after opposing quarterbacks 17 times this season which ties them for fourth in the league.

Denver has to find a way to limit one of the game’s best young quarterbacks in the league.

“I think most people would agree he’s one of the best players in this league,” Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said on Friday regarding Herbert. “His ability to play in the pocket, play outside of the pocket, the mobility, the arm strength, and [he’s] smart beyond his years. He’s a good player and a tough challenge for us.”

Can Broncos offense establish the run to find balance?

The Broncos offense has struggled to get going this season. What’s attributed to the issue? First down has been Denver’s biggest obstacle early on, encountering various instances where they’ve had presnap penalties, sacks, or negative plays that have set them back. Another issue that’s plagued them has been inconsistency within the rushing offense.

Injuries have played a role in Denver’s inability to be consistent in running the football, including the loss of Javonte Williams who tore his ACL. In particular, the loss of offensive guard Quinn Meinerz has been a big blow, with Meinerz serving as arguably the team’s best run blocker. They’re hopeful he can return to the lineup on Monday Night.

Despite losing Williams for the season, Denver will likely emphasize a by-committee approach utilizing veteran rushers Melvin Gordon, Latavius Murray, and change-of-pace back Mike Boone going forward. Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett is excited to see what Murray can do on Monday Night Football.

“He’s a true pro,” Hackett said on Friday regarding Murray. “It’s another guy that has played in the league for a long time and had a lot of success. To have him come in and pick up the system the way that he has, has been unbelievably impressive, from protections, to run game, to pass concepts. Everybody in that room has embraced him—[RB] Melvin [Gordon III], [RB Mike] Boone, [RB] Devine [Ozigbo]. All those guys have done a great job. [Running Backs] Coach [Tyrone] Wheatley has done a great job with him. Just watching him as a true professional and how he handles himself in the huddle are all great things, and now I am excited to see him play on Monday night.”

With quarterback Russell Wilson dealing with a shoulder injury, the best way to take pressure off of him is to find a way to run the football effectively. Something’s got to give. The Broncos’ offense coming into tonight’s game is ranked 19th in the NFL, averaging 119 yards per game on the ground. They’ll look to take advantage of Los Angeles’ run defense which is allowing nearly 130 yards per game on the ground which has them ranked 25th in the NFL.

Austin Ekeler is major key for Chargers offense

Not only does Justin Herbert present a challenge for the Broncos’ defense with pass-catching options like Mike Williams, Gerald Everett, and Josh Palmer, but Austin Ekeler is another wildcard that tests the discipline of most defenses.

Entering tonight’s matchup, Ekeler is the Chargers leading rusher with 313 yards, and second-leading receiver with 214 yards, but is also the team’s leading scorer, accounting for over 30 points himself this year.

In nine career games against the Broncos, Denver’s defense has limited Ekeler to nearly 31.3 yards per game as a rusher and 38.4 yards per game as a pass catcher out of the backfield. However, Ekeler has accounted for six total touchdowns against Denver in nine games, two coming on the ground and four coming through the air. In the last four matchups against the Broncos, Ekeler has had three receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.

Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero discussed how impactful Ekeler is for the Chargers’ offense and how they have to prepare for him defensively.

“You have to view him as a runner and a receiver,” Evero said this week. “In those run situations, he’s got the ability to find the openings and has the lateral agility to start [one place] and then end up [another place]. In those pass situations, he’s a real threat. He’s a good player.”

The Broncos will be without inside linebacker Josey Jewell, leaving Alex Singleton and Jonas Griffith responsible for trying to contain and limit Ekeler’s explosive ability. Singleton has been impressive stepping in for the Broncos at linebacker so far this season.

“He’s just ready,” Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said on Friday. “He came in at Seattle, played well and played well against Houston. When you watch the way that he prepares and the way he goes about it in practice, it’s not a surprise that when he gets in those game situations, he’s ready.”

The NFL has been wild and unpredictable throughout the first six weeks of the season, can the Broncos play road spoils against a division rival and amplify their standing inside of the AFC West?

The Denver Broncos kick off tonight against the Los Angeles Chargers at 6:15 p.m. MT on ESPN.

Stay tuned at MileHighSports.com for in-game coverage, recap, and more.