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Scouting the Broncos: Week 6


The Chargers are back home for an AFC West matchup in Week 6 against the Broncos.

Kickoff is Monday at 5:15 p.m. (PT). The Bolts are 3-2 while the Broncos are 2-3.

We chatted with Nick Kosmider, who covers the Broncos for The Athletic, to get a preview of the game.

The Broncos are 2-3 entering Week 6. How would you describe their season in one word this far?

Underwhelming. It would have been unfair to expect the Broncos to storm out of the gate offensively, even with the addition of Russell Wilson, given that there is so much newness — coach, quarterback, personnel, even ownership — around the franchise. But six touchdowns in five games? Few saw that coming. It has simply been a slower acclimation period for Wilson in his new surroundings than anticipated. Still, the Broncos have time. They are in the thick of the AFC playoff picture, but fixes have to come quickly.

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Wednesday practice at Hoag Performance Center

There's a lot of focus on the AFC West quarterbacks. What has Russell Wilson's transition to Denver been like?

Wilson and head coach Nathaniel Hackett collaborated during the offseason to build an offense that included components of what Wilson did well in Seattle and what Hackett and Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur implemented with the Packers the prior three seasons, a system in which Aaron Rodgers won back-to-back MVP awards. For much of the offensive personnel on Denver's roster, it has meant essentially learning two new systems at once. The Broncos are still among the league leaders in explosive pass plays, but the timing issues that have shown up on first and second downs have resulted in Denver facing a league-high 41 third-and-longs (7 yards to gain or more) through five games. The Broncos continue to express confidence that much of that will be cleaned up once Wilson and his offensive teammates get more firmly on the same page.

The Chargers and Broncos are both down their starting left tackles. How is Denver going to adjust for the loss of Garett Bolles?

It's a major loss for the Broncos because Bolles has been among the NFL's most durable players at that position since entering the NFL as a first-round pick in 2017. He didn't miss during his first 60 games and had only missed four total before suffering a broken leg last Thursday in the loss to the Colts. The likely starter in his place is swing tackle Calvin Anderson, who trains with Bolles in Southern California during the offseason. But there is more potential shuffling the Broncos could have on their offensive line. Left guard Dalton Risner didn't participate in the team's first three practices of the week due to a back issue. Guard Quinn Meinerz and tackle Billy Turner could make their returns from injury on Monday night, but it's unclear exactly where they'll be slotted if they do. Denver has a lot to figure out on its offensive line.

Defensively for Denver, who's a player that has caught your eye so far this season and why?

It's Pat Surtain II, who Chargers coach Brandon Staley said is playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL right now. He's right. In a victory against the 49ers in Week 3, Surtain was targeted six times without allowing a catch. He deflected two passes intended for star Raiders receiver Davante Adams in Week 4, including one at the goal line. He has been as solid as it gets on the outside, and that has allowed Denver to mix up both its coverages and its pass-rush schemes.

Finally, how do you see the rest of this Broncos season playing out? Can Denver make the playoffs for the first time since 2015?

It's clear by now that the Broncos will spend much of this season figuring out who they want to be offensively. Though the defense is among the league's top five by numerous metrics, you can't win on defense alone in the modern NFL. Despite his recent struggles, I expect Wilson to adjust and improve as he and his teammates figure out what their identity needs to be. It's far too early to count out the nine-time Pro Bowler and a team that entered the season with high expectations. But their path to the postseason will be a treacherous one if they can't win Monday night and improve to 3-3. Staley pressured Wilson well during three matchups up with the quarterback as the Rams' defensive coordinator in 2020, sacking him 16 times in three meetings, including the playoffs. For me, the game comes down to how well the Broncos can protect their quarterback against what Staley schemes up.

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