Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Broncos I

Our Scout.com team experts, Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com and Michael John Schon of BroncosUpdate.com, analyze Sunday's AFC West Championship Game between the Chargers and Broncos. Let's start with six question from Schon to Lombardo, who talks about a QB rivalry, a ripple effect from Week 2 and a defense on the upswing.

Michael John Schon: How much resentment, if any, do the Chargers hold after the whole Ed Hochuli debacle in Week 2 and do you think any of it will play a part in this Sunday's matchup?

Michael Lombardo: I believe there was a lot of lingering resentment from that call, although that is a moot point now. The Chargers were afraid that one bad call would prevent them from having a chance to win the AFC West -- now the Chargers are looking that opportunity right in the eye.

Here's what Coach Norv Turner said when asked if he could let go of that blown call in Week 2: "If you believed me when I said that [I could let it go], I could sell you some other things."

Since the AFC West has been reduced to a one-game season, I don't think resentment towards Ed Hochuli will play any factor in the game. These teams' resentment towards each other will be the larger issue.

MJS: Sitting at 4-8, the playoffs seemed almost out of the picture, but thanks to a nice three-game winning streak and the Broncos' apparent collapse, the Chargers are one game away from the postseason. Do you think there's enough gas left in the tank when it comes down to the final game?


WR Chris Chambers
Doug Pensinger/Getty

ML: Yes, I think the Chargers have enough left to take the victory and claim their third consecutive AFC West Championship. The Chargers are riding their first three-game winning streak of the season and are peaking at the right time. The team delivered its most impressive showing last week, a 17-point thrashing in Tampa Bay over a Buccaneers team that was undefeated at home.

I expect the Chargers and Broncos to play a close contest, but I like San Diego to advance. The Chargers are improving week to week and have won 14 consecutive games in the month of December; the Broncos seem to be sailing in the opposite direction.

MJS: What's been the biggest change between the Chargers of four weeks ago and the Chargers today?

ML: The improved play of the defense has been the biggest catalyst for the turnaround. The Chargers have applied more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which leads to turnovers for the defense and short fields for the offense.

It appears the simplified schemes of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who took over in that capacity in Week 9, are starting to take hold. The defense is still significantly more vulnerable than it was at this point last season, but the week-to-week improvement is noteworthy.

Here's what LB Stephen Cooper said this week about Rivera: "He's doing a great job making it simple. He's letting us go out there and play defense. We're not worrying about checking out defenses. We're just going out there and making plays."


QB Jay Cutler
Jim McIsaac/Getty

MJS: What's the media in San Diego making of the whole Jay Cutler/Philip Rivers rivalry and who wins the battle at quarterback this Sunday?

ML: The media in San Diego loves to play up the rivalry angle, but not as much as it does in Denver. Remember, Cutler has openly stated his dislike for Rivers, while Rivers has never reciprocated that sentiment. Either way, this rivalry is generated more by the extreme talent of these two players rather than bad blood on the sidelines.

Right now, Rivers is the better QB and will likely come out victorious. Cutler still makes too many bad decisions and will be hindered by a lack of support from his running game. However, the Chargers know better than anybody how hard it is to stop the Cutler to Brandon Marshall connection, so this game could still go either way.

Here are Rivers' thoughts on the matter: "You're always looking for matchups to throw things in the mix but I know one thing and I know Jay feels the same way: We're not playing one another out there. We've both got tough defenses to worry about and we're trying to help both of our teams advance into the playoffs."


LB Shaun Phillips
Donald Miralle/Getty

MJS: Denver's a bit banged up on the offensive line and the Chargers are hurting defensively, as well. Who's bringing the heat on Cutler this week?

ML: San Diego's ability to pressure Cutler is essential if the Chargers are to win this game. The Broncos have too many offensive weapons for San Diego's secondary to handle, so it's vital the Chargers force Cutler into quick throws and bad decisions.

Shaun Phillips (7.5 sacks) is the only pass-rusher worthy of being feared. He has a lightning-quick first step, as well as the speed and leverage to turn the corner and make plays off the edge. The next players in line would be Jyles Tucker (5.5 sacks) and Marques Harris (2.5 sacks), although their play has been spotty at best.

MJS: San Diego's running game has taken a significant step backwards from last year, but considering you're facing a pathetic Denver pass defense, it may not make a difference. How much of a factor will LaDainian Tomlinson play, or do you see it turning into more of a Philip Rivers shootout?

ML: I think the Chargers will use the pass to set up the run, which will lead the game more along the lines of a shootout. The Chargers will try to be aggressive through the air, build a two-score lead, and use LT to run some clock and wear out Denver's D'.

Tomlinson rarely had big outings against the Broncos even when he was in his top form, so I don't expect him to run wild on Sunday. Instead, look for the Chargers to mix in a heavy dose of Darren Sproles and to carve out a total of about 150 combined rushing yards by game's end.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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