Welcome to a new and unique edition of Broncos Film Room, in which we’ll give you our scouting report and keys to the game for the Denver Broncos opponent every single week.
Of course, with every Week 1 comes plenty of unknowns, and that's even more true for the Broncos and Chargers, with both teams welcoming new coaching staffs.
The Chargers are now under head coach Anthony Lynn and have a new defensive coordinator in Gus Bradley, while they decided to hold onto Ken Whisenhunt as their offensive coordinator. So there’s a mix of new faces and familiar ones similar to the Broncos. However, the matchups on the field should be similar to what we’ve seen in the past between these two teams that have plenty of talent and know each other far too well.
As the late game on Monday Night Football, it promises to be a classic bout. Here's what we’ll be looking for and the key matchups of the game.
This is the premium matchup of the game as there’s tons of talent on either side. One of the league’s most complete offenses on one side and a Broncos defense that’s explosives and dominating against the pass.
On offense, the Bolts are very big at just about every position. Their wide receiving core is likely their weakest spot but has plenty of size to block on the permitter, while their offensive line’s been upgraded but is still a bit of an unknowns and new faces. In the preseason, they used tons of heavy sets and really dominated the middle of the field. When they play this way and are on their game, the Chargers present lots of problems for a defense, the first of which is having to defend their two tight ends—a position that the Broncos have struggled to cover in the past few seasons.
Covering both Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry presents a unique challenge as defenses only have so many guys who can defend that kind of size. Jamal Carter could prove to be useful in countering this as the Chargers are then a threat to run or pass out of heavy two tight end sets, and can do either with efficiency. Carter's duality in covering up against the line added to his physicality and instincts against the run could be essential here, as will Darian Stewart and Will Parks.
The Chargers run game wasn't all that successful a year ago, but they do have Melvin Gordon who’s a handful to take down and who played pretty well against the Broncos last season. LA has made a concerted effort to improve their offensive line, and we’ll see how good they actually are in establishing the run. Lynn’s teams have had success on the ground in the past and looked pretty good this preseason, meaning improvements should be expected. The same goes for the Broncos beefed-up run defense. The battle for the ground game will be big.
Without too much explosiveness at receiver, LA’s not a big-play-hitting team in the air, aside from Travis Benjamin who will require close attention, but they can eat up yards and have Phillip Rivers who is very precise in managing drives, while also being efficient when he’s needed on third down.
Matchup to watch for Broncos
Von Miller against Russell Okung and the Chargers OTs
Both these teams have big question marks at offensive tackle, and they’ve tried to repair things in their own ways. The Chargers chose to throw lots of money at Okung who’ll have a big test when Von Miller’s shifted over to his side. Shaquil Barrett’s impact will be crucial here as well, assuming full health. Denver’s ability to come away with turnovers and capitalize on them off that pressure will be massively important, too, as this was a key to the Broncos Week 8 win in 2016 over the Chargers.
Aqib Talib against Keenan Allen comes in as a close second matchup to watch here but certainly one to follow as Allen looked healthy and back to being a tough cover this preseason after missing all of last season.
Defensively, the Bolts have hired Gus Bradley and will try to use his Seattle-inspired cover-3 defense. This shift could really help some of the front seven playmakers they have such as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front, but it’ll put a lot of stress on their safeties and linebackers who have to be competent in coverage to turn this talented unit into a serious defense.
That’ll be an interesting test for Denver who could really benefit from pounding the ball up the middle and taking it to the Bolts interior linebacking core, a core that’s lacking in run stoppers with Denzel Perryman out for the year. Andy Janovich's blocking ability could prove to be a nice little wrinkle in achieving this, as could Jamaal Charles’ vision and ability to make defenders miss at the second level. Both could prove to be essential in exploiting the NFL’s 10th-best rushing defense a year ago.
A cover-3 requires the strong safety to close quickly on plays down low, so testing the coverage with quick slants and screens early will be good in feeling out of how LA’s strong safety Jahleel Addae fairs. Finding any sort of big play out of the slot receiver position could really stress, the other safety, Tre Boston’s range. Using off balance formations and having Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders in the slot could be another way to isolate Boston. Of course, Trevor Siemian will need time to make such throws, and he’ll have to deliver accurate deep passes to make it all work. The Chargers have a good duo with cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, but they can be avoided in a cover-3 alignment as they’ll be playing zone down the sideline, so there'll be ways to move DT and Emmanuel away from them.
Matchup to watch for Broncos
Is Garett Bolles ready for Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram
The Broncos have a new-look offensive line and two new offensive tackles. How those two, Menelik Watson and Garett Bolles, fair against Joey Bosa will be crucial. In limited time this preseason, Bosa’s already made his impact felt much like he did last season in a rookie year that was pretty impressive. Now it’s time for Bolles to impress and Watson to show that nasty streak that got him paid.
Lined up both as a right and left defensive end this preseason, Bosa will be a big test for the Broncos two tackles. A baptism by fire for Bolles, who'll need to impress and stay penalty free, and for Watson to show that nasty streak that got him paid.
Keys to the game
When the Broncos split the series a year ago with the Chargers, there was a noticeable difference between the game Denver lost and the one they won.
In the loss Week 6, the Chargers controlled the game and manufactured key plays out of their tight ends as Henry shined with 83 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. With the Bolts controlling the game, the Broncos secondary found no crucial interceptions and the pressure created on Rivers was good for a normal team's standards but not great. The first key is covering the tight ends and limiting their impact in the passing game.
In the Broncos 27-19 victory in Week 8, Denver’s pressure was at another level, they sacked Rivers four times and hit him 13 while the Chargers had to pass the ball a lot more. The tight ends weren’t a factor in Denver's win. A Bradley Roby pick-six was, however, and capitalizing on turnovers is a huge key for the Broncos. Keeping up the rush and making turnovers count will be essential.
These are the keys defensively, while on offense it comes down to being balanced and mistake free. The more balanced the Broncos are, the less Bosa and crew can impact the game. Finding impact from the run game and allowing that to dictate the passing game will be important not just the first week but all season in Denver.