ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Running back Danny Woodhead already has more receptions in eight games with the San Diego Chargers (49) than had in any of his previous four seasons in the NFL. So if the Denver Broncos are going to slow Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on Sunday, they are going to have to find a way to take away one of his favorite targets -- Woodhead.
In the revamp of the Chargers’ offense under coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Rivers has shortened his pass drops from what was usually seven steps to more five- and three-step drops. Rivers is getting the ball out far more quickly than he once did, and instead of consistently driving the ball down the field, he’s looking for more catch-and-run plays from his receivers.
The result has been a far more efficient Rivers -- a 72.2 percent completion rate after eight games, more than six points higher than his best season, in 2010 -- with fewer mistakes, and a big-play-worthy 8.4 yards per pass attempt. All of that mean Rivers will routinely test the Broncos' linebackers in coverage, and Woodhead will be a big part of that.
The Broncos have had difficulty with tight ends like Dallas' Jason Witten this season -- they have surrendered 51 receptions to opposing tight ends in eight games -- but Woodhead represents the most difficult receiving threat out of the backfield they will have faced this season. Injuries have pushed Woodhead to the forefront of the Chargers’ passing attack. Danario Alexander went on injured reserve in training camp, and the Chargers placed Malcolm Floyd on injured reserve last month because of a neck injury he suffered in Week 2.
Because of all that, Woodhead has been targeted 57 times by Rivers, including 12 times last weekend against the Redskins -- and that’s the second-highest total on the team behind only tight end Antonio Gates’ 66. And it means Denver linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan are going to find themselves in coverage plenty, and how they handle that job will have a lot to say about how things go.
And given Von Miller has had some difficulties in pass coverage, McCoy will likely try to structure some looks to force Miller to have to cover Woodhead out of the backfield. The Broncos have taken Miller off the field at times over the last two games, including in both the base defense as well as some of their specialty looks, when they think the matchup calls for it.
Unlike some running backs, Woodhead can track the ball over his shoulder down the field and doesn’t have to run only routes where he faces the quarterback. It means the Chargers will try to get him the ball almost anywhere on the field, and Woodhead can make a play.