ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On the surface, the Denver Broncos next opponent should be a walk in the park, a breeze as some may say—much like the Broncos' last opponent should have been, too.
But the 2-4 Los Angeles Chargers won't be as easy of an out as their record suggests. Not only have they lost three of their four games by three or less points, but they're on a two game winning streak.
That being said, it’s still a team that has lost four of their six contests. Here are four magic numbers that will be key in handing the Chargers their fifth loss on the year and taking a two-and-a-half game lead on the division opponent.
They key to beating the Chargers in 2017 has been simple: if opposing teams can contain running back Melvin Gordon they’ll win, if not, they’ll lose.
In Los Angeles’ two wins, Gordon has compiled 163 and 150 combined rushing and receiving yards. In their four losses, he has been held to 79 yards twice, 78 yards and 29 yards, a clear difference between the teams wins and losses.
Thus, if Denver wants to beat the Chargers for a second time this year, they’ll need to hold him closer to 79 yards out of the backfield than 150-plus. In the teams first meeting, a 24-21 Denver victory, Gordon ran for 54 yards and had 25 through the air.
If Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense wants to take things into their hands, their task is simple: put 27 points on the board. When the Chargers have done such, they are 1-0. When they haven’t, they’re 1-4, with their lone win coming in Week 6 against the Oakland Raiders on a last second field goal.
Up until Week 6, when the Chargers fell short of 27 points, they just fell short—losing games 24-21, 19-17 and 26-24.
On top of this, through the first six weeks of the season, the most points the Chargers’ defense has allowed is 26. In the Broncos’ first five games, they’ve given up an average of 19.4 points per game, which is the eight-best in the league, so dropping 27 won’t be an easy task.
When the Chargers’ offense runs through second-year tight end Hunter Henry, good things happen for Los Angeles. In games where Henry is targeted at least seven times, the Chargers are 2-1. When he’s targeted less than seven times, they are 0-3.
In the two games in which Henry didn’t have a single target—against Denver and the Kansas City Chiefs—the Chargers suffered their two worst losses of the season. In Los Angeles’ loss in which Henry had seven targets—resulting in seven catches for 80 yards—the Chargers lost by two after missing a last-second field goal.
In the Chargers’ two victories, Henry has been a focal point of their offense—combining for eight receptions on 15 targets for 132 receiving yards and one touchdown. In the first meeting, the Broncos held Henry off the stat sheet. However, in Week 6, New York Giants tight end Evan Engram found plenty of success on Denver’s defense, racking up 82 receiving yards and a touchdown.
In the only game in which the Chargers’ offense had multiple turnovers (3) they lost by 14 points. In all other games, they have kept the game within reach and given themselves a chance—winning by as much as five and losing by as much as three.
Outside of the three turnover game against the Chiefs, the Chargers have turned the ball over once in four of their five games, going 2-2 in those contests. Thus, if Denver wants to have a commanding victory over their division foes they’ll have to force multiple turnovers, otherwise the game could likely come down to a last-second field goal, much like the first contest did between the two teams.