Chargers vs. Broncos matchups: Justin Herbert hopes to pass another test

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert looks to pass under pressure from Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib on Dec. 17, 2020.
Quarterback Justin Herbert looks to pass under pressure from Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib in the Chargers’ 30-27 overtime win Dec. 17. Herbert threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

How the Chargers (5-9) and Denver Broncos (5-9) match up heading into Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time. (TV: CBS)

When Chargers have the ball: After a brief stretch of being closer to average, quarterback Justin Herbert produced a 194-yard, two-touchdown first half in Week 15 at Las Vegas. The Raiders ball-controlled the second half for stretches, but Herbert still finished with another 300-yard passing effort in a 30-27 overtime victory. Denver is tied for 10th against the pass and in sacks, meaning Herbert will be challenged, but defensive end Bradley Chubb (ankle) was ruled out. When these teams met Nov. 1, Herbert had two passes intercepted and was sacked twice. The Chargers built a three-touchdown lead in the third quarter but managed only three field goals on their final five possessions as the Broncos stormed back for a 31-30 victory. Herbert said scoring touchdowns this time could be the deciding factor, particularly if Denver’s streaky offense gets on a roll again. Austin Ekeler missed that first game because of injury and enters with only one touchdown all season. Back in September, it’s unlikely anyone would have projected Ekeler having the same number of touchdowns with two games remaining as defensive backs Michael Davis and Tevaughn Campbell.

Chargers numbers.
(Los Angeles Times)

When Broncos have the ball: Denver’s offense leads the NFL with 30 giveaways. The Broncos have had a league-high 21 passes intercepted, 13 of which belong to starting quarterback Drew Lock, who has missed three games. Lock’s passer rating of 75.4 is 34th among the 36 quarterbacks who qualify. Only four teams are averaging fewer yards passing per game, and the Chargers rank seventh in the NFL against the pass. When these teams met in November, Lock threw for 248 yards and three touchdowns. His rating of 94.4 remains his third highest of the season. Denver’s running attack is led by former Chargers first-round pick Melvin Gordon. The veteran didn’t have a major impact against the his old team in Week 8, finishing with 26 yards rushing and 21 receiving. Gordon did convert two third downs on the Broncos’ game-winning drive. He needs 186 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, something he did with the Chargers in 2017. The Broncos’ last 1,000-yard rusher, Phillip Lindsay, went on injured reserve. Over the last six games, Denver has topped 20 points only once. The Chargers have allowed 12 of their last 13 opponents to score at least 21.

When they kick: Michael Badgley missed two more field-goal attempts in Week 15, both late and with the score tied. He has 12 failed kicks — nine field goals and three extra points. If the Chargers were in playoff contention, Badgley might be out of a job or, at least, certainly would be dealing with more outside pressure. Denver’s Brandon McManus, who was just activated off the COVID-19 reserve list, is 22 for 24 on field goals and 21 for 24 on extra points.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: The Chargers have been favored in four of their last six games, which seems nonsensical given how much they’ve struggled. They’ll try to win three in a row for the first time in two seasons, and the guess is they’ll do it.