The Los Angeles Chargers squeaked out a win against the Browns last week, and though there were some great things happening on both sides of the ball, there were also some runaway rushing plays that made the game just so darn close. It doesn’t seem like we’ll have a repeat week of that, considering the Broncos rank 29th in terms of rushing grade according to PFF, but the Chargers will definitely have to be prepared against this tough defense that’s sitting second in the league. Here are some x-factors that the Chargers will need to contend against this team.
Russell Wilson currently has the lowest completion percentage he’s had in his career so far at 59.4%. When pressured, that percentage reduces to 46.3%. So the Chargers need to bring the heat to throw Wilson off his game. During the Browns game, the pass rush wasn’t there. There were zero sacks coupled with only three hits and 11 hurries. This is Khalil Mack’s first game with a pass rush grade below the 60s so I can certainly chalk it up to an off day.
Chris Rumph though has looked a little lackluster, and I’m not sure he’s ready to fill Joey Bosa’s shoes, as his pass rush grade has ranked fairly low for the team in the past few weeks and was the lowest of the team at 48.1% this past week against the Browns, and he’s had no sacks and very few hits and hurries. It may be time to utilize Derrek Tuszka and Kyle Van Noy more if need be.
The Chargers Running Backs are Back
The Broncos currently rank number two in terms of defensive coverage against receivers and sit at number 16 in the league for run defense, so this may be the time again for more running backs and fewer receivers. Edge rusher Randy Gregory and cornerback Patrick Surtain rank second and third respectively for the team in terms of coverage grades, while Surtain has the most solo tackles tied at 16 with middle linebacker Jonas Griffith. Getting as many targets to Mike Williams, who had the most of the team last week at 13, may be harder against the Broncos
Austin Ekeler proved again this past week that he has no signs of slowing down, having gotten his most rushing yards of the season so far at 173. It was beautiful to witness all the broken tackles as he made his way through for significant gains and a nice touchdown in the third quarter. Joshua Kelley made his mark as well with his first touchdown of the season.
With these two getting the majority of the snaps last game and Sony Michel really out of the mix, maybe we’ve finally reached a running back two determination for Kelley. And it will be great to have two solid backs to rely on during this game with such a tough defense on the horizon.
Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy seem to be the main receiving options for the Broncos, each with receiving yards in the triple digits while the rest of the wide receivers have yards in the double digits. Last year, the Broncos had at least three receiving weapons in Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Jeudy (when he wasn’t injured), while their tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam mixed in quite a bit.
Though the Broncos are lacking a third big receiving weapon this year, Sutton is still a formidable opponent as is Jeudy, and it’s going to take the right secondary coverage to cut these guys off. Derwin James fared the best against Sutton in terms of coverage when the Chargers played them last year, keeping him to one receiving target, so I would expect him to make a repeat of that in this game.
Bryce Callahan will most likely be covering Jeudy and Callahan’s been quite consistent in terms of his receiver coverage over the last few weeks and has the highest grade in coverage on the team according to PFF of a 71.8%. Callahan’s name wasn’t called a whole lot during the Chargers/Browns game this week but during the Texans game, he got his second interception of the season and the most stops of his first few games at two. Brandon Staley remarked during his press conference on Wednesday how steady and productive Callahan has been and that “he’s been a real bright spot for our defense.”
Asante Samuel will also be in the mix on Sutton and Jeudy, along with maybe even Alohi Gilman, who looked great this last game having had his first interception of the season along with four solo tackles. Though Gilman’s coverage does need to improve, he seems to have solidified himself as that third safety that was needed in the position.
No More Runaways
The Broncos are struggling when it comes to the run and with the season-ending injury of Javonte Williams, the Chargers hopefully won’t have to worry about any high-powered running backs completely killing their momentum with a surprise touchdown, as the major back will be Melvin Gordon, who some of the Chargers already know fairly well from playing with him from 2015 to 2019. That being said, we’ve seen these types of runaway plays during the last few games, and those types of mistakes shouldn’t be happening.
The Chargers run defense grades have deteriorated in the last few weeks and with the Browns, they were the lowest they’ve been all season at 38.2% for the team. Mack, Bosa, and Austin Johnson are the only ones on the defensive line with run defense grades above the 60s. And though Sebastian Joseph-Day‘s run grade is at 52%, he makes up for it in terms of tackles and has the most stops on the team at 10.
It shouldn’t be up to Mack, Johnson, and Joseph-Day though to hold up the defensive line. The rest of the defensive line will have to pull it together as though there will not be as obvious of a run threat for this game, it’s important to keep this in mind during every down because you never know how these things will shake out.