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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Breaking down the Broncos and Chargers

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Thanks to a mailbag question from Adam Tyer of San Diego, I thought I’d breakdown the Broncos and Chargers as they head into a pivotal AFC West game Monday night in San Diego.

The Broncos are 5-0 and lead San Diego (2-2) by 2.5 games. This isn’t a must-win for the Chargers, who always seem to play well when they have to, but it is close. The Chargers have games against Kansas City and Oakland after facing the Broncos, so they can get well in a hurry.

But it won’t be easy. Denver's 5-0 start is not a fluke. The team is much improved. Tyer wanted to know what I thought of Denver and San Diego by position. So, I rated the teams based mostly on 2009 performance. Here's who I think has the advantage at each position.

Quarterback: San Diego

Why: Philip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Kyle Orton has been terrific, but Rivers is a franchise player.

Running backs: Denver

Why: The Chargers are ranked No. 32 in run offense. LaDainian Tomlinson is coming off an injury and has been unproductive. Denver running backs Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno have been very strong.

Wide receivers: Denver

Why: I love Vincent Jackson, but Denver is deeper at the position. Plus, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal are really emerging.

Tight end: San Diego

Why: Antonio Gates is one of the best tight ends in the league. It’s that simple.

Offensive line: Denver

Why: The Broncos have an outstanding line, anchored by superstar left tackle Ryan Clady. The Chargers’ line misses injured center Nick Hardwick.

Defensive line: Denver

Why: I never thought I’d rank Denver’s defensive front over San Diego’s. But Denver’s no-name front three is setting the tone for a great defensive effort. San Diego is really missing tackle Jamal Williams, who is out for the year with a triceps injury.

Linebackers: Denver

Why: If I had to draft a unit, I’d likely take San Diego’s over Denver’s and this rating could change later in the year. But Denver’s defense has been so much better than San Diego’s in the first five games. Elvis Dumervil and D.J. Williams are both making Pro Bowl cases.

Secondary: Denver

Why: The Broncos’ defensive backs have been terrific. San Diego’s pass defense has suffered at times. It’s no contest at this point.

Special teams: San Diego

Why: The Broncos‘ special teams almost cost them the New England game. San Diego has several top notch players on this unit.

Coaching: Denver

Why: So far, the performance by head coach Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan have been the coaching story of the NFL.