3TFO: Chargers @ Broncos, Week 11
After nine games, though they are second in their division, the San Diego Chargers appear to be in the middle of yet another disappointing season under Head Coach Norv Turner. The Chargers have lost four of their past five games, with their sole win coming against the NFL’s punching bag, the Kansas City Chiefs. One of San Diego’s losses during that span came against the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos, in what can only be described as a tale of two halves. The Chargers exploded out of the gate on their way to a 24-0 halftime lead, before completely melting down in the second half and surrendering 35 straight points, losing the game 35-24 in front of a disgruntled home crowd.
Denver seems to have overcome a difficult start to their season. The team has not lost since the aforementioned victory in San Diego and hold a two-game lead over the Chargers in their division. QB Peyton Manning has settled in and looks like he has come to terms with his post-surgery skill set. The Broncos are getting effective play from both their offense and defense, and have the look of a contender in a weak AFC. Here are a few of the matchups that will determine the winner of this week’s contest.
Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller vs. Michael Harris and Jeremy Clary
The Broncos boast one of the league’s best defenses, headlined by the team’s pair of Pro Bowl pass rushers, OLB/DE hybrid Von Miller and DE Elvis Dumervil. Miller likely needs no introduction to regular readers of this site. He has turned in an absolutely dominant season thus far, and is likely JJ Watt’s only legitimate competition for Defensive Player of the Year. He has racked up 51 total pressures in nine games, with an excellent Pass Rushing Productivity of 15.7. He has graded positively in every game this year, and is fully capable of taking over a game. Dumervil has been inconsistent defending the run this year, but he ranks seventh among 4-3 defensive ends with a PRP of 10.5. Unfortunately for Denver, Dumervil is nursing a shoulder injury, and has yet to practice this week. The Broncos may be in trouble if he cannot play — outside of Dumervil and Miller, no Bronco has graded positively as a pass rusher in 2012.
Even if Dumervil does not play Sunday, the Chargers’ OT’s will likely be completely overmatched by Miller alone. RT Jeromey Clary has been one of the league’s worst tackles in pass protection, posting a Pass Blocking Efficiency of just 93.8. On the other side, LT Michael Harris has been abysmal. Among OT’s with at least 100 pass protection snaps, Harris ranks dead last with a PBE of 87.8 after surrendering 31 total pressures. The 31 pressures allowed ranks eleventh-most among tackles, despite the fact that he has played less than 200 snaps in pass protection. Look for San Diego to give their struggling tackles some help with extra protection in the form of tight ends and running backs to keep Miller from ruining their day.
Eric Weddle vs. Peyton Manning
After being named an All-Pro in each of the last two years, FS Eric Weddle is PFF’s highest graded safety in 2012. He has proven to be a well-rounded player, grading positively in coverage, run support and even as a pass rusher. Weddle has missed just five tackles, and leads all safeties with a tremendous Run Stop Percentage of 19.2% when playing in the box. However, Weddle’s finest work has come in coverage. He has pulled in two interceptions, and opposing quarterbacks have a QB rating of just 64.7 when throwing in his direction. Weddle has posted an excellent 0.31 Yards per Coverage Snap, good for seventh among safeties. He will have to do his best work this week as outside of Weddle, the Chargers have struggled in pass coverage this season, and Manning is on fire.
With the exception of his poor (by his lofty standards) performances in Weeks 2 and 3, Manning has a QB rating of greater than 100 in every game of 2012. Manning currently ranks second only to Matt Ryan in PFF’s cumulative QB grading, and leads all QB’s in both PFF QB Rating (101.86) and Deep Passing Accuracy (57.5%). While offseason neck surgeries may have cost Manning some of his arm strength, his trademark accuracy remains intact. His Accuracy Percentage of 80.8 (adjusted to omit dropped passes and balls thrown away) ranks second in the league. The chess match between Manning and Weddle, two elite players performing at an extremely high level, has to be one of Sunday’s most interesting matchups
Champ Bailey and Tony Carter vs. Malcolm Floyd
The ageless wonder, CB Champ Bailey, looks like he will find himself in Hawaii for the 12th time at season’s end, breaking his own record for most Pro Bowl appearances by a cornerback. Opposing QB’s know by now that throwing at Bailey is a bad idea — Bailey’s league-leading 8.4 Coverage Snaps per Target means that no cornerback has been targeted less than Bailey on a per snap basis. He has been effective even when QB’s throw at him as his QB Rating against of 70.4 ranks among the league’s Top 20 for corners playing at least 350 snaps. Since CB Tracy Porter was injured in week 5 his replacement, CB Tony Carter has been a revelation. In his limited snaps, Carter has allowed a miniscule 0.61 Yards per Coverage Snap, and opposing QB’s have a Rating of 19.7 when throwing at him. Given Carter’s outstanding work in coverage, quarterbacks will be hard-pressed to find an open receiver when facing Denver.
While San Diego’s offense has been largely mediocre this year, WR Malcolm Floyd has quietly put together a strong campaign. He has posted a respectable 1.83 Yards per Route Run, but his greatest contribution to the Chargers has been his dependability. Floyd has dropped just one pass in 2012, and his Drop Rate of 2.50 ranks sixth among qualifying receivers. For an offense that has struggled with consistency across the board, Floyd has proven to be an invaluable asset for QB Philip Rivers. Floyd, and Rivers for that matter, have a tough task ahead of them this week against the Broncos’ terrific pairing of outside cornerbacks.