Tue, Jan 19, 2016

Matchups to Watch: Bolts vs. Broncos, Take Two

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OLB Melvin Ingram. Photo by Shana Siler, SDBoltReport.com.

Sitting at 4-11, it's difficult to imagine the 2015 season could actually be worse. But with one game remaining and a move to Los Angeles imminent, the torture of this year is not over yet.

The Chargers, having had 10 days to prepare for this game, have the advantage of time against a Denver team coming of an overtime win a few days ago on Monday Night Football. Still, with playoff seeding still at stake for the Broncos, and with a rash of injuries that has further depleted the Chargers' already thin stock of players, it's unfathomable that the Chargers are going to grasp their first AFC West win of the season.

RT Joe Barksdale vs. OLB Von Miller

When the Chargers faced the Broncos about a month ago, Philip Rivers had one of his worst games of the season. Rivers -- who was 18-of-35 for 202 yards and an interception --was harassed on seemingly every play against the Broncos. With TE Ladarius Green placed on injured-reserve this week and WR Stevie Johnson (groin) questionable, Rivers is almost certain to struggle against Denver's Pro Bowl cornerbacks, making it critical for the struggling offensive line to step up.

If Rivers has chance to remain upright, it's going to be because of the play of RT Joe Barksdale. Barksdale, the iron man of the Chargers' musical chairs O-line, has played well beyond expectations.

Barksdale has been by far the team's best pass blocker, grading at an 80.0 or higher by Pro Football Focus in all but three games despite allowing seven sacks, the second-most of his five-year career.

Also, despite facing edge rushers like Khalil Mack, Tamba Hali, Olivier Vernon and Von Miller over the past five weeks, his play has not dropped off much, at least according to PFF, which has his pass-blocking grade dropping from an 86.5 to an 83.3 since Week 12.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, Barksdale may be their only good offensive lineman, as proven by how terrible the offensive line has performed overall.

According to PFF, the Chargers have allowed 266 pressures, the most pressures given up by a team since PFF started recording stats in 2007. Last week against Oakland, the O-line continued to do a terrible job. Despite allowing just one sack, the O-line still gave up six pressures to Khalili Mack alone; as good as Mack is, Von Miller is better.

In his first year in Wade Phillips' aggressive 3-4 defense, Miller is thriving, adding 10 sacks and four forced fumbles on his way to a Pro Bowl selection.

"There's no special thing that he does. He's just a special player," said OT Chris Hairston of Miller. "There's no secret to his pass rush moves. He's just really good."

Last time the Chargers and Broncos faced off, Miller dominated Hairston, accounting for two of Denver's four sacks and adding three hits and a hurry. And that was without the assistance of fellow Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware, who has accounted for 6.5 sacks despite only playing 10 games.

Barksdale is San Diego's best chance at containing Miller, but considering how bad the rest of the line is, it may not make much of a difference.

OLB Melvin Ingram vs. RT Michael Schofield

Since facing the Broncos last, the Chargers' defense as found new life, allowing just 16 points per game. A bunch of lineup tweaks have contributed to this turnaround, including injuries to cornerback Brandon Flowers and nose tackle Sean Lissemore, as well as the ascension of rookie middle linebacker Denzel Perryman. Still, one aspect of the defense that can't be overlooked is the improved play of pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu, who have combined for 7.0 sacks in the last four games.

Against Denver four games ago, I questioned Ingram's effort and potential as pass rusher primarily working against mediocre right tackle Michael Schofield. Since then, however, Ingram has added 5.5 sacks, bringing his season total to 9.5, a career-high and tied for 11th best in the league.

Considering Ingram had only managed four sacks in the first 11 games of the season, this is a significant improvement. This improvement has been noticed by PFF, who has given Ingram a 83.2 overall player grade --18th best among all edge defenders and up from 73.7 at the beginning of the year.

Still, when Ingram last faced Schofield, he didn't have much success against the second-year tackle out of Michigan. Schofield was able to contain Ingram on most pass plays, and while he did give up a sack because of a nifty move by Ingram, he proved to be a worthy adversary.

Overall, however, Schofield has been a mediocre tackle at best. In 12 starts this season, Schofield has allowed 10 sacks, earning an atrocious PFF overall player grade of 34.6.

In his second matchup, hopefully the improved Ingram will find more success against Schofield.

S Adrian Philips vs. TE Owen Daniels

With former All-Pro safety Eric Weddle and special teams standout Darrell Stuckey both placed on injured reserve this week, the Chargers find themselves incredibly thin at safety. Considering the Bolts released Jimmy Wilson a couple of weeks backs, they are left with starter Jahleel Addae; the recently signed Matt Daniels and Brandian Ross; and the first-year player Adrian Phillips.

Phillips, who will likely get the start for Weddle, has been a practice squad mainstay with the Bolts for the past two years. Phillips has been used sparingly this season, appearing on only 15.6 percent of the defense's snaps, per Football Outsiders, and has managed only 16 combined tackles in eight games.

Last week against Oakland, Phillips got his first significant snaps of the year, playing on 47 defensive plays in relief of the injured Weddle. Phillips wracked up two solo tackles against the Raiders, earning a better-than-expected 72.8 overall player rating from PFF.

"Everyone else who came in who didn't have a lot of playing time throughout the season came in and filled in well," Addae said.

Still very much an unknown, it will be interesting to see Phillips matched up against Denver's tight end platoon of Vernon Davis, Virgil Green and Owen Daniels.

While all thee of Denver's tight ends get snaps, the most productive so far as been Daniels.

Daniels, who has a solid 10-year career following head coach Gary Kubiak from Texans to the Ravens and now the with Broncos, has hauled in 478 receptions for 5,646 and 36 touchdowns while maintaining a decent 11.8 yards per reception, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2008 and 2012.

While his first year with Denver has been statistically the worst since his rookie season, Daniels has still amassed 502 yards and three touchdowns, both third amongst Denver receivers behind wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

Also, despite being 33 years old, the former Wisconsin Badger can still have an impact. Last week in an overtime victory over the Bengals on Monday Night Football, Daniels caught seven receptions for 70 yards.

Owens, a wily veteran at the tail-end of his career, should provide a solid litmus test for Phillips, who just hasn't played enough to be accurately evaluated at this point. Given Weddle is likely leaving in the offseason, Phillips' play could impact how GM Tom Telesco evaluates the need at safety going into next season.

Can Joe Barksdale keep Philip Rivers upright? Talk about it inside our new message boards!

A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter @TrentNotDilfer

Adrian Phillips, Brandian Ross, Chris Hairston, Darrell Stuckey, Eric Weddle, Jeremiah Attaochu, Jimmy Wilson, Joe Barksdale, Ladarius Green, Matt Daniels, Melvin Ingram, Philip Rivers, Stevie Johnson
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