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5 suggestions for Broncos if they are to beat the Chargers

Not sure how they contain Herbert if Bradley Chubb, Kareem Jackson and Shelby Harris don't play. But somehow they must.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Vic Fangio and his players can diminish it all they want with their clichéd one-game-at-a-time mantra.

Words aside, all other signs point to it. This is the start of a new season for the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos won five and lost five of their first 10 games, reaching their scheduled break last week with a not-dead, but not-in-it-either, 5-5 record.

Their bye week behind them, the Broncos have seven games remaining with five coming against AFC West Division foes.

Win five of seven and the Broncos figure to make the playoffs. Four more wins probably won’t do it.

It all starts Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, who are markedly better than the Broncos both through short-term and long-term lenses. They are better short term because of their 6-4 record. They are in better shape long-term because they have a young, exciting head coach in Brandon Staley and a very good, franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert.

Herbert was surprisingly good as a rookie last year, making the adjustment from Oregon’s college offense to the pro system. He had guided the Chargers to a 24-3 lead midway through the third quarter in Nov. 1 game at Empower Field at Mile High. Although the Chargers collapsed and lost to Drew Lock and the Broncos, 31-30 on the final play of the game – Herbert’s underthrown pass to the end zone that was picked off by cornerback Bryce Callahan was the defining momentum-swing play – he came back to lead the Chargers to a 13-0 lead in their second meeting in game 15, orchestrating a final 2-minute drive that led to a game-winning field goal and 19-16 win.

There has been no sophomore slump this season as Herbert has seemingly taken well to his rookie head coach, Staley.

There is no long-term view come Sunday, though. It’s all about winning that one game and the Broncos can win it if they follow these five suggestions:

1. Run the ball some

Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse (27) and linebacker Luke Gifford, center, are unable to keep Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III (25) from reaching the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Ordinarily, I’m not a must-run-the-ball advocate. Why? The top three rushing teams in the NFL – the Browns, Eagles and Ravens – rank 19th, 8th and 14th, respectively, in scoring. And the top three scoring teams – Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Dallas – rank 26th, 12th and 6th, respectively, in rushing.

But the Chargers’ defense is so poor in defending the run, they rank last in the league with 145.1 rushing yards per game. True, the Chargers D has been better its last four games, allowing just 3.7 yards per carry. But the Broncos have two very good running backs in former Charger Melvin Gordon III and rookie Javonte Williams that they might as well use them. And quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s passing game lifts when he has the play-action fake for the set-up.

2. Lose the coin toss

Credit: AP Photo/Adam Hunger
Referee Jerome Boger (23) tosses the coin as Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus (8) and New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) look on before an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Broncos have started the game on defense in eight of 10 games. The Denver D has yet to step up with a three-and-out. Twice, the defense put its team in a 10-0 hole before the offense could run its fourth play. The Broncos lost both games. The Broncos’ offense may be able to get in a pass-run rhythm if it doesn’t stand around and watch so long after warmups.

3. Contain Herbert scramble

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos defensive end Dre'Mont Jones, right, pulls on the jersey off Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Chargers quarterback tore up the Steelers’ defense last week with 90 yards rushing (and 382 yards passing). Not sure how the Denver D will do this if Bradley Chubb, Shelby Harris and Kareem Jackson don’t play.

4. Target the $90 million duo

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos players, including Diontae Spencer (11), Courtland Sutton (14) and Tim Patrick (81) run out of the tunnel before an NFL preseason football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick were just paid handsomely. Sutton has averaged less than 2 catches and 30 yards in the past three games. Patrick has averaged 3 catches for 44 yards his past five games. If you’re going to pay ‘them, use them.

5. Fourth quarter fatigue factor

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) calls a play in the offensive huddle during an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)

There are reasons to believe the Broncos will have the fresher legs and bodies late in the game.

One, the game is played at 5,280 feet, or 5,245 feet above Los Angeles.

Two, the Chargers faded late last year in the game in Denver, getting outscored 28-6 in the final 22 minutes.

Three, the Chargers are coming off an exhausting, Sunday night track meet against the Steelers. The Broncos kicked their feet up and watched from home. The Chargers will have 6 days rest; the Broncos two weeks.

RELATED: Bridgewater leads Broncos into pivotal game against Herbert and the Chargers

RELATED: Protégé Staley meets mentor Fangio in key AFC West game


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