Game Primer: Chargers vs. Broncos

The Chargers look to start 3-0 in the AFC West and continue their dominance over Peyton Manning as they host the Broncos Monday night. As preparation for this pivotal clash, we go over each phase of the game and break down what you can expect.

When The Chargers Run

Ryan Mathews has run his way out of the dog house. After losing a fumble in the red zone in Week 3, Mathews came off the bench in Weeks 4 and 5. Last week, Mathews totaled 139 yards from scrimmage (80 rushing, 59 receiving) in his best performance of 2012. Mathews has had success against Denver, having rushed for 120 yards or more in each of his three career games against the Broncos.

Ronnie Brown has become the go-to third down back and ranks second on the team with 17 receptions. Last week, Denver allowed New England a franchise-high 35 first downs. There's a gash in the Broncos' defense and the Chargers want Brown to exploit it. Not only will this keep the offense on the field, but more importantly, it will keep Peyton Manning on the sideline.

When The Chargers Pass

Philip Rivers loves to beat up on the Broncos. In 13 career meetings, he's averaged 235.5 passing yards per game with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Rivers became known for his trash talk after a Monday night game versus Denver where he was caught taunting former Broncos QB Jay Cutler. Champ Bailey told reporters this week Rivers has since earned the respect of the league to trash talk the way he does.

TE Antonio Gates
Antonio Gates has been quiet this season. He hasn't caught a touchdown since the first week of the preseason while being limited to 13 catches through four games (he missed one game with a rib injury). The performance of former Bronco Dante Rosario has helped, but Gates' deep ball and red-zone presence is vital to the offense.

Robert Meachem and Rivers finally got on the same page last week in Meachem's return to New Orleans. Meachem caught two touchdowns and tallied 67 yards receiving. Meachem will be matched up against veteran CB Champ Bailey this week and will look to use his youth and speed to outrun one of the top cornerbacks in the league.

Malcom Floyd has been hampered by a groin injury that occurred during practice this week but is expected to be ready.

Jared Gaither (groin) was unable to practice this week and is a longshot to play. He would be replaced by undrafted rookie Mike Harris, who started the first three games of the season with mixed results. But Gaither has played with little to no preparation in the past, so don't rule him out until his name is etched on the inactive list.

The offensive line must hold off the sack-hungry Denver duo of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. Dumervil had two sacks in his last game versus San Diego and Miller has had one sack in each of his two career games against the Chargers.

When The Broncos Run

Even with the loss of Tim Tebow and the addition of Manning, Willis McGahee has reminded people the running game still exists in Denver. McGahee is No. 12 in the league with 376 yards and has already authored two 100-yard outings.

Defensive coordinator John Pagano has significantly improved the Bolts' run defense. Denver will provide a stiff test to see just how good of a job he has done, seeing that the last time Denver played San Diego the Broncos piled up 208 yards on the ground. Last week, the Chargers were able to hold the Saints to one first down on the ground.

When The Broncos Pass

During Manning's years with the Colts, the one team he always struggled with was San Diego. Manning is a career 4-5 against the Chargers. During his last seven regular season games against the Chargers, Manning has thrown 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. That's the worst TD-to-INT ratio against a single team in Manning's career. The last time Manning played San Diego was during a Sunday night game where the Chargers had four interceptions in a 36-14 rout.

The Broncos are tied for No. 28 in the league with a minus-six turnover differential. Manning has 1,499 yards with 11 TDs and three INTs. He does most of his damage underneath, so don't expect him to challenge ball-hawking FS Eric Weddle often.

Demaryius Thomas certainly has benefitted from the Manning acquisition. He has 505 receiving yards, less than 50 yards away from his career-high. He is averaging 102.6 yards per game, fourth best in the NFL.

Look for Shaun Phillips to spearhead the effort to disrupt Manning's rhythm. Phillips already has 4.5 sacks this season, more than he had all of last year.

Just For Kicks

PR Eddie Royal returns to Denver for the first time since signing with the Chargers this offseason. This is the second consecutive game where a Chargers receiver has faced his former team.

Kicker Nate Kaeding is still out with a groin injury; Nick Novak (4 of 5) gets the nod in his stead.

The last meeting between these two teams ended with a Broncos field goal in a 16-13 overtime win.

How much would this win mean to the Chargers? Discuss in the message boards.

Brian Ducoffe is in his second year of covering San Diego sports. He has been previously published in University Link Magazine and wrote as an NBA columnist for Follow Brian on twitter @brianducoffe.

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