BRONCOS

Three keys to the Broncos beating the Chargers in Week 12

Nov 24, 2021, 6:35 AM
Justin Herbert...
(Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
(Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos did not lose on Sunday. That’s because they had their bye week, but it was refreshing to have a Monday morning that wasn’t impacted by a bad Broncos loss. What did they change during their bye week? We’re fixing to find out with a game up next with the division rival Los Angeles Chargers coming to town.

The Chargers have a franchise quarterbacks and weapons all over the field on offense. They can get after the passer on defense if everyone is healthy, and they are coming into this game with some of their stars returning to the field after missing time.

As per usual on Mondays and Tuesdays during the regular season, I have broken down the coach’s film of the Broncos upcoming opponent. Here are three observations from the Chargers film that could be the keys for a Broncos victory on Sunday.

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Best QB in the AFC West… in the AFC?

There is no doubt that Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is great, but is he the best quarterback in the AFC West – or the entire conference for that matter? He’s certainly in the conversation and dealing with Herbert is going to be troublesome for the Broncos defense in Week 12.

They’ve had two weeks to prepare, and it will be interesting to see if they can deal with all that Herbert can do on the football field. Herbert is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league, and his speed can shock a defense who isn’t ready for a guy who can scramble and beat you with his legs. Last week, Herbert showed off his multi-purpose skill set, and finished with a season-high 90 rushing yards against the Steelers.

Not only can he beat you with his legs, Herbert is an elite-level passer. He is smart, tough and understands what a defense is trying to do to him. Herbert knows to pepper his best targets – guys like Keenan Allen and Mike Williams – to move the ball down the field in chunks. He is not afraid of the rush, and Herbert will stand in the pocket to deliver a pass – taking a hit while getting rid of the ball on plays that can break the back of the defense.

The Broncos have struggled against rushing quarterbacks this season. Herbert not only is a runner, but his arm is special, and his football knowledge is high. Last year in two games against the Broncos, Herbert tossed four touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s thrown almost as many picks this year (8) as he did all of 2020 (10). If the Broncos want to win against the Chargers, getting to Herbert and getting their hands on the ball is the answer.

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Homegrown

There is high school talent in Colorado that we get to see flourish in the NFL. Many top recruits from Colorado end up playing in other states when they go to college like Christian McCaffrey (Valor then Stanford) and Dalton Keene (Chatfield then Virginia Tech).

One top high school player flew under the radar in Northern Colorado – Chargers starting running back Austin Ekeler. He went to high school in Eaton, and because he was not on the national radar, Ekeler went to Western State in Gunnison. While in college, Ekeler was a star and shredded defenses on a regular basis. He went undrafted in 2017, but he has quickly worked his way into being one of the best backs in all of football.

Ekeler’s game is all about speed and vision. In 10 games so far this year, Ekeler has a career-high 573 yards rushing. Add in his elite ability as a receiver, and you can see how Ekeler is a threat on all three downs. Ekeler could push for around 90 catches this year, and he’s one of the most dangerous players in the league if he’s in space.

Last week against the Steelers, Ekeler was unstoppable with a whopping four touchdowns scored – two as a runner and two as a receiver. If the Broncos aren’t careful, Ekeler could do that against them on Sunday.

He’s not a pile pusher as a runner but give him a crack of daylight and Ekeler can hurt you. The Broncos must maintain their discipline against Ekeler. If they get out of their run fits, then he can find a crease and take it to the house from anywhere on the field. The Broncos have struggled with receiving backs like Ekeler, and if they shut him down as a runner they are unlikely to do the same as a receiver.

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Soft Against the Run

The Chargers defense is stingy against the pass, primarily because they can get after the passer early and often. They rank No. 4 in the NFL so far this season and have given up only 2,099 yards through the air.
However, they are somewhat soft against the run. In fact, they are the worst defense in the league against the run – and that means the Broncos should attack them on the ground.

They rank No .32 in the NFL and have given up 1,451 rushing yards so far this season. No matter the opponent, the Chargers give it up to running backs on a weekly basis. If you play with a strong running game, it can help your team win.

Not only can you attack them at their weak spot on defense when you run the ball, but running the ball keeps their high-powered offense cold on the sidelines. What could beat the Chargers? A couple of 10-minute drives where the running backs for the Broncos are fed and fed often.

Will the Broncos have the wherewithal to stick with the run? That’s been a huge question mark for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. They have good backs, and I think rookie Javonte Williams could log the second 100-yard game of his career in this contest against the Chargers – if they don’t fall behind and Shurmur doesn’t abandon the run.

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