INGLEWOOD, Calif. — It may yet be early but there are reasons to believe the Broncos’ season is on the brink.
Begin with they are sputtering with two losses in a row to drop their record to 2-3. What would a third consecutive loss Monday night to the Los Angeles Chargers do the Broncos’ playoff hopes? Not only would they be in a 2-4 hole, but they would be 1-3 inside the AFC and 0-2 in the AFC West – which would hurt their divisional tiebreaker scenarios should the Broncos happen to get it together in the second half and finish, say, 9-8 or 10-7.
And have you noticed the Broncos’ schedule in the second half of the season? Road games at Tennessee, Baltimore, Kansas City and the Rams await.
In other words, the time for the Broncos to get it together -- to start making their move towards a winning and possible playoff season -- is now. As in Monday night.
The Broncos have not been a very good team the previous six years but they have often played well against the Chargers, posting a 7-5 record against the Bolts. With the Broncos having 11 days to rest battered bodies and prepare, they should play one of their best games of the season this Monday night.
Follow these 5 keys and the Broncos can emerge from their game against the Chargers with a .500 record:
1. Block Khalil Mack
Even without Joey Bosa, who is out for an extended period following groin surgery, the Chargers have plenty of edge rusher in Mack, who feasts on Broncos’ quarterbacks. Mack has 11.0 career sacks against the Broncos – 5.0 in one 2015 game as a member of the Oakland Raiders – while he has no more 7.5 against any other team.
The Broncos will have to play the rest of the season without left tackle Garett Bolles, who suffered a season-ending leg fracture last week that required surgery. Calvin Anderson or Cam Fleming are expected to replace him at left tackle while Fleming or Billy Turner are expected to handle the right tackle position.
2. Big game from Bradley Chubb
Like the Broncos, the Chargers lost their star left tackle to season-ending injury. Rashawn Slater, out with a biceps tear, has been replaced by Jamaree Salyer, a sixth-round rookie. Chubb’s 5.5 sacks were a half-sack off the NFL’s lead entering week 6 play and he usually rushes from across the left tackle.
Chubb, fellow edge rusher Baron Browning, and inside defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones and D.J. Jones can all get a push on the Chargers’ talented quarterback Justin Herbert.
However, another key is the Broncos’ front can’t rush without discipline, as they did against the Raiders’ Derek Carr two weeks ago. Herbert hasn’t been running much this year, but he has dangerous speed and size to convert third downs with his legs if he has an open lane.
3. Catch the ball
The Broncos are tied for 6th in the league with 10 dropped passes -- Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Melvin Gordon III and Mike Boone have been charged with two each. It would help quarterback Russell Wilson find a rhythm if his receivers execute when he’s accurate and on time.
4. Move, Russ, move
The other half of the Broncos’ passing struggles has been Wilson, who has been taking a fraction long in spotting his open receivers. Wilson is most dangerous when he moves outside the pocket. He doesn’t have to run – but when he’s mobile, the threat of the run can help him see the field better and freeze the defenders for a split second.
5. Good snaps
This is always taken for granted but not this week as the Broncos’ new long snapper, Mitchell Fraboni, will be making his NFL debut in front of a primetime, Monday night audience. This may well be a field-goal game so the Broncos can’t afford a bad snap.
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