Broncos' Wilson, Chargers' Herbert look to get their offenses back on track in AFC West showdown

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Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson and Chargers counterpart Justin Herbert both have the same goal on Sunday when Denver visits Los Angeles.

Get their offenses back on track.

Denver's five-game winning streak was snapped last Sunday at Houston. Coach Sean Payton was critical of his QB after Wilson threw three interceptions, underthrew several deep passes and bypassed a wide-open Jerry Jeudy for a walk-in touchdown in a 22-17 loss to the Texans that evened Denver's record at 6-6.

Maybe it was an inspirational message to his teammates or perhaps a veiled retort to Payton for peppering his comments Monday with what many perceived as jabs at his quarterback, but Wilson reminded everyone at his weekly news conference that the sky wasn’t exactly falling on the Broncos.

“We’ve been 5-1 over the last six games,” Wilson said. “We can’t forget that, too.”

The Chargers (5-7) beat New England 6-0 last Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak, but the offense failed to find the end zone and has only two touchdowns in the past 10 quarters.

Herbert's only reliable receiving target has been Keenan Allen, who leads the NFL with 102 catches. The offense has also become more one-dimensional due to the lack of a running game. The Chargers are running the ball only 39.5% of the time, the eighth-lowest rate in the league.

Herbert said the main focus going into Sunday's game is preventing turnovers. The Chargers did not have any last week in harsh weather at New England, but had four two weeks ago against Baltimore. Denver's defense has a league-leading 22 takeaways.

“They’re going out and getting them — picks, fumbles. Getting after the ball. That’s the good part about a defense, is if they’re playing around and flying like that, they’re going to be a good defense," Herbert said. "Causing and forcing turnovers like that, it just reminds you that you have to be smart with the ball. Play smart, winning football.”

FAMILIAR FACE

The Chargers got their first shutout since 2017 last week and their defense has shown improvement over the last two weeks. However, Los Angeles has only one win this season when facing an opponent's primary starting quarterback.

Besides facing a division opponent, Los Angeles will go up against a Denver offense that has Joe Lombardi as its coordinator. Lombardi held that job with the Chargers the past two seasons before being fired.

“Yeah, definitely,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said when asked if he sees similarities in Denver's scheme to what Lombardi did with the Chargers.

The Chargers' defense is ranked 29th, allowing 379.5 yards per game, while the Broncos' offense is 24th (299 yards per game).

Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack leads the league with 15 sacks, tying a career high, and has 99 1/2 for his career.

RUNNING GAME

This should be a good opportunity for Los Angeles to turn its running game around.

The Broncos are last in the league in stopping the run, allowing an average of 149.7 yards per game. The Chargers had a season-low 29 yards rushing last week.

“I think what’s frustrating is that we’ve done it, we just haven’t done it consistently,” Staley said. “It would be one thing if I haven’t seen it at all, then I think you’d be frustrated and upset and feeling a little bit differently, but we’ve shown that we’ve been able to run the football.”

TIGHT END TROUBLE

The Broncos have sorely missed field-stretching tight end Greg Dulcich this season. He’s played in just parts of two games because of recurring hamstring issues that also plagued the UCLA alum as a rookie last year.

The lack of a consistent pass-catching threat at tight end has hampered Payton’s play-calling, although he believes he might have an answer in a player who’s never caught an NFL pass.

“Lucas (Krull) is one of those guys that we feel is a candidate to be that type of player,” Payton said of the second-year undrafted pro from Pitt who was elevated from the practice squad last week and targeted by Wilson on the final play. Jimmie Ward leapt in front Krull and intercepted the pass with 9 seconds left.

JUST LIKE HOME

Although the Broncos are seeking their first win at SoFi Stadium, the venue can feel like home for Denver because Broncos fans are known for packing the stands at road games. Payton got to see that last year when he was working for Fox and attended the Broncos-Chargers game in Week 6.

“I was surprised — I don’t want to say it’s a newer fan base because it’s not, but they haven’t had a team in a while,” Payton said. “It’s nice when you have fans who travel like we do. That’s something. Even last week in Houston. When we’ve gone on the road this year you’ve always felt a presence with our fan base. And certainly that’ll matter again Sunday. That’s nice to have.”

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AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.

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