Time for some cross-LA action. The Los Angeles Chargers are coming to the Coliseum in Week 3 as our 2-0 Los Angeles Rams look to cement their hold on the local football scene and keep fan confidence unanimous in the extreme.
So to get a better sense of who we’re facing, I linked up with Jamie Sewell from Bolts from the Blue, the SB Nation community for Chargers fans.
So I have to start with injuries. Obviously you guys have been extremely unlucky. Football Outsiders ranked you second-to-last in 2016 and middle of the pack last year. And this year, already TE Hunter Henry and OL Forrest Lamp are on IR while DE Joey Bosa is on the mend with a foot injury. What is the sense from Chargers fans about this run? I know you guys have changed over medical staffs. Is there a feeling that more needs to be done organizationally or is this just a matter of bad luck to accept and hope things turn around soon?
Honestly, who knows? Like you mentioned, both the medical and strength and conditioning staff have been changed, so it’s hard to place the blame there. However, it’s also hard to continue to believe it’s just bad luck - at some point, you begin to think it can’t be a co-incidence (that moment came about 16 years ago for most Chargers fans). Realistically, the Chargers are one of the worst run organizations in the NFL who let incompetence continually stand in the way of success, so it’s very likely that an organizational issue is at fault here, as it is with most things the Chargers do.
On to the game. The offense is cranking. What’s working best overall? Is it in line with preseason expectations or is it even better than presumed?
So far, it’s been about in line with preseason expectations. On paper, this offense is always going to put up points. There’s just too many weapons to stop. Two things have stood out above the rest though. Rams fans might not know the name Austin Ekeler, but he’s the RB to watch out for in the Chargers offense, not Melvin Gordon. I could describe him to you, but that’ll ruin the surprise come Sunday! I’ll just say that Ekeler is PFF’s clear #1 RB so far this season, and it’s easy to see why. The second thing this year - Philip Rivers is locked in. He’s started the year on fire with 6 TDs to just one interception and a 73% completion rate, and he’s dispelling any notion of him being washed up or past his prime. As for a disappointing weakness, the offensive line has struggled again this year. Mike Pouncey at C has looked good since coming over from Miami, but RT Joe Barksdale went down in Week 1, and Sam Tevi is struggling as his backup. LG Dan Feeney isn’t where fans would maybe like him to be after being a third round draft pick last year, and RG Forrest Lamp is yet to make an NFL appearance since tearing his ACL in the preseason of his rookie year. Hopefully, that changes tomorrow, although the Rams isn’t exactly an easy matchup to be thrown into!
The defense on the other hand has, well...I mean there’s a big difference between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. And after this weekend, you guys have an eight-game run where the defense should be in pretty solid shape given the opposition. With Bosa out, how’s the defense looking? Strong points/weak points?
On paper with Bosa, the defense is probably a better unit than the offense, to be honest. Without Bosa, the pass rush really struggled against the Chiefs, and you can’t really take too much away from a performance against the Bills. This week will be a much better test of where they’re at. The secondary will always be a strong point, as evidenced by the fact that Jason Verrett going down again really didn’t matter too much. Casey Hayward is one of the best CBs in the NFL, Trevor Williams came out of nowhere last year to deliver an excellent season on the opposite side and is continuing that this year, and Desmond King is one of the better slot CBs in the NFL in just his second season (PFF had all 3 in their top 15 CBs last season, for what it’s worth). The run defense was a real problem last year, but has held up well in the first two games - against Gurley and the Rams, that may not hold true for much longer, however.
I’ve heard nothing but good things about Derwin James. Any other first-year Chargers standing out either as rookies or free agent additions?
Derwin James has been exactly as advertised so far. He’s playing all over the defense, and he’s making plays in every role, too. The Chargers have seen a good return from their rookies, so far: 2nd round pick Uchenna Nwosu had the first sack of his career last week and figures to see more work going forward, 4th round pick Kyzir White has looked really comfortable at LB, and had his first interception last week. As for new additions, Mike Pouncey was already mentioned, but Caleb Sturgis needs to be talked about. The Chargers bought him in after struggling with their kicking game for years, but a make-able miss by Sturgis in the Chiefs game when the Chargers were fighting to stay alive, combined with Anthony Lynn choosing to punt last week rather than try a 51 yard field goal suggests that, once again, the Chargers might not have too much faith in their kicker.
What are you expecting on Sunday? In terms of a gameplan, what do the Chargers need to establish in order to get things going offensively? And what should Rams fans be concerned about when we have the ball?
On offense, Philip Rivers can’t be afraid to go after Marcus Peters. Interestingly, Rivers struggled against Peters when he was in KC (Peters has four picks against Rivers in his career), but Keenan Allen might be Peters’ kryptonite. In the 2016 season opener, Allen was putting on an absolute clinic against Peters, to the point where the Chiefs actually had to bench him. It’s my favourite matchup to watch in the NFL, and here’s to it continuing on Sunday. Austin Ekeler also needs to keep seeing the ball - Melvin Gordon is okay, but he’s not going to seriously hurt teams. Ekeler is a threat as both a runner and a receiver, and with Rivers likely going to be needing to get the ball out quickly on Sunday, Ekeler will make for an excellent safety valve. On defense, we’ll have to see how the pass rush holds up without Bosa. The Rams offense has been electric so far, but the passing game definitely won’t have it all their own way against the Chargers CBs. I’d expect a big dose of Todd Gurley to be where the Rams can hit the Chargers hardest. The interior of the Chargers DL isn’t all that stout, and the Rams could have a lot of success with some powerful interior running.
Thanks to Jamie for the time.