- Eric D. Williams, ESPN San Diego Chargers reporter
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SAN DIEGO -- He's the ultimate game wrecker.
At different points this season, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has referred to playmakers like Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green and Dallas receiver Dez Bryant as game wreckers because of their ability to create game-changing plays regardless of what is schemed defensively.
Well, on Thursday the Chargers will face perhaps the ultimate game wrecker for the second time this season: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
"We are playing the No. 1 offense in the National Football League on the road in a short week," Pagano said. "That is as big a challenge as it gets. Their receivers are the best. They have a great quarterback. They have great runners. Their offensive line plays at a high level.
"When you look at the categories, they are No. 1 in everything. I think that is a challenge in itself of going into Colorado and playing this game. We will make sure we show up."
Pagano is right. The Broncos are No. 1 in points scored (39.6), total yards per contest (465.6), passing yards (341.2), third-down conversions (48.2 percent) and red zone efficiency (78.9 percent.).
Manning has been deftly handling the controls, and he is on track to finish with the most productive season in his 16-year NFL career.
In San Diego earlier this season, the Chargers lost to the Broncos 28-20 but held them to their second-lowest scoring output this year. Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns, taking advantage of a confused San Diego defense that at times failed to get lined up quickly enough, leading to five passing plays of 18 or more yards for the Broncos.
So how will Pagano's defense attempt to stop the high-octane, Manning-led offense this time?
"We have to be able to handle the no-huddle situations and not give them opportunities to where we don't get the call," Pagano said. "The more we keep working it, the better the communication has been at times over the last few weeks. You still have to deal with those mental errors during plays and you have to overcome them."
Manning has received criticism for his inability to produce in cold temperatures. He entered Sunday's home contest against the Tennessee Titans with a 3-8 record in games in which the kickoff temperature was below 32 degrees. But with the temperature at a frigid 16 degrees at game time, Manning completed a franchise-record 39 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns in Denver's 51-28 victory over the Titans.
Afterward, Manning told his critics to stick it where the sun doesn't shine. Manning's performance did not surprise his former offensive coordinator in Denver, San Diego coach Mike McCoy.
Game-time temperature in Denver for Thursday's contest is expected to be in the 20s.
"His name in the NFL speaks for itself," McCoy said. "He's one of the greatest players of all time. He's a great competitor. He's a winner and his record speaks for itself. It has nothing to do with weather."
Along with playing mistake-free football on defense, the Chargers will rely on quarterback Philip Rivers to dictate tempo with his unit's ball-controlled, short passing game.
In the last meeting between the two teams, the Chargers held the ball for over 38 minutes, but scored only 20 points. That can't happen this time.
"Having it for 38 minutes would be great if we could do that on Thursday night," Rivers said. "But we've got to score touchdowns. To me, if you maintain possession of the ball, you've got to still end it with points, and preferably touchdowns against this team.
"I've never gotten too caught up in that stat. But if you score a bunch of points and have the ball a lot, then yes, I think they can go hand-in-hand."
Most of all, San Diego outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said defensively the Chargers have to make Manning earn everything his offense gets Thursday. That means no blown assignments for 74-yard touchdowns like the last game.
"Absolutely, you've got to," Johnson said. "I mean, if you sit back in one coverage and give him time, it's going to be a long day. You've got to be aggressive with him because he's as good as they come.
"If you sit back and play one coverage or play conservative or play scared, it's going to be a long day."
SAN DIEGO -- He's the ultimate game wrecker.At different points this season, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has referred to playmakers like Cincinnati receiver A.