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COVID-compromised Broncos aim to snap two-game skid vs. Chargers

Vic Fangio might need wins in last two games to secure job
Broncos Raiders Football
Posted at 6:42 PM, Jan 01, 2022

LOS ANGELES — Rivers Lake provides a glistening portrait in front of SoFi Stadium. Ducks swim gently across the water, creating moments of serenity.

It exists as a juxtaposition to the Broncos week. They lost 12 players to COVID-19, including seven starters, among them Bradley Chubb, Bryce Callahan, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick. The Broncos will lean on their third-string right tackle Quinn Bailey with the protocols leaving Bobby Massie and Calvin Anderson unavailable.

So it is that the Broncos called up 12 players from the practice squad. And you know who cares? No one. The NFL is about as sympathetic as a parking ticket. Wins measure success, and injuries, and over the past two seasons, illness are 100 percent certainties.

Can the Broncos navigate the issues and find a way to pull off the upset with coach Vic Fangio perhaps needing victories in his final two games to secure his job? My Denver7 keys:

Run it up
The Broncos' run game last week was an embarrassment, totaling 18 yards. It dropped the Broncos from ninth in rushing (123.8) to 19th (116.7). The Broncos ran for 147 yards in a win earlier this season against the Chargers. Finding lanes for Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon is priority one.

Ready, set, action
To run is to win for the Broncos. All seven of their wins have boasted at least 30 rushing attempts. It also sets up play action for Drew Lock. Lock is solid in these situations. With Jerry Jeudy out, Courtland Sutton could produce a breakththrough game. He is in a slump, with no touchdowns and two catches per game over the last two months.

Hold the line
With Bailey at tackle, the Broncos need to protect him with heavy sets, using the tight ends and running backs to chip in obvious passing situations. The Broncos' pass blocking has been problematic all year. Denver has allowed 38 sacks, ranking 23rd. The Chargers will take chances, and the Broncos must help out Bailey. Having center Lloyd Cushenberry back should help communication upfront.

Master of disguise
Justin Herbert against a Fangio defense is like me on "Jeopardy" — a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers. Herbert is 1-2 vs. Fangio with six touchdowns and four interceptions. Pat Surtain II picked him off twice this season. Getting pressure is key even with a mismash of linebackers. It might require some blitzes. The Broncos have sacked Herbert seven times, most of any opponent.

Line it up
The Broncos linebackers are compromised. Micah Kizer likely will start opposite of Jonas Griffith, a budding stalwart based on his last performance. These two need to play under control and smart. Austin Ekeler will create issues, and must be corralled in space.

Stars align
The playoffs are lost. I don't want to hear about the 25 things that need to go right. The Broncos squandered their chance with defeats to the Bengals and Raiders. This is about pride. And if the team cares about Fangio, their effort will reflect this. The stars — Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Surtain, the running backs, Sutton — need to play well to give Denver a chance.

Let it loose
The Broncos need a philosophical shift offensively. They have become too conservative. They don't make enough plays. They are averaging 19.9 points per game, worse than a year ago. So, I would like to see embattled coordinator Pat Shurmur give Lock a few deep shots. What do you have to lose besides more games?

TROY'S PREDICTION: Chargers 27, Broncos 18