COSTA MESA, Calif. – The Los Angeles Chargers have heard what you’ve heard.
They’ve watched the Denver Broncos’ Thursday night overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a spectacular performance in which the teams combined for zero total touchdowns.
They’ve reviewed film of the Broncos’ offense struggling in the red zone and in the rather important NFL category of, well, scoring.
The Chargers know, too, that Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is posting career-worst marks – 59.4% completed pass attempts, 82.8 passer rating – while now playing with a partially torn latissimus muscle near his throwing shoulder.
But the Chargers explain themselves sufficiently to come across as believable when they say: psychologically and physically, the Broncos are a concern.
The psyche scare?
“If you’re constantly hearing people tell you how bad you’re doing something, or you’re not playing at a certain level, as a competitor and as a person you’re going to want to get it fixed,” two- time Pro Bowl safety Derwin James said Wednesday from his locker. “You’re going to want to change people’s opinions. So I definitely feel like he’s got a fire up under him.
“It definitely makes it more dangerous.”
And the ground-level concern?
“I see a team that easily could be 5-0,” head coach Brandon Staley said. “Real easily could be 5-0.”
The Broncos, at 2-3, have lost games by 1, 9 and 3 points. Game-management decisions have factored in, head coach Nathaniel Hackett hiring a staff member to shore them up.
Denver’s defense has held opponents to 16 points per game (tied for fourth best) despite key injuries, boasting the league’s stiffest passing defense at 176.6 passing yards per game.
And though the Broncos ‘offense has been far less reliable from week to week, a key discrepancy catches the Chargers’ attention: While the Broncos rank second-worst in scoring (15 points per game), they rank 13 slots higher in total production ( 343.6 yards per game).
They are just below average moving the ball by air (19th) and ground (also 19th), finding their Achilles heel largely in red-zone failures and turnovers. The Broncos have converted on 21.4% (3-of-14) of red-zone attempts, worst in the NFL. And they’ve lost six turnovers (T-10th).
“I look at it as they’ve been driving the ball on a lot of teams,” said James, who notched a game-high 14 tackles in last Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns. “Whether it’s fumbling the ball or throwing an interception, they’ve had a lot of chances in the red zone. I’ve seen that on film. They can easily be sitting at a different record, few plays here and there.
“But we’ve got to just come out ready to play. Because Russ, at the end of the day, can still play at a high level. We all know that. “
That philosophy doesn’t merely stem from Wilson’s résumé, which includes Pro Bowls in nine of his 10 career seasons to this point and a Super Bowl title with the Seattle Seahawks. Sure, Staley, James and Co. have seen Wilson extend plays and threaten with arms and legs. They’ve seen him throw for 40 touchdowns as recently as 2020 and lead the Seahawks to top-10 offenses in four of the past five seasons.
But just as important, Staley pairs that history with his belief in what he calls a team or player’s “discovery phase.” A franchise with a new head coach and / or quarterback – much less both, as the Broncos have in Hackett and Wilson – cannot merely arrive at the season opener with an identity. They must “discover” it through meaningful games.
Wilson and top receiver Courtland Sutton, Staley says, will continue to hone their chemistry. Running back Melvin Gordon and the Broncos’ battered offensive line will continue to learn each other’s run fit preferences. And as the system gradually settles, the Broncos will find increasing alignment to decrease turnovers.
An already productive unit will discover efficiency.
“The fact is, the players are good enough,” Staley said. “I know they have the stuff to do it, it’s just early in the season. They’re making their improvements and are very dangerous. That’s what we look at on film.
“It may not have happened yet, but it is all there to happen. So we’ve got to make sure we’re ready. “
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein