NFL Preview - Denver (2-3) at San Diego (3-2)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - AFC West rivals meet on Monday night in Southern California
when the division-leading San Diego Chargers host Peyton Manning and the
Manning has been solid, save for one game in Atlanta, during his debut season
in Denver but his play hasn't translated to a consistent winning environment
The future Hall of Famer, who missed the entire 2011 season in Indianapolis
after multiple neck surgeries, is currently fourth in the NFL with a 101.2
passer rating but the Broncos arrive in Ron Burgundy's city under .500 after
Manning lost his latest duel with Tom Brady and the Patriots back on Oct. 7.
In the matchup of two of the game's marquee quarterbacks, it was the
Patriots' ground game which proved to be the difference when second-year
running back Stevan Ridley rushed for a career-high 151 yards and one
touchdown, helping New England beat Denver, 31-21, at Gillette Stadium.
Manning, who threw three touchdown passes to Brady's one and outgained his New
England counterpart, 345-223, had a chance to make it a one-possession game
late. But, on 2nd-and-10 from the 14-yard line, Manning handed the ball off to
Willis McGahee and New England's Rob Ninkovich forced his second fumble of the
game to squelch any thoughts of a comeback.
"There are a lot of what-ifs," Manning said. "The key is that we learn from
them and hopefully we can respond next week with the win."
Demaryius Thomas was Manning's favorite target in Foxboro, making nine grabs
for a game-high 188 yards. McGahee had 51 yards on 14 carries and totaled the
same amount of yards on five catches for Denver.
The Broncos, who have lost three of four after a season-opening win over
Pittsburgh, are tied for 28th in the NFL with a minus-6 turnover differential.
"I don't have any secret answer for you," Manning said when talking about the
miscues this week. "Just need to protect the ball better. That's the simple
and short of it. We focused on ball security today. It's a point of emphasis
for us. It needs to start in practice and then carry over to the game as
Manning, who threw three interceptions in a 27-21 loss at Atlanta back on
Sept. 17, has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 1,013 yards, eight
touchdowns and no interceptions during his last three games.
"He's gotten a lot better," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He's gotten more
comfortable. His teammates have gotten more comfortable with him and vice
San Diego and Philip Rivers are also coming off a loss to one of the game's
The Saints' Drew Brees broke a 52-year-old record in the first quarter and
then orchestrated a 10-point comeback in the second half as New Orleans downed
the Chargers, 31-24, on Oct. 7.
Brees threw a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game in that one, snapping
Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas' mark of 47 that stood since 1960.
Rivers went 27-for-42 through the air for 354 yards with two touchdowns
and an interception for San Diego, which was looking to go 3-0 on the
road this season.
"I can't tell you how tough it is to lose a game like this," Rivers said. "We
were right there. We were up by 10 points and just didn't get it done. We have
a great team, a championship-caliber team, but we have to win close games like
Ryan Mathews carried the ball 12 times for 80 yards and a score, and added 59
yards on six receptions in defeat.
"They are outstanding offensively and they made plays when they had to,"
Chargers coach Norv Turner said of the Saints. "We had a couple errors on our
penalties that cost us obviously a great deal late in the game. You can't make
those kinds of errors and we'll learn from them."
The Broncos lead the all-time series with San Diego 55-48-1 but the Chargers
have taken nine of the past 12. Denver did end a four-game losing streak to
San Diego with a 16-13 overtime win on Nov. 27 last season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Both quarterbacks are capable of putting up some gaudy numbers so the
spotlight will be on a pair of defenses that have been spotty this season.
The units are nearly identical, giving up 334.0 yards per game (Chargers) and
335.2 (Broncos), respectively. They go about it in different ways, however.
The Chargers have the NFL's fifth-ranked rush defense, allowing an average of
74.0 yards, and struggle against the pass. Even the stout run defense is
suspect against Denver, however, since McGahee is the only opposition back to
pass the century make in San Diego's last 12 games.
Free safety Eric Weddle and cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason have
all been playmakers with the Chargers but the consistency has not been there.
Manning will test the DBs early and often.
"He looks awfully good to me," Turner said when discussing Manning and whether
his physical skills have declined. "People can start that debate all they want
but he knows how to play the position. He knows how to move the football and
who to throw it to. You don't get style points in this league for spirals or
how hard or far the ball goes. You get points by putting drives together and
Manning, on the other hand, seems to be impressed by the numbers the Chargers
have on defense.
"They play a lot of guys," the veteran said. "That speaks to their depth,
which is impressive. They're flying around, they play fast."
The Broncos' D is a little stingier against the pass thanks to a solid rush
and the aging but still productive Champ Bailey leading their defensive
"I mean he's just a heck of a corner," Rivers said when discussing Bailey. "He
has great instincts and great ball skills. He obviously is super knowledgeable
of the game. He has a great deal of experience. When you watch him on tape he
still matches up with who they seem to think is the top receiver. He's having
a heck of a year."
Matthews showed some juice last week in NOLA and Denver is susceptible to the
run but the Chargers like to exploit what they get with Antonio Gates and the
rangy Malcom Floyd, who are always matchup problems for the opposition thanks
to their size and ball skills.
In his career, Manning has won 11 of his 15 Monday starts and has a 96.3
passer rating in those contests.
"I think everybody's always excited to play in that environment, but I don't
think we need that to get motivated and to get as prepared as we possibly can
for this game because it is a division game," Manning said.
Conversely, Rivers has also been solid on Mondays, compiling a 7-3 mark with
17 touchdowns and a gaudy 105.2 passer rating in those games. Perhaps more
importantly Rivers almost always excels vs. the Broncos. He's 9-3 against
Denver, completing 64.4 percent of his passes and throwing 20 touchdowns --
his most versus any team.
Expect more of the same this time.
"Monday night I expect our fans to have a big part in it," Turner said. "(The
Broncos) are an off-the-line or a no-huddle team and the crowd can affect that
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 27, Broncos 24
10/12 13:44:30 ET