ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Between the Broncos' 28-20 win over San Diego in Week 10 and the Denver leg of the teams' annual home-and-home series, the Chargers' offense enjoyed its best performance -- and, arguably, its worst.
But over the long haul of the four games, little has changed.
Quarterback Philip Rivers remains at a career apex in terms of accuracy, embracing the Chargers' emphasis on short to intermediate routes.
Running back Ryan Mathews remains in the most consistent stretch of his career; his fumble rate of one every 113.5 touches is the lowest of his career -- just a smidgen better than the rate of one fumble every 111.5 touches last year. The ball security issues that dogged him in his first two seasons -- when he averaged one fumble every 45.2 touches -- have vanished.
Indeed, Mathews is the embodiment of the Chargers offense under former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy: efficient, free of mistakes and consistent. Even in the 17-10 loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago, when the offense struggled, it still converted 46.2 percent of its third-down attempts and averaged 5.3 yards per play -- more than it did in 12 of 16 games last year.
What was a solid performance in 2012 is now considered sub-par. That's due to many factors: Mathews and Rivers' consistency, Antonio Gates' emergence as a more consistent underneath threat, rookie receiver Keenan Allen's growth into a legitimate downfield target.
But the one who's captured the Broncos' notice is running back Danny Woodhead, who scored the Chargers' first touchdown last month on the kind of play you're used to seeing from Denver's offense: a short slant that saw a sharp cut that left a quick defender -- in that case, linebacker
Danny Trevathan -- flat-footed.
"He's their move-the-chain guy. It's kind of like (Wes) Welker for us," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, Jr.
But Woodhead has not been an every-down player, and his very presence changes the balance of the San Diego offense. When Woodhead is in the game, the Chargers pass 75.2 percent of the time; they pass on 42.2 percent of their other snaps.
The Chargers average 6.40 yards a snap when Woodhead is on the field, and 5.84 yards when he is not. And they score once every 19.9 snaps Woodhead plays, compared with one every 34 when he's on the sideline.
"He may not be appreciated by others, but we look at him and see a really dynamic player," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He’s a playmaker. He can run it, he can catch it. He’ll block a little bit – that is not his strong point, but he’s a good football player."
And he's one that the Broncos must contain if they are to win their fifth consecutive game in this highly competitive series.
* As usual, having the advantage in raw time of possession guarantees little. The Chargers have won this statistic in 10 of 13 games to date, and have gone 6-4 in them -- but are 0-3 when out-possessed.
* After covering Tennessee's Kendall Wright for much of Sunday, Harris figures that he'll see plenty of work against inside targets like Antonio Gates and Eddie Royal on Sunday. Gates has a six-inch and 55-pound advantage on Harris, so the third-year cornerback suggests the key is to avoid a physical one-on-one duel with Gates. "I try not to be physical with him. I try to use my technique and my speed on him," said Harris. "He wants a guy like me to try to be physical with him."