ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The 107th meeting between the Broncos and Chargers marks the first time that the Broncos will stare across the field and see a face as familiar as that of Mike McCoy. Denver's offensive coordinator of four years is now the Chargers' head coach, and has successfully transformed the Chargers from a team that took ill-advised gambles into one that plays to its strengths, doesn't try to force plays and makes few mistakes.
It's a fairways-and-greens approach, and the Chargers are, appropriately, at .500 -- or, in golf parlance, par -- through four games. Through quick passing and spreading the football to an array of targets, on offense and disguised looks on defense, San Diego has been able to minimize its weaknesses -- a rebuilding offensive line and a pass rush decimated by injuries.
When they've succeeded this year, the Chargers have lain in wait for the mistake and then pounced. That's why the first key to Sunday's game for the Broncos is to …
1. PROTECT THE FOOTBALL.
Three interceptions and a fumble did not doom the Broncos against Washington in Week 8, but three giveaways and a fumble led to a safety did squash Denver's hopes at Indianapolis a week earlier. With 18 fumbles over eight games, the Broncos have more fumbles per game than anyone in the league, and offensive coordinator Adam Gase pointed to this as his point of emphasis this week.
San Diego offers a chance for the Broncos to improve in this regard; the Chargers have just five takeaways this season and haven't forced a fumble in their last three games.
2. LIMIT THE LONG DRIVES.
San Diego's predilection for short, controlled passing has led to drives that slowly develop and build. The Chargers have put together 12 drives of at least 10 plays in their last three games, and half of those series chewed up at least six minutes of game clock. If you get the Chargers into third-and-9-yards-or-more, they struggle, but they rarely find themselves in that predicament. That's where quick pressure from interior stunts comes into play; if the Broncos successfully attack up the middle and force a few more errant throws from Philip Rivers than usual, then the Chargers are in the situation they least want to see: they've only converted five of 25 third downs of nine or more yards.
3. TEST THE CORNERBACKS.
Chargers cornerback Derek Cox saw his playing time sliced last week, and the position appears in a state of flux at midseason. If the Chargers mimic the tactics of Indianapolis in Week 7 and play aggressively on the Broncos' receivers, Denver could capitalize by having its receivers bounce off contact and gain separation downfield. This means that passing plays might take a second or two longer to develop, but with Orlando Franklin now four weeks removed from suffering his high ankle sprain and the offensive line rested after the bye, the Broncos should be in better position to maintain the integrity of the pocket another second or two longer, making deeper throws possible.