The Denver Broncos head to the West Coast on a short week to play AFC West rival San Diego Chargers on Thursday Night Football. The Broncos are coming off their first loss of the season, to the Atlanta Falcons, 23-16. Denver is also dealing with the temporary loss of their Super Bowl-winning head coach Gary Kubiak. The Broncos head coach will not make the trip to San Diego after suffering a complex migraine.
"Gary is going to concentrate on Gary this week. Everybody else will concentrate on getting a win down in San Diego," said general manager John Elway.
Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis is serving as the interim head coach as the Broncos prepare for the Chargers. DeCamillis is involved in week-to-week game management and this was the reason he was tabbed the coach instead of former NFL head coach Wade Phillips, the Broncos' defensive coordinator.
How much actual preparation will be needed to face San Diego is a different story. The Chargers have had four nail-biting losses this season and are coming off another close loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 5, 34-31. The Chargers had a chance to tie the game on a field goal late in the fourth quarter, but holder Drew Kaser fumbled the snap and the kick did not get attempted.
"You can't make this stuff up. You think, 'Really, is there any other way we can find a way to (lose?),'" said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers after the loss on Sunday.
San Diego has lost four out of the last five games. The Chargers have lost 10 straight to an AFC West opponent and hope to avoid making the streak 11 this Thursday.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy appears to be on the hot seat as the Chargers have struggled most of 2015 and now into 2016. The offense, behind Rivers, still continues to put up huge numbers. But the 11 offensive turnovers have killed drives and put the defense on short fields.
The Chargers have eight lost fumbles on the season. One of the major culprits of those fumbles is second-year running back Melvin Gordon. The former first-rounder out of Wisconsin had a fumble in the Week 4 loss to the New Orleans Saints and another against the Raiders.
"I was conscious about it, and I don't even think a defender hit it. I have to go watch it. Walking off, I was so upset. We were driving it. I was getting into a zone. And then, it just came out," said Gordon of his turnover.
The Broncos' defense will attack Gordon all game long and test his ball security. That defense, led by outside linebacker Von Miller, has recovered four fumbles this season and will be looking for more on Thursday night. Miller and Co. will also be hunting for sacks. The Denver defensive unit has sacked opposing quarterbacks 19 times this season.
The Chargers' offensive line, which could be without starting right tackle Joe Barksdale again this week due to a foot injury, has given up only 11 sacks. This unit has played better than it did in 2015 when it gave up 40 sacks for the season. Seven of those sacks came against the Broncos in 2015. How the line handles Denver's defensive front will go a long way in determining the outcome.
Against Denver in Week 5, the Falcons used their running backs as wide receivers and spread them out along the offensive formations. This forced inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis to leave the tackle box and play man coverage on the edges. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took advantage of these matchups and the game plan helped hand the Broncos their first loss of the year.
"(Atlanta) spread us out. The key part was that they had time to get those guys downfield. For backs to get downfield, it takes some time. You can't ask (Marshall) and Todd and those guys to hold up that long," said Kubiak.
While McCoy may try to implement this scheme into the game plan, the loss of a great pass catcher like Chargers running back Danny Woodhead, who is out for the season, may prevent the Chargers' offense from using this attack as much as it might like.
The Broncos' offensive line gave up six sacks in the loss to the Falcons, and no matter who is at quarterback, rookie Paxton Lynch or, if healthy, Trevor Siemian, that is too many hits for a quarterback to take. Especially with a healthy Joey Bosa lining up along the defensive line for the Chargers. The third overall selection in the 2016 draft played in his first NFL game against the Raiders and exploded onto the scene. The rookie collected two sacks and five total tackles in his debut.