The Chargers defense has been hot over the last five weeks, playing a crucial role in the team being undefeated over that stretch.
After turning in arguably its top performance of the year in the Wild Card round against the Cincinnati Bengals, forcing a season-high four turnovers, the unit once again faces a stiff test, this time in the form of the Denver Broncos.
Simply put, Denver has rewritten the record books with a season for the ages. They scored an NFL record 606 points with an NFL record five players – Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (133), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11), Wes Welker (10) -scoring in double figures. It was all made possible thanks to the greatest single season by a quarterback in league history. Peyton Manning set new highs for touchdown passes (55) and yards (5,477) in his second year in the Mile High City, securing the number one overall seed in the AFC.
But for as potent as the Broncos offense has been this year, and as big a test as it will prove to be, the Bolts are not afraid. They have had success against Manning and company this year. Only twice this season has Denver been held under 400 yards of offense, and both of those games came against John Pagano’s defense. Similarly, the Broncos scored less than 30 points on offense just three times, with two of those occurring against San Diego including a season-low 20 on Dec. 12. Thus, the Chargers are hopeful they can replicate those efforts once again, this time in the biggest game of the season.
So what was the key to those standout performances?
“I think the best thing was communication was key to our success,” Pagano said. “I thought the guys really went out there and communicated well. The second level of the plan was we didn’t give up big plays. A lot of our success that we’ve had defensively late in the year is not giving up those big explosive plays. It gives us an opportunity to keep the ball in front of us, and we tackled well. That’s something where when you do those three things defensively, you’ll always be in an opportunity to win.”
“Obviously, they’re built around big plays," he said. “They’re built around wearing you down, getting you to make a mistake and throwing it over your head, or hitting you with a screen. Their personnel, they have five homerun hitters on their offense. So it’s a huge task, but it’s kind of fun.”
Above all else, the Bolts know they need to get to Manning like they have in the past and get him off his spot by making him uncomfortable. He’s known for his intense study habits, and having already played San Diego twice and with 17 previous games on tape, the Bolts know they will have to match him.
You’ve got to do just as much as he is,” said
Overall, the respect the Bolts have for the Broncos offense and Peyton Manning was perhaps best summed up by Pagano.
"Well he is the best,” he said. “He is one of the greatest to ever play our game. It's how we are every Sunday though. We live for moments like that and those types of moments that we can go out as players and play against guys like that and as coaches, being able to coach against teams like that. It's the number one offense. It's the greatest offense to ever play in the National Football League yards wise, production wise. It's a big time challenge in a hostile environment. Our guys are getting their minds right and getting focused on it."