ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --In Week 6, the Broncos travel to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego for a divisional clash with the Chargers on Monday Night Football. With a win, Denver can pull even with the opponent atop the AFC West, giving each team a 3-3 record. The Broncos will also look to improve to a 2-0 divisional record with a victory and knock the Chargers down to 2-1. Below is a look at some important aspects to watch for on both sides of the ball, as well as a key to the game for Denver.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
The Broncos offense will be keyed in on Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips, the team's leader with 4.5 sacks on the year. In his 16 games against Denver, the ninth-year pro has tallied 50 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles and six passes defensed.
"He's always been someone whenever you go down and play San Diego, or they come here, obviously, he's always been someone who you've got to know where he is on every play," Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said. "He's someone who could change a game in a hurry with a sack-fumble, create some kind of turnover or get pressure on the quarterback, so (you have) 95 marked on all your cards and everything. You've got to get a good look by the scout team every week, because he's going to play hard on every play."
Phillips has also forced a fumble on the year, which is an area that the Denver offense has addressed all week -- ball security.
Denver fumbled three times in last week's loss to New England, twice inside the opponent's 20-yard line. The team has focused on erasing those mistakes in practice so that turnovers aren't an issue when it travels to San Diego on Monday night.
"Those are things that can change the game in a hurry," McCoy said. "You're moving the ball up and down the field sometimes, and all of a sudden you have a turnover. They get the ball back, they get the energy and their defense gets going again. We've got to do a good job. When it's in our hands, we hold on to it."
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
A key for the Broncos defense will be getting off the field on third down. After allowing New England to convert on 11-of-17 third-down situations, Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio believes improvement is imminent.
"It's an area where we can be better in," Del Rio said. "We've got good pass rushers, we've got good cover people and we just need to do that part a little bit better and eliminate some of the exposure we've had. That's an area we feel that we can significantly improve in and right away."
Cornerback Champ Bailey believes minor mental mistakes attribute to the Broncos ranking 28th in the NFL in third-down defense. He, too, expects to see a drastic improvement in that area when the Broncos face off against San Diego in Week 6.
"You're supposed to be inside and you're outside," Bailey said. "You're supposed to be pressed on a guy and you're playing off. It's just little things like that, things we practice all week, and we got in the game and did something totally opposite what we practice. That's not going to happen in this game."
As for the Chargers offense, running back Ryan Matthews was a consistent factor in last week's loss against New Orleans, totaling 139 all-purpose yards and averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The Denver defense is aware of the threat he poses.
Linebacker Keith Brooking called the Chargers' passing attack "vertical" and said it will be important to not let the receivers get open behind the defense.
Wide receiver Robert Meachem, who caught two touchdown passes in Week 5, is a deep-threat that will look to do just what Brooking said - get past the coverage.
"I think when you look at what he did in New Orleans, he was a threat," Bailey said. "They had a lot of weapons, but that was the guy that would stretch the field. You look at what he's been doing since he's been there, they want to get the ball down the field to him. He's dangerous. The thing is, that will soften up the coverage and they try to take advantage of that."
KEY TO THE GAME: URGENCY
It was a common theme in the locker room throughout the week. The Broncos are looking to put an end to the slow starts that force fourth-quarter rallies. To do that, they will look to come out with intensity and focus and maintain that for all four quarters.
"It's important to get off to a quick start. We've talked about that as a team," Brooking said. "We know how important it is. That's going to be our focus and concentration this week is really starting fast. Obviously when you start fast, it sets a tone for the ball game and you have to be consistent with that intensity throughout the game for 60 minutes and finish strong as well. It's something we've talked about and we plan on doing it."
Denver leads the all-time series by a count of 55-48-1, but San Diego has lessened the margin in recent years, winning nine of the last 12 contests dating back to 2006. Against the Chargers on the road, Denver is 20-32-0.
The Broncos won the last contest between the two in overtime by a score of 16-13 in a game that was also played at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Broncos rank in the top 10 in three major offensive categories: yards per game (390.0, 9th), yards per play (5.7, 10th) and points per game (27.0, 9th). Defensively, the Chargers rank in the top 15 in those same categories.
Denver converts on 47.8% of its third downs (3rd) and has a red zone touchdown percentage of 66.7 (T-2nd), while San Diego converts on 41.5% of its third downs (T-10th) and has a red zone touchdown percentage of 55.0%(12th).
On the defensive side, the Broncos have allowed 120.2 rushing yards and 215 passing yards per game to the Chargers' 74 rushing yards and 260 passing yards allowed per game.
San Diego has 10 sacks and 10 takeaways on the year to the Broncos' 14 sacks and four takeaways.
The Broncos lead the NFL with a +52 scoring differential in the fourth quarter.
ANY MINUTE MILESTONES
With one more game-winning scoring drive, quarterback Peyton Manning will tie Dan Marino for the most all-time in that category (47).
Running back Willis McGahee needs one more rushing touchdown to tie Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville for the second-most among active NFL players (63).
Safety Jim Leonhard will play in his 100th career regular-season game against San Diego.
Safety Mike Adams is one pass defense away from setting a single-season career high.
Cornerback Champ Bailey is one interception shy of the tying for the fifth-most in franchise history with Mike Harden.
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil needs one sack to pass Ring of Famer Paul Smith (55.5) for the seventh-most in franchise history.
GOING BACK TO CALI
Head Coach John Fox spent his teen years in the San Diego area. He also played for the San Diego Aztecs from 1976-1977 and coached for them in 1978. Fox coached at U.S. international University in San Diego in 1979.
A pair of Broncos rookies will also be returning to a familiar place this week. Running back Ronnie Hillman and long snapper Aaron Brewer were Aztecs together for four years from 2008-2011.
San Diego tight end Dante Rosario spent last season with the Broncos, while wide receiver Eddie Royal was in Denver for four years (2008-2011).
The game will air nationally on ESPN, with Mike Tirico (play-by-play), and Jon Gruden (color commentary) calling the game and Lisa Salters reporting from the sidelines.
Locally, KOA Radio (850 AM) will feature Dave Logan (play-by-play) and Ed McCaffrey (color commentary) with Alan Roach reporting from the sidelines.