How the Chargers and Broncos match up for the season opener Monday
A look at how the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos match up for the season opener on Monday night.
Chargers (5-11 last season) at Denver (9-7 last season)
When: 7:20 p.m. PDT. TV: ESPN
When Chargers have the ball
New Denver coach Vance Joseph assessed the Chargers offense this week, saying “It all runs through Philip.” Monday, his defense will have its hands full making sure Rivers doesn’t run through it. Weapons abound for the veteran Chargers quarterback, starting with a healthy wideout Keenan Allen, who has been dominant during the preseason after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Allen’s absence allowed Tyrell Williams to emerge as a legitimate deep threat. Add in a healthy Travis Benjamin and the reliable Dontrelle Inman, who is questionable Monday, and the Chargers have the talent required to match up with Denver’s terrific secondary, which is led by cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. If the offensive options stopped there, the Denver defense could exhale — but there are more threats. Antonio Gates, a touchdown away from the record for most scored by tight end in NFL history, and Hunter Henry will be mismatches for the Broncos linebackers. Melvin Gordon, who ran for 997 yards a year ago, and Branden Oliver should benefit from having run-conscious coach Anthony Lynn on board. Combined, it gives the Chargers a very potent offense. They scored touchdowns on all three drives Rivers led in the preseason and he seems destined to find the end zone at least a couple of times Monday night.
Denver decided Trevor Siemian is the right guy to lead its offense, but he’ll have a long day if Denver’s offensive tackles, including rookie Garret Bolles, can’t keep Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram out of the backfield. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will be a big test for Chargers corners Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward after injuries limited both in the preseason. Verrett, in particular, played only a handful of live-action series in the preseason as he worked his way back from a knee injury. Broncos running backs C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles could give the Chargers trouble if the team’s problems against the run continue from the preseason. The high altitude in Denver could force the Chargers to rotate on defense more frequently, putting young players such as Nigel Harris and Desmond King in difficult situations. Former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is running the Denver offense and he knows where the team can be attacked.
When they kick
Denver kicker Brandon McManus got attention this summer when video of him making a 73-yard kick during practice hit the Internet. Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo got attention this summer when video of him back-flipping after making a kick re-circulated on the web. Only one of those could be a factor Monday, with the NFL still refusing to reward more points for gymnastics. Chargers punter Drew Kaser held off competition in training camp by leading the NFL in average yardage per punt (51.6). The Chargers’ coverage teams, despite some issues late in camp, look improved as the team hopes to rebound after another rough year on special teams. Colorado native Austin Ekeler, an undrafted rookie who impressed for the Chargers in the preseason, will return kickoffs and could be a spark.
Dan Woike’s prediction
It’s impossible to know how first-time head coaches such as Anthony Lynn and Joseph are going to handle their first test. The Chargers are relatively healthy — at least for now — and that gives them the edge in a tough, season-opening divisional game. Chargers 27, Denver 21
Go beyond the scoreboard
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