Here is a position-by-position comparison between the Chargers and Broncos (excluding QB) offenses. This evaluation looks at the primary contributors and free agents presently known to be contracted with the teams:
SD: Ryan Mathews, Le’Ron McClain
Denver has a seasoned pro in McGahee, who has 8 years of experience and 2 Pro Bowl appearances, and had the best season of his career in 2011, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Beyond McGahee however, the players at this position are relatively inexperienced and average in terms of production. One also has to wonder if McGahee will be able to maintain a high production level when Denver hits Ctrl, Alt, Delete and the option offense is uninstalled.
San Diego likewise has a veteran presence (5th year) in newly acquired Le’Ron McClain, who has made 2 Pro Bowl appearances and has also been named to 2 All-Pro teams. McClain is coupled with Ryan Mathews, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry and made his first Pro Bowl appearance in last season. This backfield is young, productive, and decorated.
Denver had a phenomenal streak in 2011 using the option attack, however question marks remain about whether McGahee can be highly productive in a return to the traditional NFL-offense. He is also nearly 31, so age may become a factor as well.
Slight Advantage, Chargers.
Denver has one of the youngest wide receiving corps in the NFL, with both #1 and #2 WRs having just about 2 years of NFL experience. Demaryius Thomas has a lot of potential and has averaged +15ypc, but has yet to play a full season due to injuries. Eric Decker has been a very reliable target in Denver though, and has averaged +14ypc. Both players are young and have the potential to develop into high quality WRs. Beyond these two players, Denver has D’Andre Goodwin, who has no NFL experience but averaged 12ypc in his senior season of college football. Denver
is expected to NEEDS to make a play for a top-tier receiver through free agency and get help at the position through the draft.
San Diego on the other hand is extremely deep at the WR position, with all players except Vincent Brown having at least 3 seasons of experience. The projected #1 WR is Robert Meachem, who averaged over 16ypc in New Orleans despite being a 3rd/4th option in that offense. He was drafted very high in the 2007 draft and it could be argued that he did not live up to expectations in New Orleans. Malcom Floyd has 7 years of experience, caught Rivers’ first TD pass, and averages an eye-popping 17.9ypc. After that are Vincent Brown, who averaged 17ypc in his rookie season in limited playing time, and Eddie Royal, a former Bronco, who is reliable as a receiver (+10ypc) as well as in the return game.
All in all, Denver has a young and potentially excellent group of recievers, but until they prove themselves, the Chargers’ WR squad remain atop the AFC West.
For the moment, Moderate Advantage, Chargers.
There is no comparison here. Denver needs help at this position. Currently there are only two tight ends on the books, combining for 4 career receptions for 29 yards. One of the ends, Virgil Green, was considered a top prospect in the 2011 draft and may have a break-out season this year with Manning under helm.
The San Diego Chargers have Antonio Gates, who has appeared in 8 Pro Bowls, has been named to 5 All-Pro Teams, and the 2000’s All-Decade Team. He also averages 13.0 ypc. The other ends, Dante Rosario and Randy McMichael, both have had more pedestrian careers, but average over 10ypc.
Big Advantage, Chargers.
The Denver offensive line was very good last season in run-blocking, succeeding often at getting runners into the secondary and into open space. They did however struggle in pass protection, allowing sacks on over 9% off pass plays. This figure could be slightly skewed in part due to the run-happy mentality of QB Tim Tebow. This line will need to prove it can protect the QB as well as it can run-block, because Manning is a high-dollar, high-risk investment, and the Broncos can’t afford to let him take a lot of hits.
The Chargers offensive line allowed sacks on only 5% of pass plays, while getting similar production in the run game as Denver. Rivers was constantly in peril though. This group persevered through a number of injuries and setbacks, but came together strong at the end of the season. The Chargers will be without two 2011-season starters, Marcus McNiell, and Kris Dielman, however they did lock up Jared Gaither to a long-term deal to replace McNiell, and Tyronne Green has been serviceable at the position. There are holes at guard and right tackle, where Jeromey Clary has been consistently disappointing.
Slight Advantage: Broncos. This is a case where the statistics may be deceiving; look for the sack percentages to go down with Peyton Manning at QB. There are still many questions about the Chargers’ O-line that still need to be addressed before the start of the season. Typically in the NFL the best lines are the ones that have continuity. Right now there is continuity in Denver, and massive flux in San Diego.
The Chargers offense is in better shape to win now than the Denver Broncos, despite losing Vincent Jackson. Denver may have added Peyton Manning, but it may take some time for the team to come together and there is not much depth or experience at key positions. Denver definitely has the younger team, which may or may not be an advantage as the season progresses.
Adding a veteran wide-out and a stud tight end would improve Denver’s outlook considerably. I will provide a more complete offensive analysis before Week 1 when the 53-man rosters are finalized. For the moment, the Chargers have a slight advantage over the Broncos thanks to experience at key positions, and the addition of new talent to the team to compensate for the losses of Jackson and Mike Tolbert through free agency.
I will say that regardless of what changes occur between now and week 1, the Broncos will start off as an average opponent while they learn to work together offensively. By the end of the season however, expect the Broncos to be one of the tougher teams to earn a W against when their offense is in full stride and the young players have some experience under their belts.