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NFL Preview - Denver (7-1) at San Diego (4-4)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - The logistics have changed a bit, but the goal remains the same.

If first-year San Diego coach Mike McCoy wants to impress his former boss - Denver's John Fox - he's got a perfect opportunity to do so, by beating his former employer on Sunday.

The only thing that's different is that Fox won't be there to see it first hand.

The veteran NFL coach will likely be absent several weeks after undergoing an open-chest surgical procedure that followed an episode of lightheadedness he experienced while playing golf during the Broncos' bye in Week 9. He ultimately had an aortic valve replaced and will be on the shelf during recovery while defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio - himself a former NFL coach in Jacksonville - takes the helm.

Del Rio and McCoy were coordinators on Fox's Denver staff last season before McCoy accepted the head coaching position with the Chargers.

The San Diego side took a frustrating hit last week when it dropped a 30-24 overtime decision at Washington after failing to get in the end zone for the winning TD from the 1-yard line in the final 20 seconds of regulation.

The Chargers misfired on two passes and were stopped short on a run, which prompted them to settle for a chip-shot field goal to force the extra session. The Redskins won the toss, got the OT kickoff and went down the field for a touchdown - ending the game before San Diego got the ball.

McCoy was under fire for the play calls in the final stretch - calls made by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt - but he steadfastly refused to hang his assistant out to dry for the decisions.

"I'm not questioning what we did. We're not questioning that," McCoy said. "This is a team game. It's the San Diego Chargers' organization. And I'm not questioning any of the calls. We did what we thought was best to win the football game and we're moving on."

In reality, the responsibility likely lies more on the defense.

Washington converted 12 of 17 first-down opportunities against the Chargers and compiled exactly 500 yards of total offense. In two games last season, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning threw six touchdown passes while recording 35-24 and 30-23 wins.

For his sake, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is experiencing a renaissance under McCoy and leads the league with a 72.2-percent completion rate - Manning's is 71.2 - while his passer rating of 106.5 is third-best in the NFL.

In the 2012 games against the Broncos, Rivers threw six interceptions. This year's Denver defense is tied for the NFL with 13 picks.

"Every loss is hard to get over. It feels like you die," center Nick Hardwick said. "But we have to get over it quickly. We need to get a good week of work in and get ready to play Denver and play our best game of football to date."

Regardless of coach, the Broncos seem prepared to continue their roll.

Denver is leading the league in points scored and is ahead of the league- record pace for a full season established by the unbeaten 2007 New England Patriots. Manning is also on track to establish records in both passing yards and TD throws.

He's spread the wealth to a plethora of targets, including Wes Welker (50 catches), Demaryius Thomas (685 receiving yards), Eric Decker (669 yards) and tight end Julius Thomas (eight TD catches).

"The main part is, everyone needs to be on the same page," Demaryius Thomas said. "You've got to have everyone on the field knowing what they're doing all the time."

That mindset will certainly help during the Fox-Del Rio transition period.

"Nothing changes," wide receiver Andre Caldwell said. "It's just a different co-pilot. It's just a different guy saying the same words."

Del Rio agreed.

"This is coach Fox's team," he said. "I'm merely the person that's able to keep it running right now while he's healing."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Who's the Manning?

Though the league's most visible quarterback struggled - in the eyes of some - in the last few games before the bye week, he's got at least a statistical chance to right the ship this weekend. The Broncos don't typically break under defensive pressure (allowing just 11 sacks this season), and, conveniently, the Chargers aren't so good at bringing it (tied for 21st in the league in sacks). Add in the fact that San Diego is better than just five teams when it comes to defending the pass and it looks like video game potential for Denver's passer.

Familiarity breeds success.

McCoy spent his previous four seasons collecting a paycheck from the Broncos organization, including as the team's offensive coordinator in 2012. He's breathed new life into the career of Rivers thus far in 2013 and will no doubt see familiar schemes on the Denver defense now that coordinator Del Rio is serving as the team's interim head coach.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

All signals seem to point to a shootout on the West Coast, given the fact that both teams are offense first and defense second.

With that the case, it often comes down to which team - and specifically which quarterback - makes the fewest mistakes. Manning would be the choice over pretty much anyone this season and that doesn't figure to change here.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Broncos 35, Chargers 24

11/07 12:34:34 ET

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