Typically, a long week after a Thursday night game tends to be an advantage for a team. But for the Los Angeles Chargers, this long week was anything but beneficial.
The Chargers spent the entire week wondering whether franchise quarterback Justin Herbert would play after suffering four rib fractures in the team’s heartbreaking loss to Kansas City. Herbert ultimately played, but even his presence couldn’t save Los Angeles.
The Chargers were dominated by the emerging Jacksonville Jaguars, 38-10, at home. And it wasn’t a fluke, as Jacksonville jumped out to an early lead and out-gained Los Angeles 413-312. The uncertainty surrounding Herbert’s status clearly impacted the team’s preparation. Los Angeles looked out of sync all game and committed two turnovers and seven penalties.
Sunday’s performance was the definition of an ugly loss, as the Jaguars looked like the team many expected Los Angeles to be: an upstart group led by a potentially transcendent quarterback.
To make matters worse, the bad news kept coming after the game. Left tackle Rashawn Slater was likely lost for the season with a torn left biceps, while star pass rusher Joey Bosa could miss a lot of time with what Staley described as a “significant groin injury.”
Talk about a tough 10 days. But even after all of this turmoil, it might still be too early to label this year’s bunch as the “same old Chargers.”
Why there is reason for hope
While the Bosa injury absolutely stings, Los Angeles still has Khalil Mack and a defense that ranks 15th in defensive DVOA. Even more encouraging is that Los Angeles has improved against the run, the Achilles’ heel of last year’s team. In fact, Los Angeles has improved to 11th in rush defense DVOA through its first three games.
There’s no doubt the Chargers’ pass defense will suffer without Bosa. But the scheduling gods gave L.A. a break. Here are the likely quarterbacks Los Angeles will face over its next six games: Davis Mills, Jacoby Brissett, Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Marcus Mariota and Jimmy Garoppolo. The only quarterback who truly strikes fear in your heart is Wilson, but have you seen the Denver offense lately?
And while Herbert’s rib injury will likely be a story for the rest of the season, it was encouraging to see him make it through the game without worsening the injury. Sunday certainly wasn’t the best performance of his career, but I think Herbert’s struggles were more due to the absence of Keenan Allen than it was the injury. And Allen is expected to practice this week after being held out with a hamstring injury the last two weeks.
Allen’s return will bring defensive attention back to the middle of the field, which should help free up Mike Williams for more single coverage. The Chargers have also shown off their depth at receiver, as both Joshua Palmer and DeAndre Carter are more than serviceable options.
Los Angeles also has a capable backup filling in for Slater, as Storm Norton started 15 games for the Chargers at right tackle last season. This experienced unit should be just fine despite losing arguably its best blocker.
What Los Angeles needs to do is get its running game going. The Chargers rank 31st in rushing DVOA, and Austin Ekeler has just 80 yards on 32 carries. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi needs to establish the ground game to set Herbert up for play-action looks downfield. The Chargers have been wise in reducing Ekeler’s workload early on, but they might need to use him more aggressively to keep the offense ahead of the chains.
Hope is not lost for the Chargers. The next six games are all winnable, and Los Angeles should benefit from better injury luck going forward. If the Chargers drop their next two games to Houston and Cleveland, then it’ll be time to panic. But for now, believe.