Blueprint for beating Broncos may start in backfield

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Hillman, left, may face jail time.

DENVER — The Denver Broncos can be beaten. But we knew that going into Thursday night.

The 2013 San Diego Chargers now know it too. But it’s not exactly news to them, either. With a 6-2 record in Denver over the last eight years, they’re one of the few teams that has consistently looked comfortable in the Mile High City.

And in the process of downing the Broncos 27-20 Thursday night, the Chargers revealed a blueprint for beating the AFC’s top team. It, too, is not going to blow your mind.

  1. Rely on the Broncos to start slow
  2. Hold onto the ball
  3. Get Peyton Manning off the field

It seems simple. But is it simple enough to replicated?

It’s now starting to seem logical to expect the Broncos to put themselves in an early hole, considering they’ve now trailed at the end of the first half or early in the third quarter in nine out of 14 games this season.

But after a more thorough examination, it seems the Chargers may be uniquely qualified to accomplish step No. 2.

With three capable running backs, The Chargers know how to hold on to the ball. Their average time of possession per game this season is 33 minutes, 15 seconds, which is the top mark in the league. On Thursday night, they continued their dominance in that category, holding the ball over 38 minutes while the Broncos held it for under 22 minutes.

San Diego did that by running the ball, coming up with 177 rushing yards. The Broncos, meanwhile, had just 18 yards on the ground.

And that, more than anything, seems to have allowed the Chargers accomplish step No. 3: keeping Peyton Manning off the field.

That’s right. For as much as this team has leaned on Manning this season, lived by the mantra that “as long as we have him, we have a chance,” the Chargers may have proven that you beat Denver by stopping the other guy in the Broncos backfield.

It turns out that guy — whether it be Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson or (heaven forbid) Ronnie Hillman — is a lot easier to stop than Manning.

It’s no discredit to Moreno, who has been a workhorse this year, carrying the ball 224 times for 939 yards and 10 touchdowns. But 14 games into a season is about the time overused backs break down. And considering Denver’s three backups have combined to produce about half of what he has on the ground, Moreno, who has already suffered one ankle injury, may be getting dangerously close to his breaking point.

The Broncos have given us a “Next man up” line each and every time the team has needed to insert a fresh body into their lineup. They’ve also given us the “No plan B” line when it comes to their strategy at quarterback behind Manning.

It seems like the Broncos’ approach at running back might be somewhere in between: They appear to have capable backups at the position, it just doesn’t appear they have a whole lot of confidence in them.

That stance may have to change in the coming weeks. Otherwise confidence about Denver’s ability to make a Super Bowl run might start fading too.

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