8:25 PM EST, CBS – Line: Broncos -3, Over/Under: 45
Bitter enemies face off tonight in San Diego, as the Chargers desperately search for an answer to their woes as they welcome in the reigning Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football. After winning their first four outings to begin the 2016 campaign, Denver (4-1, T-1st in AFC West) was finally removed from the realms of the undefeated last week, by the surprising Atlanta Falcons in last Sunday’s tough 26-13 loss. Billed as the league’s most prolific offense against it’s most fierce defense, the contest was ultimately decided by a change under Center, as Rookie Quarterback Paxton Lynch made his first career start in relief of the ailing Trevor Siemian, who continued to rest his injured shoulder. Lynch, who was drafted with the final selection in the First Round of this past May’s NFL Draft, received quite a rude awakening against what up to that point had been a terrible Falcons’ Defense; the towering youngster was rendered ineffective throughout the contest, completing 23-of-35 passes for 231 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while sustaining six sacks and fumbling twice. As a result, the hosts struggled to challenge Atlanta when it counted, particularly on Third Down where they managed to convert on just four of their sixteen attempts. For their part, the Defense came to play, making the visiting side earn everything they got, containing explosive Wideout Julio Jones (who had just burned the Panthers for 300 yards the previous week) to a mere twenty-nine yards on a pair of catches. However, they were decisively outmatched when it came to defending the Falcons’ Backfield, which gave them fits; Tailbacks Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for a total of 286 all-purpose yards, mercilessly exploiting matchups against the Broncos’ Linebackers. It was the first time this season that Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ unit was unable to get the best of an opponent, for throughout the early stages of the campaign they’ve looked every bit as imposing as they did a year ago. Von Miller and Co. have relegated the opposition to an average of 17.4 points (5th Overall) on 301.0 yards per game (6th Overall), including 195.6 yards through the air (3rd Overall) on a stout 5.0 net yards per attempt (2nd Overall). Even without Defensive Lineman Malik Jackson (signed with Jacksonville as a Free Agent) and Edge Rusher DeMarcus Ware (on the mend after elbow surgery), the pass rush has been absolutely fierce, logging nineteen sacks, with the aforementioned Miller accounting for 6.5 of that total. On the opposite side of the ball, it should come as a relief to Gary Kubiak (more on him in a bit) and his Staff that Siemian is due to get back on the field for tonight’s contest in San Diego, after suffering a hit in the Third Quarter of their 27-7 pasting of Tampa Bay two weeks prior. Kudos to Kubiak who endorsed the Northwestern product for weeks before the season began, for Siemian has certainly outperformed expectations, proving to be an excellent fit for the veteran coach’s system. In four games, the former Seventh Round Pick has completed a healthy 67.3% of his passes for an average of 206.0 yards on 7.12 net yards per attempt, tossing six touchdowns to three interceptions, while sustaining eight sacks. In fact, with a QBR of 78.89, this kid is outperforming last year’s Quarterback Peyton Manning, who stumbled his way to a career low 44.96 rating in 2015. As we stated earlier, the Sophomore’s presence should go a long way towards easing the stress on Kubiak, who after Sunday’s game was hospitalized due to what has been described as extreme migraines, and will NOT be stalking the sidelines at Qualcomm Stadium tonight. Kubiak, if you recall, has had health issues in the past, suffering a minor heart attack back in 2013 when he led the Houston Texans. Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis will hold the interim role until he’s able to return.
Meanwhile, things simply haven’t gone according to plan in San Diego this year, where the Chargers (1-4, 4th in AFC West) can’t seem to find a way to refrain from beating themselves. Coming off a dreadful 4-12 campaign that marked their worst record since 2003, this season was shaping up to be a critical one for Head Coach Mike McCoy, who has seen his charges regress under his watch over the past few years. Mental toughness is not a word that is often used to describe this group, who have crumbled in the Fourth Quarter numerous times this season, serving as an indictment on the embattled coach. In fact, the Chargers have held late leads in four of their five outings thus far, and have even spent more time with a lead than any other team in the league. It started in the Opener as they blew a 21-point lead to fall to the Chiefs in Overtime, and followed them two weeks later at Indianapolis in which they fell victim to a 63-yard Andrew Luck bomb to T.Y. Hilton after leading 22-20 in the final stanza. Two weeks ago in former Quarterback Drew Brees’ return to San Diego, they blew a 14-point lead as Tailback Melvin Gordon fumbled late keying consecutive touchdown drives for New Orleans in a 35-34 come-from-behind shocker. Most recently, their struggles followed them to Oakland, where they ended up on the wrong side of a 34-31 shootout against the Raiders. Despite blowing an 8-point Third Quarter lead, the visitors rallied to cut the deficit to three late in the Fourth Quarter, and on Fourth-And-One from the Raiders’ 18-yard line McCoy decided they would settle for a potentially game-tying 35-yard Field Goal. However, as fate would have it, they wouldn’t even get the kick off, as Holder Drew Kaser inexplicably botched the hold, sending his team to their third straight loss. Before that fateful day, rumblings out of San Diego indicated that McCoy would be coaching for his job over these next ten days, with tonight’s meeting with Denver serving as his probable swan song. While his team’s inability to put away games certainly falls back on the skipper, it’s not like he’s had the luxury of playing with a full hand of late, as injuries have once again ravaged the Chargers. Each week has seen another significant player bite the dust; first it was Pro Bowl Receiver Keenan Allen (ACL) in the Opener, followed by Tailbacks Branden Oliver (Achilles) and Danny Woodhead (Knee) the next week, while Inside Linebacker Manti Te’o (ACL) too was lost for the season a week later, with Pro Bowl Cornerback Jason Verrett (Knee) joining him days afterward. And those are just a few of the staggering SIXTEEN players that have landed on Injured Reserve at this point. Furthermore, McCoy could be without three starting Offensive Linemen tonight, as Tackles King Dunlap (Undisclosed) and Joe Barksdale (Knee) along with Guard Orlando Franklin (Foot) are all listed as Questionable, which is NOT what you want to hear with Denver’s ferocious Pass-Rush paying you a visit on a short week. Then again, we’re sure that Philip Rivers is already pacing back and forth in lieu of this showdown. The 35-year old, 5-time Pro Bowl Quarterback continues to be the one constant among a sinking ship, completing 68.0% of his passes for an average of 293.8 yards on 7.73 net yards per attempt (his highest such figure in seven years), eleven touchdowns and three interceptions, while posting a QBR of 83.94, which if he keeps up, will be by far and away a career-high. One thing is for certain, Rivers will not be afraid of Miller and Co. for this guy has enjoyed what many would call a successful season over the course of his career against Denver. In twenty-one meetings (not including the Playoffs) Rivers has gone 10-11, completing 62.7% of his attempts for an average of 231.4 yards per game on 7.71 yards per attempt, thirty-three touchdowns and nineteen interceptions, while rushing for another two scores. If McCoy is to indeed keep his job for a little while longer, this guy will likely have a large hand in it.
Predicted Outcome: Chargers 24, Broncos 21