Why fearful Chargers have set plans for ‘old’ Russell Wilson, Broncos

 Chargers head coach Brandon Staley adjust his headset on the sideline.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley must find a way for his defense to contain Russell Wilson, even though the Denver quarterback has had a slow start to the season with his new team.
(Kirk Irwin / Associated Press)

No NFL team has been more primetime this season than Denver, which is about to make its fourth such national television appearance.

On Monday night, the Broncos and their former Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson will face the Chargers at SoFi Stadium.

Now, for the record, Denver’s first three performances haven’t exactly been prime, made-for-TV epics.


While losing to Seattle and Indianapolis and beating San Francisco, the Broncos’ offense had 33 full possessions — and produced two touchdowns. Two.

Behind Wilson, Denver entered Week 6 having scored six offensive touchdowns. Chargers running back Austin Ekeler scored five in the previous two games.

The Chargers signed J.C. Jackson to an $82.5-million contract in an effort to fix their secondary. So far, Jackson hasn’t replicated his past feats.

Oct. 15, 2022

“All it takes for them is one week to put it all together, like a snap of the fingers,” Chargers defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “They had a long week to get ready for us. Listen, I expect their offense to be firing right from the start.

“Whatever people are saying, he’s still Russell Wilson. That’s the way we’re going to treat this. I think people got it a little bit twisted. I’m not buying it. I’m not falling into the trap. No one around here is.”

Since the Broncos’ previous primetime appearance —a Thursday night 12-9 loss to the Colts on Oct. 6 — Wilson has been blitzed by critics questioning everything from his accuracy as a passer to his authenticity as a person.

There were reports that he is broken and, in fact, Wilson had an injection in his strained throwing shoulder the day after that defeat to Indianapolis.

After a decade quarterbacking Seattle, Wilson in March was traded to Denver, where he arrived being celebrated as a player who could carry the franchise back to greatness.

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson readies to throw.
Quarterback Russell Wilson has not looked good in a Denver Broncos uniform.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

Now, after just five games, people are wondering if Wilson can even lift himself out of bed. He has looked slower and older, the Broncos offense plodding and aging right along with him.

“It makes him more dangerous,” Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. said of the noise rattling around Wilson. “As a player and as a competitor, if you’re consistently hearing people tell you how bad you’re doing something, you’re gonna want to get it fixed. You’re gonna want to change people’s opinions. So I definitely feel like he’s got a fire up under him.”

Still, through five weeks, only the Colts had generated fewer points than Denver. The Broncos were last in the league in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on only 24% of their trips.

Against the Chargers, they’ll face an opponent that has yielded 129 points. Just Detroit and Seattle entered the weekend having given up more, and those two teams were a combined 3-7.

Wilson was 22nd in quarterback rating entering Week 6, behind Carson Wentz, Jacoby Brissett and Daniel Jones. He was one of only seven starters with a completion percentage below 60.

“The motivation for him, I think, is they’re just hungry, right, hungry for a win?” Joseph-Day said. “He’s going to be ready to play. We can’t take anything for granted at all. We can’t buy into that outside noise.”


Chargers-Broncos matchups: Austin Ekeler is enjoying a season breakout, while L.A.’s uneven defense goes up against a struggling Russell Wilson.

Oct. 17, 2022

What Denver has done well this season is defend. The Broncos are No. 1 in the league against the pass and tied for fourth in scoring defense. Only Las Vegas had produced more than 17 points in a game against Denver.

All of which clashes with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and his still brief but generally brilliant history in primetime.

In his Monday night debut in 2020, Herbert set a single-game rookie record with four touchdown passes at New Orleans.

He threw for three more scores on Monday night last year in a Week 4 victory over Las Vegas. Those seven touchdown passes trail just one player — Buffalo’s Josh Allen — for the most in league history after two Monday night appearances.

Herbert’s 114.7 passer rating on Monday night is the seventh best in NFL history.

Rumors had the Broncos pursuing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but Russell Wilson was their target all along and keeping that a secret enabled Denver to complete the deal with Seattle.

March 17, 2022

“They are about as good as we’ve seen, the combination of their front seven, their defensive backs and their linebackers,” Herbert said of the Broncos. “They play sound, fundamental football, and they have some really athletic guys.”

It will be a matchup of AFC West rivals and of a quarterback still ascending and a quarterback trying to prove he isn’t in sharp decline.


Not that the Chargers are expecting more bad Russell Wilson.

“Honestly, when you’re elite and you know you’re elite, you don’t let any of the outside sources sway you,” Joseph-Day said. “Obviously, he’s very proven. We all know what he’s capable of. He’s still one of the best in the league.”