A Chargers season that has been more pessimistic than forecast can be adequately captured in one negative stat: minus-nine.
This team has turned the ball over 20 times en route to going 4-7 while generating only 11 takeaways, the fifth-fewest total in the NFL.
“You’re not going to win a lot of games in this league at minus-nine turnover ratio,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “Bottom line is we’re not taking it away enough and we’re turning it over too much.
“I love the effort and the energy the guys play with. But we’re killing ourselves.”
Quarterback Philip Rivers is responsible for 16 of those turnovers, seven of which have been interceptions in just the past two games.
Austin Ekeler has lost two fumbles and Melvin Gordon one, those miscues made worse in that each came at the opposition’s goal line. Three of Rivers’ interceptions have happened in the red zone.
“I think it’s guys trying to make plays,” Lynn said. “I mean, it’s not intentional. If I thought it was intentional, that would be a problem.”
Only twice this season have the Chargers won the turnover battle in a game, in victories over Miami and Chicago.
And, while they’ve been loose with the ball, they haven’t been terribly productive in stealing it back.
Just four teams — Atlanta, Cincinnati, Denver and Miami — have fewer takeaways. That quartet has a combined record of 8-37.
During the offseason program and into training camp, one of the themes for the Chargers defense was an emphasis on generating more turnovers.
The team used its second-round pick in the draft to select Delaware’s Nasir Adderley, who has been touted as a play-making, ball-hawking safety.
Adderley’s rookie season, however, was wiped out by a hamstring injury that lingered for months. He appeared in only four games — mostly on special teams — before going on injured reserve.
The defense also has been without All-Pro strong safety Derwin James, whose first NFL season was marked by an ability to create chaos and opportunity.
James has missed the first 11 games because of a stress fracture in his right foot. He returned to practice this week and could be activated in time to play Sunday against the Broncos.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said he has instituted a new procedure this season in which the Chargers review certain clips from their previous game to identify chances for turnovers.
Still, the result has been only eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
“We’d like to see more opportunities to get the ball,” Bradley said. “I think that’s a way we could help our whole team.”
That’s true this season, especially, as the Chargers offense has struggled to consistently produce points. Not since the opener have the Chargers had as many as four touchdowns in a game.
A year after producing 11 touchdowns himself, wide receiver Mike Williams has yet to reach the end zone.
Rivers has thrown just 15 touchdown passes. The Chargers have scored on 3.6% of his attempts, a number that would easily be Rivers’ single-season career low.
For a team that has yet to lose by more than one score, points have been vital.
And their sputtering offense hasn’t received much help. The Chargers have zero defensive touchdowns and one on special teams, a 68-yard punt return by Desmond King.
Along with James, safety Adrian Phillips also could be added to the active roster Saturday and then play in Denver. Both defensive backs remain on injured reserve. Phillips suffered a broken arm in Week 2.
Lynn said James appears to be healthy, based on his performance this week in practice. The coach added that the team will remain cautious, given that James hasn’t played in an NFL game since January.
Starting offensive tackles Russell Okung (groin) and Sam Tevi (knee) both are listed as questionable for the weekend. Okung was a full participant in practice Friday. Tevi was limited.
For the Broncos, linebacker Von Miller (knee) returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and is considered questionable for Sunday.
Davis approaches 100 tackles
Linebacker Thomas Davis has 23 tackles over the past two games and needs 10 to reach 100 for the season, a mark he hit six times with the Carolina Panthers.
In Bradley’s scheme, Davis is in a position that should be productive in regards to making tackles, and the veteran hasn’t disappointed.
After spending his first 14 years in the league with Carolina, Davis signed with the Chargers as a free agent and has had to adjust to a new defense, one that gives him more passing-game responsibilities.
“I would say the last three or four weeks … it really showed up in the Green Bay game, I thought, where he really made great strides,” Bradley said. “Since that point, he’s really gotten into a rhythm now and is playing well. That’s the whole idea, to play fast.”
The Broncos have not announced their starting quarterback for Sunday, though reports in Denver indicate rookie Drew Lock will make his NFL debut. He was a second-round pick in April and has yet to play because of a thumb injury. … Wide receiver Geremy Davis is questionable for the Chargers because of a hamstring problem.