The Los Angeles Chargers sit at 4-3 going into their bye week. If the playoffs started today, they’d make it in as the 7th seed which isn’t where many thought they’d be at this point. Injuries have played a large part in derailing the season. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley, Joey Bosa, J.C. Jackson, and more have gone down at some point. With some of those guys out for the season, they’ll need to stay healthy down the stretch if they want any chance to compete for a playoff spot. There is also speculation that Justin Herbert‘s rib injury is lingering and affecting his play.
Injuries have played their role and neither side of the ball is living up to expectations. The defense is near the bottom of the league in EPA per play at 28th. The offense is outperforming the defense ranking 16th in EPA/play, but after finishing 5th last season, this isn’t the explosive Chargers offense we were expecting.
So let’s take a closer look at each Chargers position group. How they’ve done so far, and how they stack up against the rest of the league.
Herbert has had a solid season thus far, ranking 3rd in passing yards and 11th in QB rating. That’s not the eye-popping numbers we’re used to from him, but it’s only a bit lower than his first two seasons. He’s on pace for 4879 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Those are pretty standard QB numbers. But from an efficiency standpoint, he ranks below average ranking 18th in EPA and 27th in success rate. He ranked 7th in those metrics last season. The offense will have to evolve in the back half of the season. One adjustment they could make is building motion pre-snap. They currently rank 21st in the league, using motion only 40 percent of the time.
Speaking of efficiency, something else to note is that despite the average numbers, Herbert is on pace to pass the ball 748 times which would put him first in the all-time pass attempts per season leaderboard. Quarterbacks are attempting a record number of passes this season, with most teams putting the ball in quarterbacks hands 40+ times a game. With the league shifting to more of a passing-first offense, it’s important to take advantage of every time you touch the ball, which doesn’t always happen for LA’s QB1. To give him credit, he’s been behind a subpar offensive line and has been missing his main weapon on offense, but needs to up his play if the Chargers are to compete.
Austin Ekeler and the rest of the Chargers running back room have had an up-and-down year. In certain games, they’ve exploded going for 200+ yards in the air and on the ground, while in others they’ve totaled less than 100 total. Most of the inconsistency can be attributed to a shaky offensive line, but Ekeler hasn’t looked like the top 10 back that we’re used to.
The Chargers currently rank 26th in the league in rushing offense, near teams like Pittsburgh and Minnesota who also have great backs. In limited time this season Isaiah Spiller has been disappointing only recording one attempt for negative five yards. Spiller was expected to contribute as the second back behind Ekeler, but Sony Michel has taken that role and been decent.
The Chargers’ receiver room has been riddled with injuries this season. Keenan Allen is out for a major period of time and Mike Williams was just sidelined for at least four weeks. Despite this, LA currently is fourth in passing yards per game only behind Buffalo, Kansas City, and Miami. The passing game has largely had to step up due to the lack of a running game and the score being close most times. Ekeler has contributed more in the passing game than he should with his receiving yard total usually being more than his rushing one. With Allen back and Williams out, I’d expect the passing game to remain relatively the same.
Gerald Everett has surprised many this year with a solid showing at the tight end position. Everett ranks 8th in receiving yards and is tied for 4th with two touchdowns. He’s done a great job in the intermediate passing game, giving Herbert a safety blanket when needed. Tre’ McKitty and Donald Parham have also done a solid job this year rotating in the passing offense.
The Chargers offensive line much like the rest of the team has been injured with the main starters having missed some period of time this season. The Chargers’ offensive line problems have continued this year with little to no continuity up front. They ranked 10th by PFF last season but have dropped down to 16th. The loss of Rashawn Slater is huge, but Jamaree Salyer has performed well in his absence. Rookie Zion Johnson has had some growing pains, but through seven games has only allowed one sack.
The Chargers defensive line has been solid this year anchored by Joey Bosa and with the addition of Khalil Mack, it’s been elevated to a whole other level. Mack has stepped up and shown that he’s still got gas left in the tank and that he can lead a defense similar to 2018 in Chicago. He’s tied for 5th in sacks with six and has been stellar off the edge. The rest of the team however hasn’t been able to step up, as the team is ranked 28th in pass rush win rate and 10th in run stop win rate.
In one of the more surprising performances on defense, the Chargers linebacking group has outperformed expectations. Drue Tranquill is having a breakout season with 40 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. Compared to the rest of the group, he’s the leader and it finally starting to show why the Bolts drafted him in the first place.
Kenneth Murray has been subpar, and not as flashy as you’d expect a former first-rounder to be. PFF has Murray rated 36.4 on the season compared to Tranquil at 72 and Troy Reeder at 74.3. That’s not a good look.
The run defense this season ranks 26th in rushing yards allowed and 16th in touchdowns allowed, averaging one opponent touchdown on the ground per game. Teams are running against the Chargers because it’s worked for every team that’s beaten them so far this year.
In probably the most disappointing aspect of the Chargers defense, the secondary hasn’t been great this year. The big free agent acquisition in the offseason, J.C. Jackson underperformed heavily, so much so he was benched in the Denver game. Now out for the year, the rest of the group will have to step up in his absence.
The rest of the secondary has been pretty average for the most part with Asante Samuel Jr. leading the way as CB1. Samuel is ranked 22nd by PFF only two spots behind Darius Slay. The pass defense has been middle of the road, ranked 18th in passing yards allowed, while also allowing an average of two passing touchdowns per game.
Derwin James has been his usual self, boasting the highest amount of solo tackles by a safety this year and a 77.5 PFF grade. Although this unit hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations, it’s been a stable part of the defense this year.