Match-ups to Watch: Chargers-Broncos

Thursday marks a pivotal game for San Diego. With a win, it moves back into first place in the AFC West and cements its status as a contender. With a loss, the Chargers drop to 1-2 in the division and suffer their first losing streak of the season. Here is a look at three match-ups the Bolts need to win to tilt the outcome in their favor. (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Kendall Reyes vs. Louis Vasquez

The key to slowing Peyton Manning is getting good inside pressure, which makes him move off his spot and disrupts his timing. Corey Liuget can be counted on to generate some pressure off the defense's right side, but Reyes needs to match that effort. Reyes is most effective when the Chargers go to their nickel defense and flank he and Liuget with a couple of outside linebackers, a look defensive coordinator John Pagano will use often in Denver.

Reyes can be a liability against the run, which should be less of a problem against a Broncos team that ranks No. 25 in rushing yards per game (95.2). But the Chargers need him to put in work as a pass rusher, especially when he plays the three-technique across from former Charger Louis Vasquez. A Pro Bowl guard, Vasquez joined the Broncos prior to last season and has allowed just a half-sack in 22 games.

"We have to go out, make sure we communicate, play the call and play fast," Pagano said.

Eric Weddle vs. Julius Thomas

Thomas is on pace to smash the single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end, with nine scores in just seven games (the record is 17). In fact, last week's 42-17 win over the 49ers was the first game this season in which Thomas failed to find the end zone. The 6-foot-5, 250-lb. Thomas is a superb athlete and a former basketball player, and as Chargers fans know all too well, that often makes for a dominant tight end.

Thomas is a physical mismatch for Weddle, but San Diego's Pro Bowl safety has outstanding instincts and ball skills. Weddle also has a lot of experience against Manning, having faced him nine times (the Chargers are 5-4 in those games). Weddle has intercepted Manning three times in his career, returning one for a touchdown, and will have plenty of opportunities to add to that total on Thursday as he shadows one of Manning's go-to weapons (five targets per game).

Ladarius Green vs. Brandon Marshall

When the Chargers won in Denver last season on Thursday Night Football, the key was San Diego's ability to sustain drives and keep Manning off the field. That will be more challenging this time around, as Philip Rivers is without his starting running back (Ryan Mathews) and his best check-down target (Danny Woohead). Also, Keenan Allen, who owned the Broncos in three meetings last season, is suffering through a slump.

Where will the Chargers turn for high-percentage passes? Green makes a lot of sense. The third-year tight end has a couple of four-catch games under his belt this season but has been mostly quiet. He should get some good looks this week against Marshall, who is filling in at outside linebacker for the injured Danny Trevathan. Green has the ability to make some "move the chains" catches over the middle and can pick up yards in chunks down the seams if the Chargers can give Rivers time to throw.

"We have a tough task on Thursday to keep from losing two in a row," Rivers said. "But we're a 5-2 team that's off to a heck of a start. We ought to be fired up and excited about what's ahead these next nine weeks and it starts with a tough one on Thursday."

Can the Chargers win in Denver again? Talk about it inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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