Denver can't even go into the must-win game with a full squad. This week, tailbacks P.J. Pope and Selvin Young went on injured reserve, leaving the Broncos with seven tailbacks on injured reserve. Overall, 16 players are on IR, lost for the season.
Against the Chargers, someone has to run the ball to keep the defense honest.
"We can't drop back every play and put Cutler in those situations," running back Tatum Bell said. "If we get the running game going early, and hope to keep it going and they'll keep calling the plays."
Aside from the problems at tailback, the Broncos can match up against the Chargers. They already beat them once, albeit controversially, in the second week of the season. A Jay Cutler fumble was ruled an incompletion in the final minute, giving the Broncos a second chance. They scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to win the game.
Although the Broncos can beat the Chargers, they will have to rebound mentally. The Buffalo loss was crushing -- they were excited about the prospect of winning the division at home, but lost a 13-0 lead and the game.
There is pressure on them now to avoid one of the biggest collapses in NFL history. Only once since the NFL switched to divisions in 1967 has a team held a three-game lead in the division and not made the playoffs.
"Everybody is disgusted, anytime you have an opportunity to win the AFC West and it's very disappointing," Shanahan said. "If you don't felt that way, you're not made of the right stuff."
Still, with everything that has gone on with the Broncos in the past couple of weeks, they still have a chance to play for the division title on Sunday night.
"It gives you a chance to control your own destiny," Shanahan said. "There are a number of teams out there that would just love to win a game to get in the playoffs. But they are not in that situation, instead they would have to win and hope some other team beat somebody else. We are in a great situation."
--The Broncos want to have some diversity on offense, but with so many injuries at tailback, they will probably have a pass-heavy attack. Denver is coming off a game in which Jay Cutler had 359 passing yards and the Broncos had more than 500 yards of total offense.
"It makes it tougher when you're one-dimensional but we were having so much success with it," receiver Brandon Stokley said. "We did have to throw the ball, but we moved the ball up and down the field, we just didn't finish."
--The Broncos and Chargers played one of the classic games in the NFL this season back in Week 2, when the Broncos scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the last minute to beat San Diego 39-38. The signature play of that game was a Jay Cutler fumble that was mistakenly ruled an incomplete pass, which gave Denver a second chance.
That tight game was a stark contrast to the two meetings last year, which San Diego won by a combined 64-6 score. Cutler said the team is more confident going to San Diego this season.
"Last year, I think when we went down there we were probably beaten before we got off the plane," Cutler said. "They were a really good football team, and they still are now, but I think mentally we didn't think we could match up with them. And the first game (this season) we got hot offensively. The defense did their part in the second half and made some stops. We have the guys in the locker room to make it happen."
--Although quarterback Jay Cutler will be under plenty of pressure to lead his team to a win and a division title on Sunday at San Diego, his teammates tried deflecting some of that pressure off of him.
"There is no pressure on Cutler, the pressure is on the whole team, it's on all of us," tight end Daniel Graham said. "'Cut' is not the only one out there. It's on everybody."
BY THE NUMBERS: 0.5 -- Sacks allowed by Broncos rookie left tackle Ryan Clady, the fewest among any tackle to start all 15 games this season, according to STATS, Inc.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think it will be with the holiday spirit, at all." -- Broncos QB Jay Cutler, on the reaction he expects to get from Chargers fans.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos signed tailbacks Cory Boyd and Alex Haynes to the active roster. Boyd was signed off the practice squad and Haynes was a free agent, although he was with the Broncos for about two weeks in November. The Broncos' philosophy is to sign backs that know their running system, which has limited their available pool of tailbacks after so many injuries.
The Broncos signed running back Steve Baylark and receiver Matt Willis to take the two empty spots on the practice squad.
--LB Niko Koutouvides leads the Broncos with 11 special-teams tackles. He missed last week's game against Buffalo and Denver struggled on kick coverage. Koutouvides is dealing with a back injury, but his presence would help against the Chargers and their dangerous return man Darren Sproles.
--CB Dre Bly leads the Broncos with two interceptions this year. Nobody else on the Broncos has more than one. They have six interceptions as a team.
--WR Eddie Royal needs 96 yards Sunday to reach 1,000 for the season. He has already blown past Mark Jackson's rookie record for receiving yards, which was 738.
--RB Peyton Hillis' 343 yards leads the Broncos in rushing this year. That would be the lowest total for a leading rusher in team history. Hillis is one of seven Broncos tailbacks on injured reserve.
--TE Tony Scheffler leads all NFL tight ends with a 16.3-yard per catch average. That would be the Broncos' single-season record for a tight end.
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