You can’t fault the Chargers effort.
You can fault some of the execution.
The Los Angeles Chargers, seven-point underdogs, playing without their top two wide receivers, and basically any quality defensive linemen, fell to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night 22-16.
With the loss, the Chargers dropped to 5-4. They are two games behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, and now face a must-win scenario this Sunday night when they host the Chiefs at SoFi Stadium.
A win by the Chiefs Sunday would give them a three-game lead (plus the tiebreaker) with seven games to go for the division. The Chargers aren’t out of the playoff hunt at all, but winning the division looks increasingly less likely.
Against the Niners, the Chargers led 16-10 at halftime. The defense was game, making a few plays and holding San Francisco to field goals, but Justin Herbert couldn’t do it all by himself.
It’s so wild to see the difference, the Niners are getting healthy, Deebo Samuel came back, they got Christian McCaffrey in a trade, and the Chargers just keep losing guys. The Niners are 5-4 too, but it feels like a different 5-4.
The best news of all for the Chargers may have been the NBC report that wide receiver Mike Williams was ahead of schedule in his ankle rehab and could play against the Chiefs, and, one of these days, Joey Bosa will be back too.
The Defense: Scheme or Players?
The Niners carved the Chargers run defense up. That’s not a surprise, that’s what everyone else has done. LA gives up almost 150 yards a game on the ground.
You have to wonder, is it the defensive scheme/approach, or is it poor players?
It got some attention during the NBC broadcast the different defensive fronts the Chargers would show. I’ve noticed this during the year too. Sometimes the Chargers come out with two defensive down linemen, sometimes three, so either a four-man or five-man front.
If you’re the Chargers, it’s kind of like pick your poison. None of the Chargers defensive linemen have played well. So you might as well try to get some more athletes/linebackers on the field. But those guys are light and fast, so easy to move off the ball.
It becomes a feast or famine approach. You saw it Sunday night, either Kenneth Murray Jr. or Derwin James would get a tackle for loss on a Niners running play (the Chargers had six TFLs Sunday night), or it would be an eight-yard gain or more.
It’s just not sustainable. The Chargers have serious issues on the defensive line (God, they miss Bosa) and everyone knows it. San Francisco ran the ball 41 times for 157 yards. You just can’t win consistently in the NFL giving up that much.
Herbert Gets Rocked, Keeps Rolling
Near the end of the first half, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert scrambled out of the pocket, stumbled, got tripped up by a Niners defensive back and Niners linebacker Dre Greenlaw came over and slammed Herbert in the helmet.
Herbert stayed down for just a beat. His helmet almost got knocked off. You could see the bruise on his chin/neck later in the game.
Greenlaw was thrown out of the game for lowering his helmet and initiating contact, but really, what was he supposed to do? It’s such a quick moment. Greenlaw didn’t know that Herbert was going to get hit by his teammate. I don’t know what the NFL expects defensive players to do. I guess the option is keep your hands out, try to push the player down instead of lowering your shoulder, but these guys are too big and strong for that.
It’s a player safety rule, but it’s weirdly applied. I’m still mad about the Cordarrelle Paterson touchdown last week against the Chargers when he lowered his helmet near the goal line. That was just as dangerous. That was intentional. Greenlaw was just trying to make a play.
Little Jerry Is Gone
The Chargers made news earlier this week when they released former first-round pick Jerry Tillery.
For a team desperate for defensive line help, it was an odd move, and then it’s even weirder because the trade deadline just passed, and you would have thought the Chargers could have made a deal for him if they were going to get rid of him.
The Chargers also put defensive lineman Austin Johnson on injured reserve. Then against the Niners, Otito Ogbonnia got hurt, then Christian Covington went down. So Los Angeles was down to three defensive linemen late in the game. One of them was Breiden Fehoko who bumped up from the practice squad. The Chargers used Morgan Fox as defensive end late in the game, and he’s more of a stand-up edge rusher.
Man, the Chargers miss Joey Bosa.
Did You Notice?
There were a lot of Charger fans in the crowd. They made noise throughout the game.
How much did former San Francisco 49ers star wide receiver Jerry Rice pay for the free advertising for his “Goat Fuel” energy drink when he was shown on tv? It was obvious product placement with the girl next to him pointing at the can.
Did Christian McCaffrey’s mom drop the F-bomb when they showed her in the booth after McCaffrey’s fourth-quarter touchdown run?
Horrible, horrible decision by the Chargers to blitz the Niners on third-and-10 on the play before the McCaffrey touchdown. It was 16-13 Chargers. The ball was at the 28-yard line. Even a sack of Jimmy Garoppolo wouldn’t have knocked the Niners out of field goal range. Instead Garoppolo connected with Brandon Aiyuk down to the two-yard line. That was the biggest play of the game.
A Historical Tie
There was a play at the end of the first half where Herbert got rushed and hit as he was trying to throw and fumbled. The ball was recovered by offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer, who just stood there, probably thinking the play was a pass. There is an obscure, but important NFL rule that says under two minutes to play in either half, the only person on the offense who can advance a fumble is the person who fumbled. Why? It’s because of the Chargers, and the 1978 infamous “Holy Roller” game.
Brief recap: The Raiders were playing the Chargers and down 20-14 with 10 seconds left with the ball at the Chargers 14. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler went back to pass, was hit, but (said later) that he purposely fumbled the ball forward. It was batted ahead first by Raiders running back Pete Banaszak and then by Raiders tight end Dave Casper, who then fell on the ball for a touchdown. The Raiders made the extra point to win 21-20. At the time, there was no such fumble rule. The Raiders had exploited a loophole. Watch the video sometime, it’s blatantly obvious what the Raiders did.