DENVER --Since so much of this week's chatter centered on the Broncos' 27-20 loss to the Chargers on Thursday Night Footballlast December, it could be easy to forget that the Broncos won the other two meetings between the clubs last season -- including in the divisional round of the playoffs -- and five of the last six dating back to Thanksgiving weekend of 2011.
But human nature ensures that the exception, not the rule, adheres to the memory. That's not the worst circumstance for the Broncos, since it keeps the defeat fresh and reminds them of the perils of throttling back even a bit against a playoff team.
"The last time we played these guys (in the regular season), we relaxed and they came in and stole one," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We have that in the back our minds. We're gonna be ready."
"Not much" needs to be said about the last Thursday night game, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas admitted. The Broncos know.
"Peyton (Manning) says stuff about it here and there, but there hasn't been a lot of talk," Thomas said. "We know what we've got to do to go out and try not to have the same result as last year."
And that starts with …
1. PREVENTING THE LONG DRIVES.
No team was more successful at playing keep-away from the Broncos' potent offense than the Chargers, who held the football for at least six and a half minutes three times during that Thursday night upset. The fact that just one of those drives resulted in a touchdown did not matter any more than the time drained from the clock and the rust that settled over the Broncos offense after lengthy San Diego possessions.
In the second and third quarters last December, the Chargers completed three scoring drives and had another that chewed up eight minutes, 20 seconds. Precise passes, effective running from Ryan Mathews and third-down conversions helped, but the Broncos did themselves no favors. On the afore-mentioned 8:20 drive, the defense forced a three-and-out, but saw it wiped away when Nate Irving drew a neutral-zone infraction on the punt. The five-yard penalty turned fourth-and-4 into first-and-10, and it took another six minutes, 47 seconds for the Broncos to regain possession -- time they could have used in their comeback attempt.
The Week 2 win over Kansas City developed along similar lines, with penalties extending Chiefs possessions, keeping the Broncos offense off the field. Denver survived thanks to a missed field-goal attempt from Cairo Santos, a goal-line stand and a steady drive to a fourth-quarter field goal by Brandon McManus.
And if the Chargers do control the clock again?
"Well, I'm pretty sure it couldn't be any worse than the Kansas City game where we had two possessions in the second half," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "So I think we're prepared for basically whatever's thrown at us at this point.
"We just know (to) make the most of every possession that we're on the field and try to score touchdowns. Settling for field goals is no good against these guys."
2. ATTACK, AND NEGATE CHARGERS PRESSURE.
When San Diego's pass rush works, it succeeds over the course of several plays or possessions, with pressure coming from all lines of defense and directions. Defensive coordinator John Pagano is not timid about using defensive backs like Jahleel Addae and Eric Weddle in the pass rush, and you can expect every linebacker who sees action to blitz at some point Thursday night.
It will be crucial for running backs Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson and C.J. Anderson to identify the sources of pressure and help keep Manning upright. But it will also be just as important for them to know when they're not needed, and have the opportunity to break into the flat as another receiving target.
That's difficult, given how San Diego mixes things up. One example was on the interception that helped the Chargers clinch their regular-season win last December. San Diego showed blitz, with three linebackers standing up at the line of scrimmage around two defensive linemen, joined by another safety. But just one of the stand-up defenders showing blitz rushed toward Manning. As three men dropped into coverage, Marcus Gilchrist sprinted from the slot with pressure to Manning's right, while Corey Liuget split two blockers on the left side of the Broncos' offensive line that led to pressure, contact with Manning's arm and an interception.
If the Broncos can maintain aggressive play and force the Chargers into more conservative tactics, they can defuse the threat of unexpected pressure. If the Chargers defense is restricted to more straightforward tactics, the offense should flourish.
3. DISRUPT PHILIP RIVERS.
Pass rush is a collective effort, as evidenced against the 49ers, when interior pressure helped create one-on-one matchups on the edge that Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware exploited for sacks.
Given how Rivers likes to step up from pressure on the flanks, it will be crucial for interior rushers like Terrance Knighton, Sylvester Williams, Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe to not merely draw enough attention to create one-on-ones, but hold their ground and not provide room for Rivers to step up and locate his targets downfield. Some quick pass rushes from the interior -- perhaps with supplemental blitzes up the A- and B-gaps -- could hinder Rivers' efforts.