SD-DEN: What Worked, What Didn't, What's Next

The Chargers dropped their second straight game inside the division on Thursday, falling 35-21 in Denver. The defeat was costly for San Diego and sets up a critical game this week in Miami. Before we move onto the Dolphins, we take our weekly look at what worked and what didn't against the Broncos.

What Worked

--Keenan Allen continues to do his best work against the Broncos. He caught nine passes for 73 yards, including his first touchdown of the season. He had been mired in a pretty serious sophomore slump -- between Weeks 3 and 6 he had just one game with more than three catches or 27 yards -- but his breakout in the Mile High City gives him some momentum to carry into the second half of the season.

In four career meetings with the Broncos (including the playoffs), Allen has 19 catches for 285 yards and five touchdowns.

--Another famed Bronco tamer, Eric Weddle, had a big game in his own right. He led the team with 11 tackles and had a forced fumble and a spectacular one-handed interception that was negated by a holding penalty. It would have marked Weddle's fourth career interception of Peyton manning.

"I look at Eric Weddle, the way he played on a number of occasions there, just fighting to the bitter end," Head Coach Mike McCoy said. "The interception, the strip, the way he was flying around."

--Antonio Gates broke Lance Alworth's franchise record for receiving yards, surpassing the Hall of Famer with a spectacular 31-yard reception on a third-and-20. Gates also scored two more touchdowns in Denver. He now has three multi-touchdown games this season and nine scores overall at the season's halfway point. He has scored at least one touchdown in each of the last four games.

"He's a special player," said McCoy of Gates. "One of the greatest of all time. Hall of Fame-type player. He works his tail off all the time."

What Didn't

--The running game never got going. Branden Oliver carried 13 times for 36 yards (2.8 ypc), with 23 of those yards coming on the game's final play. Three of his runs went for negative yardage. Without the running game clicking, San Diego was unable to control the clock as it did in last season's win in Denver.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Ryan Mathews (knee) and Donald Brown (concussion) return to the rotation. If that doesn't happen this week, it will certainly happen as soon as the Chargers return from their bye week. Their returns will clearly help the running game, although if the Chargers do not get better blocking from their interior offensive line, it may not matter who totes the rock.

--The secondary is in serious trouble. Already down Brandon Flowers (concussion) and Steve Williams (groin), the Chargers lost Jason Verrett when he re-injured his shoulder in the second quarter. That's a bad situation against any opponent, but it's downright crippling against a Peyton Manning-led team. The reigning MVP completed 25-of-35 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns, all to Emmanuel Sanders.

Sanders, who caught nine passes for 120 yards, was one of three Broncos to go over 100 yards from scrimmage, joined by Demaryius Thomas (105 receiving yards) and Ronnie Hillman (109 rushing yards).

"I know the outside may think we're not as good as we think we are, but we think we're a great team," Weddle said. "We're going to get back healthy, we're going to play great, and all our focus is getting to 6-3 and getting this thing back rolling. We believe wholeheartedly we can do that and continue to have a great season."

--The Chargers never sacked Manning. Dwight Freeney, 34, appears to be wearing down and has gone five games without a sack. Until Melvin Ingram returns from his hip injury (he is on temporary IR), San Diego needs bigger contributions from young rushers Jeremiah Attaochu (who has missed four of the last five games with a hamstring injury) and Cordarro Law.

The Bolts also need more from DE Kendall Reyes, who lost his matchup with former Charger Louis Vasquez.

What's Next

The Chargers get three additional days of much-needed rest as they prepare for another road game, this time in Miami. The team hopes to get some key players back for this contest, most notably Flowers, but most of the calvary won't be coming back until after the subsequent bye week.

That makes this game close to a must-win for the Chargers. With a victory, the Chargers make it to their bye at 6-3 and get a chance to get healthy heading into the final seven games of the season. But a loss would be San Diego's third straight and would make a return trip to the playoffs far less likely, especially given how brutal the Chargers' schedule appears over the final five weeks of the season.

The Chargers have lost seven in a row in Miami since their unforgettable 41-38 overtime playoff victory in January 1982.

Where do the Chargers need the most improvement? Discuss in 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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