How the Los Angeles Chargers (7-2) and Denver Broncos (3-6) match up for the game Sunday:
When Chargers have the ball
Not many offenses have been better on first down than the Chargers, whose average of 7.56 yards per play is at least two yards more than 11 teams in the AFC. Because of this, they have faced only 97 third downs, which is the second-fewest in the league. The first-down production also has helped negate a 34% rate of converting on third down, the 27th-ranked mark in the NFL. Philip Rivers remains the league’s third-best quarterback in passer rating and last week had only his fourth pass intercepted this season. He is on pace to throw seven interceptions for the season, which would be his career low. As recently as 2016, Rivers had 21 passes picked off. The Broncos will attempt to pressure Rivers with, in particular, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The two have combined for 17 sacks. As a team, Denver is tied for seventh in the NFL with 28 sacks. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is averaging 5.38 yards per carry, which is tops in the NFL and would easily be his career high. Gordon, in hisfourth year, has yet to average 4.0 yards per carry fora season.
When Broncos have the ball
Denver is fifth in the NFL with 45 plays gaining 20 or more yards. One of the keys to the improved play of the Chargers’ defense of late has been eliminating big plays. Through the first six games, the Chargers yielded 32 such plays. Over the last three games, they’ve given up only nine. The Broncos entered Week 11 tied with Green Bay for the NFL lead by averaging 5.2 yards per rush. (The Chargers are tied for third at 5.1.) Rookies Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman have been Denver’s top two ballcarriers. They arrive at StubHub Center just as the Chargers prepare to play their first game without linebacker Denzel Perryman, one of the main contributors to their rush defense. Perryman was lost for the rest of the season to a knee injury last weekend in Oakland. The Chargers will fill the spot with a committee approach, the coaches this week preaching the need for improved play from everyone along the defensive front. The defense certainly is trending in the right direction. The Chargers have held their last five opponents to fewer than 20 points a game. During their six-game winning streak, they’ve given up 15.5 points per contest, tops in the NFL over that stretch.
When they kick
Rookie Michael Badgley has yet to miss for the Chargers in his three NFL games. He is nine for nine on extra points and five for five on field goals. His kickoffs remain something of a project, the Chargers hoping to see continued improvement in distance and hang time. Brandon McManus is 22 for 22 on extra points and 13 for 16 on field goals for Denver. His three misses have come from 51, 55 and 62 yards. So, unlike the Chargers, the Broncos have had little kicking drama of late.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
Denver opened the season with victories over Seattle and Oakland. The Broncos have lost six of seven since, though they played the Rams close and the Kansas City Chiefs tough twice. Their lone victory away from home came at Arizona, where the Cardinals are in the process of free falling. Quarterback Case Keenum had some fine moments on the field in Southern California with the 2016 Rams. He isn’t likely to have enough such moments against the Chargers, who shut out Denver 21-0 in this spot a year ago.