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Breaking down the Chargers defense

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --There's the Chargers defense you saw in Denver seven weeks ago, and the one you'll see Sunday for the return match at Qualcomm Stadium.

They're not the same.

When the Broncos defeated San Diego 35-21 on Thursday Night Football Oct. 23, San Diego had rookie cornerback Jason Verrett, but played without cornerback Brandon Flowers, and linebackers Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o and Jerry Attaochu.

"They don't hang on the past," said Broncos Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "Their defense has gotten better since the last time we played them, especially in the red [zone].

"They're a really good team at home, especially on defense. They amp it up. You see all their numbers, you look at their totals, and then what they do at home, it's almost like a different team. It's a big challenge when you go in their place and play that defense."

The numbers reveal a discrepancy:

  • Yardage allowed per play: 5.98 on the road, 4.95 at home
  • Yardage allowed per pass play: 7.24 on the road, 5.49 at home
  • Yardage allowed per rush: 4.28 on the road, 4.16 at home
  • First-downs allowed rate: One every 3.27 plays on the road; one every 4.10 plays at home
  • Third-down conversions allowed: 54.43 percent on the road; 38.71 percent at home

However, the Broncos have the best offense that has come into Qualcomm Stadium this year, ranked fifth in yardage per play, fourth in total yardage and sixth in first-down rate. The average rank of the Chargers' home opponents in those statistics is 22nd, 23rd and 20th, respectively; for their road opponents, the rankings are 19th, 19th and 18th.

But that's where the personnel boost comes in. Ingram is credited with an average of two quarterback hurries per game, according to, and the 2012 first-round selection has multiple hurries in four of the six games in which he has played.

Ingram takes pressure off Freeney, who is not the sack machine he was in his salad days with the Indianapolis Colts, but still generates pressure. credits Freeney with 34 hurries this season, including at least two in 11 of San Diego's 13 games.

But the hallmark of the Chargers defense is not its personnel, even though Ingram is improving and cornerback Brandon Flowers is playing at a Pro Bowl level and until last week had not allowed a touchdown since Week 6. It's the ability to disguise its intentions before the snap.

San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano loves to try and confuse an opponent. What will be crucial for the Broncos is to ignore as much of the pre-snap deception as is possible and focus on their own task at hand. If they can avoid taking the bait, their task will be a bit easier -- although not much, not with the reinforcements the Chargers have at their disposal in the rematch.



  • Yards per game: 336.8, 9th
  • Yards per play: 5.45, 15th
  • Takeaways: 15, 27th
  • First-down rate: One every 3.65 plays, 9th
  • Third-down conversion rate: 45.93 pct., 29th


  • Yards per game: 228.4, 8th
  • Yards per pass play: 6.32, 12th
  • Sack rate: One per 24.74 pass plays, 30th
  • Touchdown rate: One every 21.36 pass plays, 23rd
  • First-down rate: One per 3.26 pass plays, 4tht


  • Yards per game: 108.38, 14th
  • Yards per rush: 4.22, 16th
  • First-down rate: One every 4.39 carries, 21st
  • Touchdown rate: One every 41.75 carries, 15th

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