The blueprint to beating the Broncos was drafted by the San Diego Chargers.

It's not particularly complicated: Use a physical offensive line to control the trenches, run the ball with authority, convert third downs and, ultimately, keep the ball out of the hands of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, the likely NFL MVP.

On Dec. 12, the Chargers' scheme worked just as it was drawn up when they came to Sports Authority Field at Mile High and shocked the Broncos 27-20. It will be up to Denver's suspect defense — ranked 19th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed — to disrupt the Chargers' formula in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game.

"As a defense, we just have to go out there and stop the run, stop them from getting second-and-short, third-and-short and get (quarterback) Philip Rivers off his spot where he wants to pass," defensive end Malik Jackson said. "And I think once we do that, we kind of get that going, we should be good as a defense."

In the Chargers' victory, they played keep-away from Manning, controlling the clock for almost 39 minutes. The Broncos' offense, the most prolific in NFL history with 606 points scored, averaged 12 drives per game during the season. But on that Thursday night, the Broncos were limited to nine possessions.

Rivers completed only 12-of-20 passes for 166 yards, but it didn't matter, because handing off the ball was San Diego's most effective strategy. Running back Ryan Mathews rumbled for 127 yards on 29 carries, becoming the only running back to top 100 yards against the Broncos all season. Moreover, the Chargers gained 103 yards on first down, making it easier to convert on third downs. San Diego was 6-for-12 on third downs, compared with the Broncos' dismal 2-for-9 performance.

Denver's defenders, of course, have endured multiple screenings of that loss, and they've listened to their coaches' strong-worded critiques. They insist they know what needs to be done Sunday.

"Get off the field on third down," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "They were like 50 percent (converting), and that was the key. Anytime you play a good running team, if you're not off the field on third down then they can just continue to keep running the ball and control the clock."

There was another factor at play that Thursday night that doesn't show up on the stats page. Namely, the Broncos appeared flat and failed to match the Chargers' intensity.