In prime time for the second week in a row, Denver is looking to move past last week’s low-scoring, boredom-inducing loss to the Colts on Thursday Night Football. Now with a long week to prepare, the Broncos come into Week 6’s Monday Night Football matchup facing a Chargers team on the upswing.
Two AFC West rivals sitting in the middle of their division’s standings, the Chargers and Broncos enter Week 6 with similar records, but on different trending paths.
Despite some early injuries to key players on both sides of the ball, the Chargers have won their last two games in high-scoring affairs and look to have figured things out offensively.
On the other hand, the Broncos are riding a two-game losing streak and are looking to turn things around after failing to score a touchdown in the overtime loss to the Colts in Week 5.
With the two teams coming into the contest holding almost the same overall record (Chargers are 3-2, Broncos are 2-3), this first head-to-head contest between them could either create separation or close the gap in the AFC West, a division which so far has largely not produced at the level many expected before the season.
Here are four things to watch for when the Chargers host the Broncos on Monday Night Football:
- Can Wilson and offense get things moving? I think we all recognize that the Denver offense has struggled so far this season. The Broncos’ losses have been largely a result of inefficient offensive play, led by a quarterback who doesn’t seem to have found his rhythm yet in Russell Wilson. Wilson has put up some of the worst numbers in his career in 2022, and the offense has been stagnant through five weeks, averaging only 15 points per game. One issue of particular concern is the Broncos’ red zone efficiency, where they rank last in the league. These issues getting the ball in the end zone culminated in last week’s touchdown-less loss to the Colts. With Wilson now revealed to also be dealing with a strained latissimus dorsi in his shoulder, the offense looks to be in a bad place coming into the matchup, so we’ll have to see whether it ends up being more of the same versus the Chargers, or whether the Broncos will find a way to put the injuries and scoring woes behind them and turn the corner.
- How will the Denver defense handle Herbert? The Chargers have put up big offensive numbers the last few weeks, scoring at least 30 points in each of their last two games. With the running game dormant for the most part (more on that in a minute), much of this offensive production was reliant on the passing game, and this has held up so far. Going into Week 6, Justin Herbert was second in the NFL in passing yards even despite playing through his earlier rib injury, and Los Angeles has a winning record to show for it. But Denver has one of the top defenses in the NFL this season, sitting in the top five in total, scoring and passing defenses. The Broncos' proficiency at keeping opposing teams out of the end zone has kept them in games when the offense couldn’t, as they have not allowed any team this season to record more than 200 total passing yards. So when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, what happens? Will Herbert be able to navigate the pressure and continue to rack up the passing yards and touchdowns? Or will Denver stifle its opponent’s production and keep it a low-scoring affair?
- Can Denver get the run game going? With Wilson playing injured, it’s possible that the Broncos will have to rely more on their running backs, possibly creating a breakthrough opportunity. The Chargers’ run defense has been an Achilles' heel this season, allowing around 130 yards per game (25th in the league). If Denver can take advantage of that weakness, it could prove to be a big game on the ground. So far the Broncos’ rushing corps has suffered its fair share of issues, from Javonte Williams going out for the season with an ACL tear to Melvin Gordon’s fumbling issues, and they haven’t been able to put it all together. But with the possibility that they’ll be called upon more this week against a struggling defense, this could be a chance to find some yardage and make improvements.
- Can L.A. repeat Week 5 rushing numbers? The Chargers run game was virtually nonexistent to start the season but had a breakout performance in Week 5, largely due to Austin Ekeler. The veteran back had 173 rushing yards last week versus the Browns, scoring one rushing and one receiving TD in the win. Considering that Ekeler had been averaging 35 rushing yards per game before then, this was an encouraging sign that he was starting to hit his stride and could perform at last season’s level. And the rest of the team followed suit, putting up 235 total rushing yards, almost matching their season total of 256 yards from the first four games. Facing off against the Broncos' formidable defense, Ekeler and his teammates will face the task of proving that last week’s performance wasn’t a fluke, and that the improved running game is here to stay despite needing a few weeks to ramp up.