The Los Angeles Chargers travel to Denver to take on the Broncos in the 2017 season opener. Here are six things to watch for:
New Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has a tough task ahead of him.
The Chargers have lost 10 of the last 12 games (including playoffs) against the Broncos and haven’t won in Denver since December 2013. With that said, let’s take a look at what to watch for when these two teams go at it on “Monday Night Football.”
1. How will Philip Rivers and the offense fare against a stout Denver defense?
The Chargers are stacked on offense. The Broncos are stacked on defense. Rivers has more weapons than kids for once, including running back Melvin Gordon, wide receivers Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin and tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. Success starts with the offensive line—and boy, the new-look line, one that includes former Broncos left tackle Russell Okung, is in for a battle. Linebacker Von Miller can change a game all by himself. Defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has been dinged up, is no slouch. Luckily, pass-rusher Shane Ray (wrist) will miss this game.
As for the secondary, the self-proclaimed “No Fly Zone” lost one of its members in safety T.J. Ward, but Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby are one of the top cornerback trios in the league. Earning those fly points are going to be hard. The Broncos also parted ways with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, which could really hurt the Broncos.
2. Gordon, Allen the difference-makers in this game?
Gordon had a breakout year in 2016. He did, however, miss the final three games of the season due to injury. Meanwhile, Allen missed all but one game after tearing his ACL in the 2016 season opener. Both are fully healthy and primed for huge years, and it starts in Denver. Running the ball effectively is the key in this one. The Broncos had the 28th-worst rushing defense a year ago. Ironically, the last time the Chargers won in Denver was when Ryan Mathews rushed for 127 yards and one touchdown.
Allen, the Chargers’ No. 1 receiver, is known for his route-running and incredible ability to create separation, which is needed against Denver’s physical and sticky corners. He didn’t play against the Broncos last season, so his presence will be felt. Allen’s playmaking ability could ultimately put the Bolts on top.
3. Chargers have two top defensive tandems ready to wreak havoc
We talked about how good the Broncos’ defense is, but the Chargers’ defense shouldn’t be overlooked. They have arguably the best pass-rushing duo in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and these former first-rounders are going against a not-so-good quarterback in Trevor Siemian. Not only do the Chargers boast deadly pass-rushers, but they have a top corner duo, too. Casey Hayward led the league in interceptions in 2016 and is out to prove last year was no fluke. Meanwhile, Jason Verrett, who was on the verge of becoming a shutdown corner before getting hurt, is back from injury. They will face off against very good receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Overall, it’ll be interesting to see how the defense does as a whole, especially with this being the first time in five years (2012) that the Chargers have a new face at defensive coordinator (Gus Bradley) and a new defensive scheme (4-3). Not only that, but this defense is very young, with nose Brandon Mebane being the only starter over the age of 30. The youth movement is great, but hopefully the lack of game-day experience doesn’t hurt the Chargers.
4. Former Chargers HC Mike McCoy now the enemy
The infamous visor is back! But this time it’ll be sported on the Broncos’ side line, as McCoy signed a deal to be Denver’s offensive coordinator, a position he manned before coaching the Chargers. McCoy received a ton of heat during his time as head coach in San Diego. Despite having a team plagued by injuries, he was never a good leader, as his team failed to hold on to what seemed like sure victories. However, McCoy was a fine coordinator in Denver. Will he pick up where he left off in this “revenge” game?
5. Will the turnovers carry over from the preseason?
The Chargers finished the preaseason with a -6 turnover differential. The defense made some big plays, including scoring a defensive touchdown in three of the four games, but the offense kept turning the ball over. I understand the backups committed the turnovers, as Rivers only played a total of three series and finished the preseason with zero turnovers. But like I already mentioned, the Broncos’ defense is full of playmakers, and Rivers has thrown at least one interception in five of the last six games against the Broncos. Again, let’s see if the Chargers can get the running game going early to take pressure off Rivers.
6. Will Gates make history?
Gates needs one more touchdown to pass Tony Gonzalez for the most receiving touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history. Keep your ears peeled for the very popular “Rivers to Gates, touchdown!” call on Monday.