It’s a Chargers home game, let’s get that out of the way first.
Preseason football should come with a warning: it contains actual football substance but very little football value. Still, fans will watch and tune in to see how their team looks.
We will make judgments based on one pass rush (that guy is a keeper!) or one fumble (he’s getting cut).
There are two basic storylines for the 2022 NFL preseason opener in Los Angeles. It pits two teams that share the same stadium, SoFi, but there’s no real rivalry between the franchises (yet). But it’s also two teams expected to be in the running for the playoffs and the Super Bowl this year.
Here’s what I’m going to be watching for Saturday night. $15 is a great price, by the way.
Scan The Sidelines
So much is made of who is not going to play in the preseason with good reason. NFL superstars are priceless commodities, and no one wants to see a player get hurt in a game that doesn’t matter.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is not going to play for the Rams. I don’t think Aaron Donald or Cooper Kupp will play either, but who else does -not- play tells us something too about the teams. If running back Darrell Henderson doesn’t play for the Rams that means he’s too important to risk. That’s a big tell of what the Rams think of their running back situation.
For the Chargers, of course, quarterback Justin Herbert won’t play. Will Khalil Mack play? Unlikely.
I’ll be checking the sidelines to see what happens with Chargers safety Derwin James. He’s still ‘holding in’ for a new contract. Is he on the sidelines? Is he supportive? The longer this dispute goes on, the uglier it could get.
It’s Not Just Who, It’s When
On the field, it’s not just important who plays and is getting those all-important reps; it’s when do they play? Coaches want to put their next best players out to start the game, or maybe try to evaluate a player against better competition.
For example, Rams third-round pick Logan Bruss on the offensive line. Does Bruss come out with the first-team offense Saturday night? Do the Rams try to surround him with the best of the rest, so to speak, to get a good look at him? Coaches recognize that it can be hard to evaluate individuals if they are surrounded by players not at the same ability.
Same for Chargers former first round pick Jerry Tillery on the defensive line. He may be a player getting rotated out. Do the Chargers give him a real chance to prove himself Saturday? Does he play early in the game? Or late? That’s a sign of what the Chargers think.
One Ram This Game Matters To
The Rams released their unofficial depth chart on Wednesday with Ben Skowronek as one of the starting wide receivers in a three-receiver set.
The player everyone is waiting to see emerge is Tutu Atwell. He’s had a good camp, according to reports (guess what, everyone has a good camp, camp is invented for players to show how good they are at football), but he hasn’t done it in a real NFL game.
Expect Atwell to be targeted often by the Rams, if he’s not, or can’t get open, that’s a bad sign.
One Charger This Game Matters To
We will stick with a wide receiver and that is Chargers return specialist DeAndre Carter. The Chargers are Carter’s fifth football team in the last five years. He’s been with the Commanders, Bears, Texans and Eagles. He had 24 catches and three touchdowns last year with the Commanders.
He’s a kick return threat but could be used to stretch the field as the fourth wide receiver in the Chargers offense with his speed. You know Mike Williams and Keenan Allen aren’t going to play Saturday, so Carter could get some balls thrown his way.
Remember, It’s Just Preseason
Preseason football is hard to watch. Offensive lines aren’t in sync, and players try too hard and make mistakes. It always seems like it’s second-and-28 or a team fumbles twice on the same play.
I can’t believe the NFL never tried to turn preseason football into some kind of competition, like the Presidents Trophy in the NHL, a team with the best record and points for/against gets a reward, or even turning it into an AFC vs. NFC thing.
What both coaches want Saturday night is for no one of any significance to get hurt. In Los Angeles, we understand the dress rehearsal; that’s 100 percent what a preseason game is – and why it doesn’t cost that much to get in.
Still, if the game is close midway through the fourth quarter, a vibe will come over the crowd imploring their team to win. It may be a dress rehearsal, but they’re still keeping score, and that matters.