GAME PLAN: The entire key to the Broncos' huge effort last week, setting up their 49-29 win over Kansas City, was their ability to score early and keep the Chiefs guessing behind a suddenly effective running attack. Denver had only seven points all season in the first quarter but exploded for 21 last Sunday. The team now has a line configuration it will attempt to use for the remainder of the season -- RT Ryan Harris, RG Chris Kuper, C J.D. Walton, LG Zane Beadles and LT Ryan Clady -- and the hope is with continued balance they can turn what were considerable early-season yards into more points.
The return of Robert Ayers from a foot injury this week can't be understated. It allows Mario Haggan to slide back to middle linebacker and sets up by far the team's best run-stopping configuration. Ayers also gives Denver another legitimate option rushing Philip Rivers off the edge.
Denver will look to crank up its return game, with San Diego already allowing punt and kickoff TDs. Eddie Royal had two such scores in the last meeting at Qualcomm Stadium in 2009.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers TE Antonio Gates, who has 11 TDs in his last 12 games, vs. a Denver defense that's tried a group approach against opposing tight ends this season. The Broncos have used safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill and LBs D.J. Williams and Mario Haggan on various tight ends this season. Any or all of those players could at some point see Gates on Monday night. During Mike Shanahan's reign, he put CB Champ Bailey on Gates, matching what he thought were the two best athletes. And that's not an uncommon approach now, with teams playing nickel even against San Diego's base offense to get a corner on Gates. Of course, that presents a huge size disadvantage for the DB. And the Chargers move Gates around the formation so that he doesn't take many clean shots coming off the line of scrimmage while effectively passing off play-action. Best bet for Denver is that Gates' plantar fasciitis acts up.
Chargers safeties Eric Weddle and Steve Gregory vs. a Denver offense that is tied for the NFL lead in 40-yard catches (10). The Broncos are an even more dangerous team now pushing the ball downfield if their once-dormant running game that produced a season-best 153 yards last week can continue to thrive. It makes the play-action game that much more effective, allowing Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney to get behind defenses. The Broncos have at least one 40-yard catch in every game this season. Last week, safety help was late on at least two of Kyle Orton's four TD throws. Gregory and Weddle will be busy.
INJURY IMPACT: CB Andre Goodman (thigh) was the only Broncos player missing practice Wednesday, with Ayers returning to the field. Goodman has missed five of the last seven games with various issues with his quadriceps, and he made a hasty exit in the Oct. 10 game vs. Baltimore. Perrish Cox will continue to start at right cornerback in Goodman's place until he's completely healthy, but the fact Goodman hasn't practiced since the Oct. 31 San Francisco loss points to yet another DNP this week.
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