This AFC West matchup serves as Denver’s primer to a three-game, likely division-deciding stretch where they’ll see Kansas City twice sandwiched around a trip to New England. The Chargers, on the other hand, are hoping to stay relevant in the wild card race and push their way in as the third team from the West to qualify.
Our two highest-rated quarterbacks face off in what could be one of the season’s top passing displays and much of the intrigue centers around the two passers. Here are a few points to keep an eye on:
Manning vs. Rivers
Carrying +22.3 and +19.6 overall grades into the contest, respectively, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers have set the pace for passers through the season’s first half, doing so with week-in, week-out accuracy levels that have been eye-popping. Rivers leads the league with an 81.3 Accuracy Percentage mark that sits above Manning’s third-place 79.8% – both on pace to challenge the 80.6% Aaron Rodgers posted in 2011 as the highest we’ve seen.
Manning has done his work in much the same fashion as last season, albeit with Wes Welker on board and Julius Thomas emerging, while Rivers has taken on a new offensive plan that has him getting rid of the ball quicker and marching his offense at a more controlled pace. Rivers’ 2012 average time to throw of 2.79 seconds (21 QBs has faster times) has shrunk to 2.52 this year with only four QBs posting a quicker time… Manning being at the top of the list at 2.36.
One area where the two have diverged, though, is in the use of play action. Manning has run a play fake on over 29% of his drop-backs (fourth-most), while Rivers done so on just 12% (25th), but on the 39 drop-backs where Rivers has made use of it, his passer rating tops the league at 154.6.
The numbers go on and on for these two and could add up to a shootout where the first to falter hands the game over.
Not talking about the spread here – or the shootout-worthy 58-point over/under – but rather who will San Diego be able to count on at cornerback against Denver’s wide receiver threats? None of the four who’ve collected the most playing time (Derek Cox, Johnny Patrick, Shareece Wright, and Richard Marshall) have coverage grades in the Top 90… yes, 90… of 107 qualifying corners. Cox was benched last week mid-way through the Chargers’ game in Washington in a move that was weeks in the making. Patrick took over for him, but none of this group have any real claim to frontline duty.
Lining up opposite them this week are the Bronco trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker, all bringing WR Ratings of 105 or better with them. Thomas and Decker have combined for 11 deep ball receptions and Welker leads the league with 38 catches from the slot.
As much as we can expect the two quarterbacks to play a large role, this matchup of units from opposite ends of the spectrum may be what ultimately decides it.
Have to Hurry
With neither QB seeing much pressure registered against them – due in part to the short time they spend with ball in hand – it’s always interesting to see if the opposing D will come up with some way to manufacture a pass rush that can be a factor. For Manning, he’ll miss a chance at being reunited with the other half of his former Colt teammate tandem as Dwight Freeney has been lost for the year. Instead, coming after him from the edges will be the Jarret Johnson–Larry English combo that has managed 34 total pressures on the season and added up a pass-rushing grade of -2.7 between them.
Rivers will get to see Von Miller in his third game back from suspension. Already collecting 11 total pressures in just 55 pass-rushing snaps, Miller has picked up where he left off before his time away. Attempting to pick up the slack while Miller was out, three Denver defensive ends — Shaun Phillips, Derek Wolfe, and Robert Ayers — have no significantly positive pass-rushing grades, though they’ve logged 71 total pressures as a group.
The rush on both sides could be negated by the quick triggers we expect to see, but the smart money, of course, is on Miller if any of these pass-rushing options is to make a difference.
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