Offense: Protect the Football
The Broncos rank eighth in the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-three. However, they've lost the turnover battle in each of their last three games, which coincides with their three-game losing streak. Overall, they were plus-seven in their first six games -- including plus-one in their earlier meeting with the Chargers -- and minus-four in the three games since.
"[Denver] has hit a tough stretch, but I know the team we're getting ready to play is the same team we played on Monday night a little over a month ago and they're a very good football team," Turner said.
has thrown just six interceptions this season; only six QBs with at least 200 passing attempts have fewer. He'll have to continue that safety-first approach against a secondary that features savvy veterans Champ Bailey
and Brian Dawkins
. Rivers will also have to watch out for Elvis Dumervil
(12 sacks) coming off the edge in pursuit of the sack-strip.
Defense: Win on First Down
Denver does a better job than any other team in the NFL of protecting its quarterback. The Broncos run the ball effectively, as rookie Knowshon Moreno
is on pace to top 1,000 yards from scrimmage. They also throw almost exclusively high-percentage passes, using quick drops and timing patterns to give their explosive receivers chances to pick up yards after the catch.
If Ron Rivera's unit is going to be successful, the defense must win on first down. On runs, the defense must hold Denver to 2 yards or less. On passes, the Chargers must force incompletions at least 40 percent of the time.
If the Chargers put the Broncos in obvious passing situations, it opens up the game for San Diego's playmakers. Shawne Merriman
and Shaun Phillips
can cut loose off of the edge; Steve Gregory
and Paul Oliver
can get onto the field and make plays as cover men and blitzers; and Antonio Cromartie
and Eric Weddle
can start sitting on routes.
"With us it starts with defending the run and we've gotten a lot better defending the run. We want to be a pressure group. We've gotten a lot better pressuring," Turner said.
Special Teams: No More Royal Treatment
Several players, including Merriman, believed Eddie Royal
's two kick returns for scores in the first meeting are the only reason the Chargers lost Round One. Merriman noted that San Diego lost by only 11 despite giving up 14 "garbage points," although it should be noted that Darren Sproles
scored on a kick return in that game, as well.
Regardless, the Chargers must tighten up in kick coverage. They should get a boost from rookies James Holt
and C.J. Spillman
, both of whom have broken into the rotation over the last two weeks and played well. The other key players are fullbacks Jacob Hester
and Mike Tolbert
, who are playing inspired ball in the third phase.
What to you expect from the big game in Denver? Talk it out in the message boards.
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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
The San Diego Chargers face their biggest test of the season Sunday as they challenge the Denver Broncos for divisional supremacy. Here is a look at what Norv Turner's team must do to win in Denver.