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Containing Allen holds key to Broncos upsetting Chargers

Surtain likely will follow star receiver some in coverage
Chargers Patriots Football
Posted at 1:18 PM, Dec 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-07 15:18:19-05

ENGLEWOOD — The reality of adequacy clobbers the Broncos over the head. They are 6-6, the definition of average, yet it comes with context for a team that has not posted a winning season since 2016. What happens over the final five weeks matter. The goal is clear: a playoff berth, Though 9-8 could create optimism and momentum for the future.

However, there is a path to the postseason. Of their final five opponents, four have a losing record. The opportunity stares the Broncos in the face, even if the Broncos have never won in SoFi in four attempts – three against the Chargers and an embarrassing defeat to the Rams – and dropped nine of their last 10 to the Raiders.

The Broncos must win one of their next two to keep the playoff dream alive, and frankly the preference for the victory is against the Chargers because AFC record is the first tiebreaker and Denver is 3-5.

So, it brings us to Sunday. And while much has been made about the importance of the Broncos’ making a run through the air – Russell Wilson must diversify and find Jerry Jeudy more against a pass defense ranked 31st – stopping the Chargers passing game remains paramount. The Chargers have been a lot of things this season, namely heartbreaking with five losses by three points or less, but their passing offense is strong.

How the Broncos deal with the combination of Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen will go a long way in determining if Denver can pull off the upset.

“I think Justin Herbert has one of the best arms in the league, and 13 (Allen) leads the league in every receiving statistic,” linebacker Alex Singleton said. “Eliminate them from the game and then see what happens.”

Remember how much Minnesota’s Joshua Dobbs leaned on tight end T.J. Hockenson? No one has relied on a receiver more than Herbert has Allen. He boasts 48 receptions since week 9, most in the NFL. He has been targeted 138 times.

It means that this needs to be a Pat Surtain II special. He will not guard Allen on every play, but it seems likely he will move around as he did with Stephon Diggs and Jordan Addison. Allen will get catches. That much is certain. The Broncos need to limit the explosives. The Texans riddled the secondary with big catches from Nico Collins, who found mismatches when miscommunication surfaced. If that repeats against the Chargers, Allen will punish Denver. Of the 12 games, Allen has posted a 20-yard reception in 11 games, and a 30-yard reception four times.

Safety Justin Simmons paid Allen an eye-opening compliment, referencing the nuances and knowledge of Allen to Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce.

“He’s very Kelce-esque. Not comparing them by any means, I just mean he’s so knowledgeable on defensive formations and the tendencies and what we’re looking to execute on plays,” Simmons said. “He’s really good at finding the zones, beating man coverage, and Justin does a good job of finding him, knowing where the pressure is coming from or if we’re laying back in a zone, they’re both really in tune. That’s why I was alluding to the Kelce thing.”

While Allen has made an All-Pro argument, he is coming off arguably his least-productive game. The Patriots found a way to neutralize Allen – as is Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s wont – as he finished with five catches for 58 yards on nine targets. He also failed to post a 20-yard reception – 16 was his long – for the first time this season. But do not believe for a second that the Broncos believe Allen will be anything but a handful on Sunday.

Preventing an explosive play holds the key to preventing playoff hopes from imploding.

“He’s consistently been extremely productive. (Offensive coordinator) Joe Lombardi, who was the coordinator there for the past few years, talks about him. He’s smart, savvy and has good hands. You start checking these boxes, and then you put him with a quarterback. They go to him on third down. The hit chart shows up everywhere if you just look at his dots. He’s outside, and he’s inside. He’s certainly going to test your zone coverages,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said. “He’s a special player. I think with the injury to [Chargers WR Mike] Williams and a few other things, all of a sudden, those targets may have gone up even a little bit more because of some of the depth challenges. It’s impressive to watch.”