A big factor in the Broncos’ decline over the last three years has been there inability to win on the road within their division. Denver hasn’t won an away game against an AFC West rival since they downed the then San Diego Chargers 17-3 on Dec. 6, 2015. They’re 0-7 on the road within the division since then, including a 30-23 loss at Kansas City on Oct. 28. The Broncos are well aware of their problems on the road against division opponents but knowing about the problem is not the same as knowing the solution to it. “It’s hard to win on the road in this keague,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “We have to get off to a better start. That’s part of our team’s issues on the road _ playing fast and winning the first quarter. This team we’re playing, they’ve won the first half by plus-53 (points) so we have to get off to a better start on Sunday to have a chance to win the game.” Quarterback Case Keenum said it doesn’t matter where the game is being played; what matters is the Broncos taking advantage of their next opportunity to improve as a team. “It’s the next week,” Keenum said. It’s this week and we’re trying to go 1-0 and then build on that and do it again next week.”
The Chargers and Broncos are meeting for the 117th time in the regular season in a series that dates back to 1960 when both teams were members of the old AFL. The Chargers blanked the Broncos 21-0 in their most recent meeting last December. The shutout stopped the Broncos consecutive game scoring streak that stood out as the second longest in NFL history.
STRATEGY & PERSONNEL
Notes & Quotes
--Rookie running back Royce Freeman, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, returned to practice in a limited fashion Wednesday and could be ready to return to action in Sunday’s game against the Chargers. “He looked OK,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It wasn’t perfect, but he wants to be out there. If I’m a betting man, I’ll bet on Royce that he plays Sunday.”
--Rookie wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton is expected to be back on Sunday after missing the past two games because of a knee injury. Hamilton resumed practicing this week. “I’m looking forward to watching him play on Sunday,” Joseph said.
--Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who was inactive for the Texas game two weeks ago because of a knee injury, missed practice time this week and could be out again. Rookie linebacker Josey Jewell is slated to play in his place if he is unable to go.
--Safety Darian Stewart returned to practice without restrictions and is on course to return to the field Sunday against the Chargers after missing the past two games with a neck injury.
--Cornerback Bradley Roby, who was among the inactive players two weeks ago against Houston because of an ankle injury, returned to practice this week in limited fashion. His status for Sunday’s game against the Chargers remains uncertain.
--Linebacker Von Miller’s 15 sacks against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers stands out as the most sacks by an active player against an active quarterback.
--The Broncos have had 10 different rookies play for them this season and their combined 2,425 snaps is the sixth most by a rookie class this season.
--Linebacker Von Miller is one sack shy of 100 for his career (including postseason). He’s in line to become the fifth fastest to reach the milestone among players beginning their career in 1982 or later.
BY THE NUMBERS
Don’t look now, but outside linebackers Von Miller (9 sacks) and Bradley Chubb (8 sacks) have combined for 17 sacks. It’s the most sacks by a pass rushing duo through week 10 in the NFL this season. Both Chubb and Miller have had at least one sack in four straight games, a streak they would like to extend Sunday against the Rivers and the Chargers. Chris Jones of Kansas City has the league’s longest active streak at six games.
The Broncos lost their long-standing stalwart on the offensive line, center Matt Paradis, to a broken leg in their last game against Houston two weeks ago. Paradis was placed on injured reserve during the bye week and will miss the rest of the season. Connor McGovern is slated to make his first start in his place on Sunday against the Chargers. The Broncos also signed free agent center Gino Gradkowski during their bye week to serve as McGovern’s backup. McGovern stepped in for Paradis after he was injured during the Houston game two weeks ago . He also has had the bye week to become accustomed to quarterback Case Keenum as well getting the first team practice snaps at the center position to prepare for his first start in place of Paradis. Keenum said McGovern has been a quick study. “He’s on point,” Keenum said. “He showed up ready to go and is a guy that’s been working his tail off since I got here. I have complete confidence in him.”
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
TE JEFF HEUERMAN vs S DERWIN JAMES: Heuerman is coming off his best game as a pro, with 10 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s loss to Houston. Heuerman was slowed early in his career by injuries but he has come in strong this season, his fourth in the NFL. He has been a ounishing run blocker with the speed, hands and route running to be a major factor in the passing game, especially as a third-down option or as a target in the red zone. But he’ll be facing one of the top safeties in the game in Derwin James, a ball-hawking defender with the physical abilities to go toe-to-toe in a matchuo with tight ends. Broncos coach Vance Joseph described James as the Chargers’ “Kam Chancellor. He’s a play-maker. He can sack the quarterback, make plays in the passing game and he can cover all of your tight ends, so he’s definitely a special player.”
LB JOSEY JEWELL vs RB MELVIN GORDON: Part of the reason the Chargers’ offense has been so effective during Los Angeles’ six-game winning streak has been the balance between the passing and running games. The Chargers have been able to keep opposing defenses guessing as to what’s coming, a slashing run off the edge by Gordon or quarterback Philip Rivers hitting a pass route over the middle. With Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall’s status uncertain because of injury, Jewell could be in line to make another start and he’ll be at the center of the Broncos’ run-stopping effort as an inside linebacker. Gordon has hit his stride in recent weeks running for 338 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games so Jewell is going to have to be at his best to help slow him down.
The Broncos are averaging 20 points in their last two games, both losses and need to find a way to score more points. Their running game has continued to be productive but they could use more chunk plays in the passing game and they have an inviting target for those downfield passes in Courtland Sutton. If Case Keenum can connect with Sutton downfield0 at least a couple of times, that could put the Broncos on the doorstep of touchdowns that they’ll need to stay on the heels of the Chargers prolific offense. Sutton, who stepped into the starting lineup after Demaryius Thomas was traded to Houston, has 20 receptions this season. A fleet runner and solid route runner, Sutton is averaging 19.1 yards per catch, the third highest average among all NFL players.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen has emerged as one of quarterback Philip Rivers favorite targets over the years and this season is no different. That means the Broncos secondary will have its hands full as the Chargers use the run to complement a top-notch passing game. Allen caught a touchdown pass last week for his first score since the season opening game against Kansas City. It will fall to cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. or Bradley Roby to shadow Allen and keep him from fueling the Chargers’ big-play offense.