SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Outside linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. have never lost an AFC West road game. Think on that a minute. In five years, the Broncos are 15-0. When they fell last at Oakland in 2010, the Black Eyed Peas boasted a No. 1 single with “The Time” and no App was hotter than Angry Birds.
Harris offers a simple explanation for the dominance.
“We treat these as championship games,” said Harris, who has enjoyed some of his best moments at Qualcomm Stadium. “That’s how we approach it.”
This week takes on added significance because of unanticipated chaos. Coach Gary Kubiak left an NFL stadium by ambulance for the second time in three years last Sunday. Doctors diagnosed him with a complex migraine and prescribed medication and rest, a far better situation than the mini-stroke he suffered in 2013. Kubiak plans to return to work Monday, the latest incident disconcerting, but not expected to prevent him from coaching in the future.
Joe DeCamillis, who has nearly three decades experience as an elite special teams coach, takes over as the interim. It offered the most seamless disruption in a one-week scenario, according to general manager John Elway. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips admitted the team must manage the distraction, but they will have motivation.
“He's meant so much to this team and is the reason we won a Super Bowl. So we're going to do something for him," Phillips said. "We are going to play this game for him."
The road back is paved with tough wins in visiting stadiums. Here are my Take 5 keys for the Broncos to rebound:
Trust in Trevor
No one can dispute rookie Paxton Lynch’s athleticism. But he needs more seasoning in the offense as last Sunday laid bare. Trevor Siemian is better for the team right now. He stores film study onto a flash drive that he accesses quickly in his mind on game day. Siemian is 4-0 as a starter. He makes good decisions, will bring back the vertical routes and reintroduce the tight ends to the passing attack. The Chargers pass defense ranks 27th in the league. The Broncos must protect Siemian. His durability was a real concern even before Tampa Bay’s Clinton McDonald body slammed him to the turf.
You can’t hide from the run
Denver’s rush attack dissolved over the past three games. They have dropped from fourth (140.1) to 16th in the rankings at 101.4. They find themselves in a tricky spot. They need to remain committed to it longer, suffering through short gains to set up C.J. Anderson in the second half. He gets better with more carries, but has been a non-factor late in recent games. The return of tight end Donald Stephenson at right tackle – Ty Sambrailo was benched last week and graded out as the league’s worst at his position by Pro Football Focus – and Virgil Green at tight end should help tremendously.
“We need to be physical,” Green said.
Stop the run
Melvin Gordon has rebounded in his sophomore season. Viewed with skepticism as a rookie, all he does is score touchdowns. He has six in five games. What made the Falcons dangerous is they played offense in base personnel. It kept the Broncos from substituting to nickel – leaving Bradley Roby a spectator – while isolating linebackers Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall in space against more talented running backs. With Danny Woodhead out, it shouldn’t be a problem Thursday.
Force Rivers to move around
When Philip Rivers steps into his throws, he remains amazing. He fires from all angles, taking chances. The key is to generate pressure up the middle. Get him off his spot with his front foot. He’s much less effective when moving laterally. And don’t get caught up in his head games. The Broncos have more important issues than talking more trash than waste management icon Tony Soprano.
Start fast, stay strong
The Broncos will find a friendly crowd at Qualcomm. Look for there to be at least 40 percent Broncos fans. Give them something to roar about while creating a buzz kill for the Chargers. Denver has started slowly and poorly this season. The Broncos have allowed 24 points on first drives. Denver, meanwhile, has scored one touchdown in the first quarter. This trend bit them against the Falcons, and will leave them vulnerable to an upset Thursday if not corrected.
Play for Kubes
Gary Kubiak is universally respected by players. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He is transparent, a leader of men through honesty and character. The best way to reward Kubiak is to play like they do for him: with passion, energy and relentlessness. Bringing him home a game ball should be a top priority.
Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.