ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** When Thursday's game is all said and done, the Broncos and Chargers will have played each other four times in a calendar year. So, yes, you could say they're familiar with one another.
The Broncos took two of the three games against San Diego from last season, with their only loss being a Thursday night home game in December.
Terrance Knighton certainly remembers that game, but he's more focused on how they've changed. "I know we had a totally different defense. And last year has passed us," he said. "They did try to come in and run the ball; they were successful doing it, and that's why it was so hard to stop them passing the ball. They were able to do what they want. We couldn't get off the field on third down."
Even though he wasn't on the team last year, T.J. Ward remembers the loss, too, and the 127 yards and a touchdown that Ryan Mathews had in the game. "I watched the game last year, Thursday night. It seemed like we couldn't stop the run, and you know, it hurt them."
But this Broncos' defense is much different from the one in that game last year. Denver has seven different starters compared to the starting defense in that game. The current defense has allowed an average of about 43 rushing yards per game in the last three contests, and they've got a different mindset, as a few players have said.
"It's a whole different mentality this year on defense, a whole different defense, different guys," Knighton said. "Most teams try to come in and run the ball because of our offense and they don't want our offense on the field to dominate on the clock and have a lot of possessions to score. We expect them to try and come in and run the ball."
Take a look at photos from the last time the Broncos played the Chargers on the road in the regular season, Week 10 of 2013.
On the other side of the running game, the Chargers will be a bit different, too. Unfortunately for them, some of that is due to injuries. Their starting running back will be Branden Oliver as Mathews and Danny Woodhead are out while Donald Brown hasn't practiced this week. But Oliver has performed well after being pushed into the limelight, recording 100 yards rushing and a touchdown in two of their last three games.
"We've got to make sure we stop their running game because they've got some great backs," Rahim Moore said. "No. 43 (Oliver) – don't judge him by his size because that dude is running guys over. He's got great footwork, great speed. It's crazy how much depth they have at running back, from Ryan Mathews being down to now Donald Brown and this guy. So they've got a great O-line. Coach is telling us that the O-line has gotten better."
However, their passing offense is much of the same that they've seen.
"Same Chargers," Chris Harris Jr. said. "I mean they probably think the same thing with us. We do the same thing and it's about winning your one-on-one battles. Thursday night games are about who wants it the most and how much heart you've got. I mean everybody's dead, everybody's tired. We play two games in a week – we played Sunday night. So I mean there's no excuses, but it's about who wants it the most."
"It's kind of like playing our offense," Harris added. "They run the same system. They've got a little bit different wrinkles, but it's pretty much like playing Peyton. Same scheme."
That's definitely no slight to the Chargers passing offense or to Philip Rivers, who's third in the league in passer rating this season.
"He's doing great this year. He's probably always been underrated, but this year he's getting the notoriety that I think he deserves," Brandon Marshall said. "He doesn't need a big window. We've just got to have a good pass rush and tight coverage, and I think we'll be good."
But the familiarity goes back even further for the division rivals. It starts at the top with San Diego's Head Coach Mike McCoy, who previously was the Broncos' Offensive Coordinator from 2009 to 2012.
"We went against him every day," Rahim Moore said. "I'm going to tell you, man, he's an outstanding person, coach. He knows us very well. It's going to be very tough. And you know, [Chargers secondary coach and former Broncos defensive backs coach Ron] Milus, he knows us DBs well. Whatever he doesn't pick up, Coach Milus can tell them stuff about us.
"I respect Coach McCoy. It's kind of funny we play against the Chargers, because it's like playing against your family. Your brothers," Moore added. "But at the same time, between the lines, there's no friends. There's no family. But between plays, and before the game, after the game, it's like, we're all going to war, but at the same time, we had blood, sweat and tears before. [...] It's just the competitive nature, man."