Game Primer: Chargers vs. Broncos

It is now or never for the San Diego Chargers (4-5), who have one last shot to make a run at the AFC West title as they meet the red-hot Broncos in Denver. Which players hold the keys to victory? And who are the X-factors? To find out, check out this phase-by-phase breakdown of the big game.

When The Chargers Run

Ryan Mathews sat out two practices this week with a neck injury. Jackie Battle's role has been reduced since Mathews' Week 3 return from a collar bone injury, but expect to see Battle's number called often if Mathews is limited or unavailable.

San Diego has yet to have a running back run for more than 100 yards in a game.

When The Chargers Pass

The key to victory is Philip Rivers' feet. Rivers' downfall last week was his lack of mobility outside of the pocket. With Jared Gaither injured and likely out for a second straight week, Rivers' better have brought his dancing shoes to Denver.

The biggest threat to a clean pocket is Von Miller. Since his rookie season in 2011, Miller has 21.5 sacks, the most in the AFC during that time. He's collected four sacks in the last two games.

A key matchup to watch is Danario Alexander versus Champ Bailey. San Diego did not have Alexander in the first matchup. Alexander had a career performance last week catching five passes for 134 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game.

Antonio Gates is one touchdown away from passing Hall of Famer Lance Alworth for the most touchdown receptions in team history. Gates has scored in each of the last two games.

When The Broncos Run

Willis McGahee has 100-plus rushing yards in two of his past three games against San Diego (125, 117). This time, San Diego enters with the NFL's No. 2 run defense (82.9 yards per game).

With Aubrayo Franklin out, the Chargers will again look to split snaps at the nose tackle position between Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas. Franklin is a nice player, but there is little drop-off with him out.

When The Broncos Pass

Peyton Manning shredded San Diego's defense in the second half of their Week 6 encounter. Manning has been money in fourth quarters all season long, compiling 1,226 passing yards and 10 touchdowns in that quarter alone.

A key to Manning's success has been Demaryius Thomas. Thomas has over 100 receiving yards in three of four home games.

San Diego needs to rediscover its anti-Manning magic. During his last eight regular season games against the Chargers, Manning has thrown 15 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. That's the worst TD-to-INT ratio versus any team in Manning's career.

Corey Liuget, in the midst of a Pro Bowl-caliber season, leads the defensive front seven. He leads the defensive line in tackles (29), tackles for loss (six) and passes defended (six). Look for Liuget to challenge Manning's passes at the line.

Just For Kicks

Nick Novak ranks seventh on the Chargers' all-time field goals list with 36.

San Diego had a blocked punt returned for a TD last week. As a result, Mike Scifres has been limited in practice this week with an ankle injury. Scifres is also the main holder on field goals and PATs.

Lightning Quicks

Takeo Spikes was asked by a reporter, "Is it possible to stop Peyton Manning?" The linebacker paused before answering, "You need to quit playing PlayStation. Come on, man."

Fourth Quarter play will be crucial for San Diego. Rivers has the worst fourth quarter QB Rating in the league (56). In four of the five games the Chargers have lost, the team did not score in the fourth quarter.

Who will win Sunday's Chargers-Broncos game? 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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