4:05 PM ET, December 14, 2014
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
The Denver Broncos have found their way out of a brief slump with an apparent philosophical shift.
The San Diego Chargers are hoping to avoid a hangover after one of their worst offensive performances of the season.
Denver looks to clinch a fourth straight division title Sunday at San Diego, which is trying to stay alive in a crowded AFC playoff picture.
The Broncos (10-3) can wrap up another AFC West championship with a win or a tie, and they could clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory and help from other teams.
Peyton Manning's stretch of 51 straight games with at least one touchdown pass ended in last Sunday's 24-17 win over Buffalo. He went 14 of 20 for 173 yards with two interceptions.
The Broncos capitalized on all three of their red-zone possessions with TD runs by C.J. Anderson. They had eight touchdowns on 19 red-zone opportunities over the previous four games.
"Those are hard-earned runs down there. It was good to improve our red zone (efficiency)," Manning said.
Anderson ranks second in the NFL with 512 rushing yards since Week 10 and Denver is averaging 36.3 carries during its three-game winning streak, compared 18.0 in the previous three as the Broncos went 1-2. Manning averaged 40.7 attempts through the 7-3 start, but that number has dipped to 29.7 over the last three.
"At the end of the day it's all about `Ws,'" Anderson said.
The passing attack has drawn some concern for its recent lack of effectiveness. Manning ranked third in the league with 8.1 yards per attempt in his first 10 games, but he's 22nd in the NFL over his last three at 6.8.
Sunday marked the 11th time in 253 career regular-season starts Manning threw 20 or fewer passes, and the first since Jan. 3, 2010, with Indianapolis.
"Let me just say that I can't think of another quarterback that I'd rather have than Peyton Manning," coach John Fox said. "We remind everybody that whether it's two weeks, three weeks, at the end of the day we're not done with our body of work yet. We're just trying to win games. We've been blessed to win three in a row.
"We'll lean on whatever we have to lean on. We're just trying to be efficient at both."
Demaryius Thomas has been limited to eight catches for 74 yards over his last two games while nursing an ankle injury.
The expected return of tight end Julius Thomas could help Manning. His 12 receiving TDs are tied for the most in the NFL despite missing the last three games with an ankle injury of his own.
Manning has been excellent in going 4-1 versus San Diego since joining the Broncos in 2012, averaging 296.8 passing yards with 15 TD passes and three picks. He was 25 of 35 for 286 yards and three TDs in a 35-21 home win in Week 8.
Two games behind Denver and among nine AFC teams with exactly seven or eight wins, the Chargers (8-5) may need to win out to make the playoffs. Their three-game winning streak was snapped in last Sunday's 23-14 home loss to New England, held to 216 yards for their second-lowest total of the season.
Philip Rivers explained to the Chargers' official website why the team wasn't overly bothered by the loss.
"I think it's our veteran leaders and then we have a lot of young guys who are eager to follow," he said. "We fight and care for one another, and love one another. We're going to rebound and bounce back, and play like crazy (Sunday)."
Rivers' second-quarter pass to Malcom Floyd marked San Diego's only offensive touchdown. The Chargers were shut out in the second half, tallying negative-four yards rushing after running 12 times for 57 yards in the first.
There could be added pressure on Rivers if Ryan Mathews is unable to go. Mathews, who has rushed for 259 yards and 5.1 per carry in four games since missing seven with a knee problem, hasn't been practicing this week due to an ankle injury suffered last Sunday.
Coach Mike McCoy, though, is hopeful Mathews can play even with a lack of practice.
"He's played plenty of football in his career and he knows what to do," said McCoy, Denver's offensive coordinator from 2010-12. "And he's been in the system for the two years we've been here together."
Rivers, three TD passes shy of becoming the 17th player in league history with 250, was sacked a season-high four times and hurried five other times. The pressure won't let up this week against the Broncos, whose 38 sacks are tied for fourth in the NFL. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware rank among the league's top 10 with 13 and 10 sacks, respectively.
The Chargers signed two-time Pro Bowler Mat McBriar on Tuesday to take over punting duties after Mike Scifres suffered a broken clavicle against the Patriots. McBriar has averaged 45.1 yards per punt over 10 seasons split between Dallas, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Denver has won four of five in San Diego.
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|Avg Points Allowed||.7||1.6|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||DEN|
|Rush Yds Allowed||DEN|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Denver leads 16-13|
|Oct 23, 2014||DEN 35, SD 21|
|Jan 12, 2014||DEN 24, SD 17|
|Dec 12, 2013||DEN 20, SD 27|
|Nov 10, 2013||DEN 28, @SD 20|
|Nov 18, 2012||DEN 30, SD 23|
|Oct 15, 2012||DEN 35, @SD 24|
|Nov 27, 2011||DEN 16, @SD 13|
|Oct 9, 2011||DEN 24, SD 29|
|Jan 2, 2011||DEN 28, SD 33|
|Nov 22, 2010||DEN 14, @SD 35|
|Nov 22, 2009||DEN 3, SD 32|
|Oct 19, 2009||DEN 34, @SD 23|
|Dec 28, 2008||DEN 21, @SD 52|
|Sep 14, 2008||DEN 39, SD 38|
|Dec 24, 2007||DEN 3, @SD 23|
|Oct 7, 2007||DEN 3, SD 41|
|Dec 10, 2006||DEN 20, @SD 48|
|Nov 19, 2006||DEN 27, SD 35|
|Dec 31, 2005||DEN 23, @SD 7|
|Sep 18, 2005||DEN 20, SD 17|
|Dec 5, 2004||DEN 17, @SD 20|
|Sep 26, 2004||DEN 23, SD 13|
|Nov 16, 2003||DEN 37, SD 8|
|Sep 14, 2003||DEN 37, @SD 13|
|Dec 1, 2002||DEN 27, @SD 30|
|Oct 6, 2002||DEN 26, SD 9|
|Nov 11, 2001||DEN 26, SD 16|
|Oct 21, 2001||DEN 10, @SD 27|
The Chargers rushed 44 times for 177 yards in their 1 win against the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. They've been held under 100 rush yards in 4 of their 5 losses.[+]
Chargers Rushing vs Broncos - Last 3 Seasons (Including Playoffs)
Peyton Manning was 4-5 against the Chargers as a member of the Colts, including 0-2 in the playoffs. Manning is 5-1 against the Chargers since joining the Broncos, which includes a playoff win.[+]
Peyton Manning Career vs Chargers (Including Playoffs)
The Broncos offense has shifted gears into a run-heavy attack the last 3 weeks, as they've averaged almost 100 more rush yards per game than they did the 1st 10 games of the season.[+]
Broncos Rushing This Season
Peyton Manning is 15-1 against the AFC West since joining the Broncos in 2012, the best record by any quarterback in divisional games in the last three seasons. Since the 1970 NFL/AFL Merger, Manning's 15-1 record is the the fourth best by any quarterback with at least 10 divisional starts in a three-year span (ELIAS).[+]
Best W-L in Divisional Games - 3-Year Span Since 1970 Merger (Min. 10 Starts)
Peyton Manning has been held under 200 passing yards in back-to-back games for the 1st time since 2009 (Weeks 16-17). That was also the last time Manning was held without a pass TD in back-to-back games, something he has a chance to do Sunday after snapping a streak of 51 straight games with a pass TD in Week 14. What happened in those 2 games? That season the Colts were 14-0 and pulled Manning early in each of his last 2 games. Manning has never gone 3 straight games without at least 200 years passing.
Philip Rivers has thrown 12 TD and just 1 Int against the blitz this season. He went 7-of-8 with a TD against the blitz in Week 8 against the Broncos.[+]
Philip Rivers was 0-for-3 in the first quarter. The last time he didn't have a first quarter completion was 2006 (Week 16 vs. Seahawks).
Peyton Manning faced at least 5 pass rushers on 10-of-21 dropbacks Sunday (47.6%), his 2nd-highest percentage in a game this season (Week 1 vs Colts, 48.6%). Manning was 6-of-9 for 144 yards and a TD against the blitz, averaging 16.0 yards per attempt - his highest yards per attempt average against the blitz since joining the Broncos (minimum 3 attempts).
Philip Rivers was 24-of-41 for 232 yards, a TD and 2 Int Sunday. Rivers was 15-of-24 (62.5%) on throws 5 yards downfield or shorter, tied for his lowest completion percentage on short throws in a game this season. Rivers was 9-of-17 with 2 Int on throws deeper than 5 yards downfield, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt - almost 4 yards shy of his season average (10.1). Rivers did not complete a pass in the 1st quarter (0-for-3), the 1st time since Weeks 15 and 16 of 2006 Rivers did not complete a 1st-quarter pass.
Demaryius Thomas caught 6-of-11 targets for 123 yards and a TD. - Thomas has caught half his targets (8-of-16) in the last 2 weeks, well below his 63.8 catch percentage from Weeks 1-13. - Thomas also had three catches that gained at least 25 yards Sunday, tied for the 2nd-most in a game in his career. Thomas had 4 25-yard receptions in Week 5 of 2012 against the Patriots.
From Elias: The Broncos have won 12 straight divisional road games, tied for the longest streak in NFL history.[+]
Most Consecutive Wins - Divisional Road Games
ESPN Stats & Information