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Three Keys to Broncos-Chargers

Posted Oct 21, 2017

The Broncos struggled to run the ball last week, but the Chargers enter the game allowing more rushing yards per game than anyone in the NFL.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Last week, injuries to the Broncos' opponent dominated the pregame buildup. This week, the injury story belongs to Denver.

Three first-teamers -- wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, punt returner Isaiah McKenzie and right tackle Menelik Watson -- will not play. A potential replacement for Watson, swing backup Donald Stephenson, injured his calf in Thursday's practice and will not play. The team's top backup inside linebacker, Corey Nelson, was lost for the season because of an elbow injury suffered practice Thursday.

All of these injuries could be problematic. At the same time, there is little use to complaining or worrying about them.

"We’ll be fine. Don’t worry," Head Coach Vance Joseph said when asked about the plan on the offensive line. "You guys [the media] seem more worried than I am (laughing).

"Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. We’ll kick the ball off and play.”

And even without some crucial players, the Broncos' keys to victory against the Los Angeles Chargers remain the same:

1. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES TO RUN

No team is allowing more rushing yardage on a per-game basis than the Chargers, who have been gashed for 152.5 yards per week so far this season. Los Angeles also ranks last in percentage of carries that move the chains (26.4, or one every 3.8 attempts), next-to-last in per-carry rushing defense (5.0) and fourth from the bottom in allowing runs of 20 or more yards (one every 26 attempts).

Meanwhile, the Broncos have won 23 consecutive games when they rush for at least 125 yards, including Weeks 1, 2 and 4 of this season.

2. CONTAIN MELVIN GORDON AND THE TIGHT ENDS

Gordon is a runner first, but he comes into this game fresh off the most productive two-week stretch of his career as a pass-catching target. He racked up 125 yards and four touchdowns on 15 receptions the last two games and has caught at least five passes in four of the Chargers' six games this season.

If you focus too much on Gordon, that can mean taking attention away from tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, who have combined for 343 yards and three touchdowns on 29 catches so far this season.

"The problem when you have tight ends like that, if you play coverage and they hand the ball off you’re kind of soft in the run game," Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods said. "If you play the run game, you’re soft in pass coverage. You have to decide by down and distance and by parts of the game how you play those guys.

"That makes it tough if it’s run or pass. That makes it tough, but we have an idea when it happens. I won’t tell you that.”

The Broncos contained Gates and Henry in Week 1, holding them to a combined 17 yards on two catches, both by Gates. But since then, three of the six touchdowns allowed by the Broncos' defense have come to tight ends: Dallas' Jason Witten (Week 2), Buffalo's Charles Clay (Week 3) and Evan Engram of the New York Giants (Week 6).

3. WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE

This involves both offense and defense, of course. The offense must limit the giveaways; Denver has lost 19 of its last 20 games when it turns over the football at least three times, as it did last Sunday night. The Broncos are also 26-4 since the start of the 2015 season when they force at least one turnover, but have lost nine consecutive games -- including defeats in Weeks 3 and 6 -- when they fail to force a turnover. Conversely, the Broncos are undefeated since 2015 when they do not turn over the football.

The dreaded number for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is two giveaways. Their record since 2006 -- when Rivers became their starting quarterback -- with two or more turnovers is 28-56; in all other games, it is 75-32, including a winning record (35-24) with exactly one turnover.

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