The terms ‘off the rails’ and ‘train wreck’ are both turns of phrase that describe the same tragedy, and both perfectly describe what the Denver Broncos are presently experiencing.

This locomotive has completely flown off the tracks, and into the nearby crowd of on-lookers.

What caused this disaster, who were the casualties, and how can this train get back on the tracks? All that and much more in this edition of the Denver Broncos stock report

Stock Up

Denver Broncos tight end Greg Dulcich (80) and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) celebrate after a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half at SoFi Stadium.

Oct 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Greg Dulcich (80) and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) celebrate after a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Dulcich

When looking over the historical success — or lack thereof — rookie tight ends have experienced, one can make a very compelling argument that there is no other position where it’s harder to make an impact as a rookie.

On top of that, Greg Dulcich has barely practiced since being drafted, and was selected in the third round. This isn’t freak-of-nature Kyle Pitts going top-four with the expectation he’ll change the way we view the tight end position.

Yet still, Dulcich made a massive impact and knocked Albert Okwuegbunam off the gameday roster in the first appearance of his NFL career.

Dulcich scored the Broncos’ only touchdown over the last two games — a 39-yard scamper from Wilson that briefly made Broncos Country feel like maybe everything would be ok.

He also converted a third down on his first NFL reception.

Despite that being all for Dulcich though, he still finished the game trailing only Jerry Jeudy in terms of receiving yards and receptions. And, to be frank, he should’ve blown Jeudy out of the water, as Wilson missed him over the middle, wide-open, on three separate occasions.

Baron Browning

It certainly appears like the Denver Broncos’ Baron Browning experiment is paying off, and in a major way at that.

In his debut performance, Browning recorded arguably the greatest game by a pass-rusher in the history of Pro Football Focus’ data collection (since 2006), as he exited the game with the highest pass-rush win rate and pressure rate they had ever recorded.

But, he still had to prove he wasn’t a one-game wonder, and boy, did he prove it.

Browning finished the game with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and an interception tying for the team lead in every category. He also added a bevy of pressures to his stat sheet.

Through just two starts at the position, Browning has 2.5 sacks.

Alex Singleton

Alex Singleton gave the Denver Broncos a herculean effort tonight in place of Josey Jewell, and it still wasn’t enough.

It was impossible to not feel his impact on this game, as he managed to clobber the Bolts to the tune of 19 solo tackles, two of which came in the form of a tackle for loss.

The next four leading tacklers for the Denver Broncos combined for 21 solo tackles. The Chargers’ four leading tacklers combined for 20. Singleton nearly did that all on his own.

During this offseason, this columnist wasted a lot of pixels bemoaning the lack of depth at linebacker, and right now, Singleton is laughing directly in his face.

Denver Broncos Defensive Line

As usual, the defensive line was remarkable for the Denver Broncos, even if it wasn’t quite as noticeable as it typically was.

D.J. Jones had a quiet day on the stat sheet, but drew three holding penalties on Zion Johnson, who was flawless from a penalty standpoint through the first five weeks of his NFL career. It’s easy to overlook, but the -30 yards created from those holding penalties, more thanĀ doublesĀ the negative yardage total Denver created via sacks tonight.

Speaking of sacks, sixth-round pick Matt Henningsen recorded the first sack of his career and is looking like a relative steal for the Denver Broncos.

DeShawn Williams had two pass breakups, one of which would’ve stopped Los Angeles on fourth down, if not for a lucky Charger bounce.

Dre’Mont Jones had a bad facemask penalty, but was otherwise making a positive impact all over the field on Monday night. He had a key pressure to end the Chargers’ first OT drive, setting Russell Wilson and the offense up in near-perfect position for a walk-off drive.

Patrick Surtain II

Once again, Patrick Surtain II looked like the best player on the field and the best cornerback in the league, despite the final result.

This week, the task was locking down Mike Williams and he did precisely that.

As a result of getting ‘The Surtain Treatment’, Williams was targeted just five times across the Chargers’ first 82 offensive plays, and Denver’s top cornerback allowed a mere eight yards.

Wunderkind Justin Herbert averaged 1.6 yards per passing attempt targeting Williams.

That’s over a full yard less than the 2.7 yards perĀ rushingĀ attempt that Melvin Gordon averaged before being benched for ineffectiveness, just to contextualize the hell Surtain inflicts on his opponents.

Russell Wilson

Holster the rotten tomatoes, Broncos Country.

No, by no means is Wilson living up to preseason or pre-trade expectations, but this is a stock-up, stock-down exercise, in which his last game was the worst start of his NFL career. Ā He looked so washed-up and gun-shy against the Colts that, on Twitter, ‘Russell Wilson contract’ began trending in the Denver area.

He opened tonight’s game up by going 10-for-10 for 116 yards and a touchdown while targeting nine different receivers in the process.

Then, it all went off the rails, and by the game’s end, Wilson saw ghosts more often than he saw his open receivers.

Some of it was the offensive line, and some of it was the receivers struggling to create separation on occasion, but there were plenty of pressures, sacks, and wasted plays created by Wilson holding the ball far too long, deciding to scramble before any pressure was present, missing open receivers, and generally looking like a fledgling rookie quarterback trending towards the ‘bust’ label.

After his flawless start, Wilson closed the game 5-for-18 for a measly 82 yards, and those numbers are fluffed by a pretty improbable 47-yard snag by K.J. Hamler. Outside of that one play, Wilson completed 23.5 percent of his passes at 2.1 yards per attempt. That’s unacceptable for the NFL’s second-most expensive quarterback, even with offensive line woes.

So, how did Wilson manage to land in stock-up, as it’s clear he deserves more criticism than praise? There was a glimmer of hope.

In that Colts game, it was nothing but a cold, dark, nuclear winter.

Stock Down

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) is brought down by Denver Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis (27) and Denver Broncos defensive tackle DeShawn Williams (99) during the first half at SoFi Stadium.

Oct 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) is brought down by Denver Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis (27) and Denver Broncos defensive tackle DeShawn Williams (99) during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Damarri Mathis

It’s been overlooked as a result of how well Surtain has been playing, but the shoes of Ronald Darby were always going to be large and difficult to fill. That’s especially true when you’re asking a Day 3 rookie cornerback to fill said shoes.

Still, though, Mathis didn’t perform up to the standard on Monday night.

Whereas Darby’s coverage had been so sticky opposing quarterbacks wereĀ forcedĀ to target Surtain (demonstrated by the fact Darby was targeted at the third-lowest rate in the league through five weeks, per PFF), Justin Herbert couldn’t get enough of picking on Damarri Mathis.

Fortunately, Mathis wasn’t burned for any massive completion and even came up with aĀ massiveĀ pass breakup on a fourth-down attempt.

Unfortunately, Mathis was penalized four times for defensive pass interference, totaling 87 yards, and converting two third downs for the Chargers. Plus, that matchup came against Josh Palmer and a depleted Los Angeles receiving group.

Before you pin those all on strict officiating, no other player received multiple defensive pass interference calls, so it would be odd that only one player would be impacted by a variable that should seemingly have a negative impact on every coverage player on the field.

Most weeks, Mathis will have a tougher task than this, and now, Los Angeles has laid out the blueprint for everyone else — stay away from Surtain and target No. 27.

And bad news Broncos fans, the way opposing second-team offensesĀ feastedĀ on Michael Ojemudia in the preseason, makes it tough to trust that he’ll be the savior of the secondary.

Denver Broncos Special Teams

The Denver Broncos special teams had their worst moment of the entire 2022 NFL season, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

On the final punt of the game, P.J. Locke was backed into Montrell Washington by Ja’Sir Taylor, and the subsequent muffed punt was quickly recovered by the Chargers, to set up an easy game-winning field goal, despite the defense not allowing L.A. to convert a single first down all overtime.

As bad as that was, it’s made even less excusable by the fact it wasn’t the first muffed punt from Denver in this game. Washington muffed a separate punt earlier and was just fortunate enough to fall on it.

Through three weeks, Washington was listed as a ‘stock-up’ player because his punt returns, in a small sample size, were arguably the best in the league.

This week, Washington deserves to be listed as a ‘stock-down’ player, because this week, in a small sample size, his returns were probably the worst in the league.

Denver Broncos Offensive Line

It’s hard to know exactly where to point the finger for the failures of the offensive line, though the correct answer probably is, ‘at everyone’.

The offensive line played horribly, and Wilson was quickly pressured on a lot of his dropbacks, but a large share of those were self-inflicted. Even when the offensive line immediately allowed a sack on the Broncos’ final drive of regulation, it’s clear that the protection wasn’t properly adjusted before the draft, as one of the pass rushers closest to the quarterback was left entirely unblocked.

When Peyton Manning was in Denver, he constantly elevated the offensive line by making sure they were in the right look. It’s impossible to say Wilson is doing that. Now, no one’s Peyton Manning, but is Wilson even operating that pre-snap aspect of the game at a Teddy Bridgewater-level?

It sure doesn’t feel like it.

The Broncos’ offensive line also struggled to get any push in the run game, against a defense that ranks 22nd against the run, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.

Melvin Gordon

After an ineffective night that saw him gain just eight yards on three carries, Melvin Gordon was promptly benched in favor of Latavius Murray and Mike Boone.

During the game, Melvin Gordon was spotted pouting on the sidelines several times by ESPN’s cameras, including when the Broncos broke the tie to take a late 16-13 lead.

After the game, Melvin Gordon liked several tweets saying the Broncos should cut or trade him, seemingly signaling his desire to be sent elsewhere.

Who knows what happens next, but it seems likely Gordon’s time in Denver is done.