For the last time this season we will have a Thursday Night Football game. The San Diego Chargers come into Week 15 off the back of a much-needed win against the New York Giants to stay in the thick of the race for the last AFC wild card. For the Chargers to make the playoffs they need to be one game ahead of the Dolphins and Ravens. And that quest begins here against a Denver Broncos team that put on an offensive display to score 51 points against the Tennessee Titans last week. So far this season the Broncos have scored more than 30 points in 11 of 13 games.
We all know that both teams are led by great quarterback play, so let’s look at some other matchups that could go a long way to deciding who wins.
Chargers Tackles vs. Von Miller and Shaun Phillips
In the first matchup between these two teams, (Week 10) Von Miller caused havoc as a pass rusher with two sacks and eight QB hurries, which led to a 27.6 Pass Rushing Productivity. As a run defender, he had a +5.3 grade on run defense alone. This season, Miller has gotten a pressure on 17.8% of snaps when he has rushed the passer. On the other side of the defense is Shaun Phillips and while Phillips has recorded 10 sacks, he has struggled to put opposing quarterbacks under constant pressure. Phillips only has a PRP of 8.0, which puts him 33rd among 4-3 defensive ends who qualify. What he has lacked as a pass rusher he has made up for as a run defender, where he has the ninth-highest grade in run defense.
D.J. Fluker will spend most of his time on Miller and this is a difficult assignment for any player. In Week 10, Fluker graded out negatively though he did play a respectable game. Before last week, Fluker had to manage the LT position where he clearly struggled. Over the season when Fluker has played LT he has graded out at -11.4, compared to his RT grade of +3.6. When he has played right tackle his biggest weakness so far this has been when players have bull-rushed him. He has given up 29% of his right tackle pressures on bull-rushes compared to the league average of 15%. At left tackle, King Dunlap has come back from his injury though he may not be confused as the best pass blocking tackle in the league. He has excelled as a run blocker this season — he is graded as the second-highest rated run blocker. If Dunlap can display this top-notch run blocking skill set, it should be an interesting battle against Phillips.
When Malcom Floyd got hurt in Week 2 it led the Chargers to insert third-round rookie Keenan Allen into the starting lineup. Allen has graded at +13.8 which gives him the 10th-best WR grade so far this season. Allen has been targeted 81 times with 61 catches — this gives him the second-highest Catch Rate at 75.3%. This number is helped by the fact that he is not targeted much on “corner”, “post,” or “go” routes as he has only caught 41% of these passes. In fact, 10 of his 20 incompletions have come on such routes. Though Allen has not been used to “take the top off the defense” he is still being asked to catch the ball in the intermediate area of the field. The most success Allen has found in his short NFL career has been on “in” routes. He has been targeted 24 times on such routes catching 20 passes for 334 yards and giving Rivers a QB Rating of 101.4. Allen will never be confused with the biggest, fastest WRs in the game, however, he is a reliable WR who is very consistent. Over the season, Allen only has three drops, good for the fourth-best Drop Rate at WR in the league.
The Broncos Run Game
When everyone sees the Broncos, they see a pass-happy team with four different types of threats on each play. While this is true, people forget that Peyton Manning is more than willing to change the play to a run if you don’t have enough players in the box. The key for the Chargers is to be able to stop the running game with two defensive linemen. In Week 10, the Chargers played two defensive linemen for 67% of the game. The ability to stop the running game will fall on the shoulders of Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget. Both players are having a difficult year, especially Liuget who in 2012 graded at +5.0 in run defense, but this season he has graded at -5.5 in the running game. Last year, Liuget had a Run Stop Percentage of 7.2%, due to him making 19 stops in the run game. However, 2013 has been a difficult year for Liuget in making run stops. He only has made five run stops this year, which gives him the lowest Run Stop Percentage (2.4%) in the league for 3-4 defensive ends that have played 50% of their snaps. Kendall Reyes is not known for his work as a run defender, but in 2012 he was not a liability. There was hope that he would be able to improve on his rookie season, however 2013 has been a tough year for Reyes as he is the lowest-graded 3-4 among DEs this season. Though Reyes has struggled this year, there has still been signs that he can still produce like last season. Last week against the Giants, Reyes produced his second positive grade this season. If Reyes can take this good performance from last week and be able to play at this same level against the Broncos, there is a chance that Chargers will be able to shut down the Broncos’ running game with limited players in the box.
Follow Michael on Twitter.