James Paradis

X-Factors To Watch When Chargers Face Broncos

Created on Jan. 10, 2014 9:25 PM EST

Denver Broncos X-Factor: Knowshon Moreno

Possibly the most important key to the Denver Broncos offense sustaining drives and swinging the ball-control battle to their favor on Sunday is a player whom many thought might be relegated to the practice squad coming into this year, Knowshon Moreno. In the final year of his rookie deal, the former Georgia Bulldog finally had the breakout season that Broncos fans had hoped was possible after he was selected with the 12th pick of the 2009 draft. Posting career bests in rushing (1,038) and receiving yardage (548), receptions (60), and total touchdowns (13), Moreno emphatically announced his arrival in 2013 as an every-down back who has earned the trust of Peyton Manning as a go-to option when Denver needs to move the chains, something the Broncos struggled to do in their last regular-season battle with the Chargers.

Sharing the backfield with emerging rookie Monte Ball, Moreno will need to bring the same conviction and attitude to the run game that he has displayed throughout the year when he faces off this weekend against an improving San Diego Chargers front seven this weekend. The Bolts’ run-stopping unit was immovable in their victory over Denver in Week 15, holding Moreno and Ball to a paltry 18 rushing yards combined, easily their weakest showing of the season.

Expect a much more inspired performance from Moreno this time around. After suffering a knee injury in last season’s bitter playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Moreno underwent offseason surgery that left many wondering if his career was over. Soon to be headed into an offseason of free agency with the younger back Ball breathing down his neck for Denver’s starting role next season, Moreno should be a man possessed when he takes the field at Mile High on Sunday. His fiery demeanor has earned him the title among fans, players and coaches alike as the team’s emotional leader, and it’s that contagious passion that could help power the Broncos to grind out a victory and punch their ticket to the AFC Championship.

San Diego Chargers X-Factor: Mike McCoy

Last month, the Chargers and their bottom-ranked passing defense (per footballoutsiders.com) came into Denver and defeated the Broncos and their historic, top-ranked passing offense, holding them to a season-low in points scored (20). On paper, this game should have been a blowout win for the home team, yet somehow San Diego executed a game script that thwarted the seemingly unthwartable Broncos. It almost appeared as though the Chargers had insider information on how to stall and outwit the game plan formulated by quarterback Peyton Manning and head coach John Fox. It turns out that this may have been true.

Having spent the previous nine years under coach Fox with both the Panthers and Broncos, including last season as the offensive coordinator in a Manning-led system, Chargers first-year head coach Mike McCoy may just be the kryptonite to Denver’s super-powered passing attack. In 2012, he worked hand-in-hand with Manning, gaining an in-depth insight into how he reads opposing defenses and exposes every possible weakness.

Most importantly, McCoy knows how important it is to have Manning on the sidelines, limiting Denver’s possessions and keeping the offense from establishing a rhythm. As good as rejuvenated quarterback Philip Rivers has been this season -- boasting a league-best 69.5% completion percentage -- a winning game plan for the Chargers is likely one that doesn’t involve Rivers going toe-to-toe with Manning in a shootout. Putting this theory into practice in their Week 15 win, McCoy’s Chargers favored a run-first scheme led successfully by Ryan Matthews, the only rusher this year to gain more than 100 yards versus Denver. By lengthening San Diego’s possessions, halting Denver’s run game and exposing the Broncos’ banged-up secondary in the red zone, McCoy devised and executed a game plan that resulted in one of the biggest upsets of the season.

Additionally, McCoy seems to bring a psychological advantage to his team, instilling confidence in his young players that he can once again lead them to victory over his old team. Galvanizing his group behind the mentality that no one believes in their chances to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February, McCoy drove home this sentiment in last week’s postgame locker-room speech, remarking, “It’s us against the world and that’s all we need men.” If McCoy’s team can emerge victorious again on Sunday, the world may begin to believe as well.
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