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Friday, January 10, 2014
Matchups to watch: Chargers vs. Broncos

By John McTigue

The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos split their regular-season series, with the Broncos scoring one more point in those games combined.

The games show what to watch for Sunday when the two franchises meet for the first time in postseason history.

The Broncos were held to less than 30 points three times this season, including both games against the Chargers. This was accomplished by controlling the clock. San Diego had a 33-minute, 44-second advantage in time of possession against Denver, possessing the ball for 16 more minutes in each game.

Several factors play a part in the time of possession battle.

Chargers’ rushing vs. Broncos’ rush defense
The Chargers are 6-2 (including postseason) against teams that finished the regular season with a winning record, and were able to avenge both losses (to the Bengals and Broncos).

The Chargers did well against winning teams by running the ball frequently. In two games against the Broncos, the Chargers rushed the ball 79 times, with 44 coming in the Week 15 victory.

This was also the Chargers' formula in the wild-card round, as Philip Rivers attempted 16 total passes in the game, his fewest since Week 17 of the 2010 season, a game he didn't even finish.

The Broncos actually did hold the Chargers to 3.9 yards per rush, slightly below the Chargers’ season average (4.0), but Ryan Mathews was the workhorse in those games, and he averaged 4.3 yards on his 43 runs.

The rushing attack wasn’t the only factor in eating up the clock in the game.

Broncos’ offense vs. third down
The Broncos converted 46 percent of their third-down opportunities this season (second in the NFL), but against the Chargers, that figure dropped to 29 percent (22 percent in the Week 15 loss).

Denver dropped back to pass on all of their third-down opportunities against San Diego, and Peyton Manning struggled, going 6-of-15 passing and taking two sacks.

When passes were completed, the Chargers held the Broncos to 3.5 yards after the catch on average. The Broncos averaged nearly twice that against the rest of the NFL (5.8).

The Chargers also did a good job of taking away Demaryius Thomas on those plays. Thomas was Manning’s favorite third-down target this season, but was thrown to only once in two games against the Chargers.

Third downs will be key for Manning, but that’s not the only demon he’ll be battling Sunday.

Manning vs. the postseason
As great as Manning has been in the regular season throughout his career, his postseason numbers aren’t nearly as impressive.

Manning has eight career losses in his first start of the playoffs, twice as many as the next highest quarterbacks (five tied at four).

A lot of this is due to a drop-off in production late in games. Manning has completed 58 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter or overtime in his postseason career, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

In the first three quarters, Manning has completed 65 percent of his passes, with 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.