Sunday’s matchup against Miami was exciting but ultimately disappointing with the Chargers losing 36 to 34. Here are the key Chargers takeaways.
The Pass Rush Was Lacking
Tua Tagovailoa was sacked two times during the Week 14 game against the Chargers last year and had the most thrown-away passes, which Pro Football Focus (PFF) defines as “passes intentionally thrown out of play,” of the entire season during that matchup. On Sunday he wasn’t sacked at all and only had one thrown-away pass.
The magic of last year’s game was that the Chargers pass rush was on point. So much so that Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were held to very little receiving yards and Tagovailoa very little passing yards.
Safety Derwin James ( 68.7%) had the highest pass-rush grade of the Chargers on Sunday, while edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack were each in the 50s. The Miami pocket could not be penetrated and newly minted left guard Isaiah Wynn led the charge with the best pass rush grade of the team at 80.3%, allowing no hits, hurries, sacks, or pressures. The whole Miami offensive line should be commended as Tagovailoa had the second-best passing performance of his career.
The Pass Blocking and Run Blocking Improved
Justin Herbert was only sacked twice during the game, once during the third quarter and another time during the fourth. Yes, there were some hits and hurries, but overall, the retooled offensive line, of Rashawn Slater at left tackle, Zion Johnson at left guard, Corey Linsley at center, Jamaree Salyer at right guard, and right tackle Trey Pipkins, did their job well. They were giving Herbert mostly ample time to throw and were creating some great running lanes for running backs Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley.
The other run blockers worth mentioning are tight ends Donald Parham, Stone Smartt, and Tre’ McKitty. Smartt helped Kelley get a small gain during the first quarter. McKitty was responsible for one of the key blocks that created a lane for Ekeler to get a rushing touchdown during that same quarter. Parham helped on a block while Kelley went to the outside to get a gain of 14 yards during the first drive of the third quarter.
Ekeler, thanks to some great run blocking, had an incredibly long run of 55 yards, his longest of the night, during the second quarter. You could see the influence of Kellan Moore already with the increase in running plays and the use of the tight ends for pass and run protection, so the Chargers are heading in the right direction on this front.
Cornerback J.C. Jackson Did Okay, But There’s Still Work To Do
The big story of the offseason was whether Jackson would be ready for Week 1 after coming back from a ruptured patella. He played quite a few snaps in this game and did okay for having gone out with such a catastrophic injury last year.
During the first quarter, he had a great pass breakup on a deep shot to Hill and did it again during the second. He also had an interception on a pass meant for wide receiver Braxton Berrios during the third. There were some issues though.
He had a pass interference call at the end of the second, giving Miami a down which led to a field goal. And there were times when Jackson couldn’t keep up with Hill. Jackson wasn’t even close to him as Hill caught a pass for 35 yards, running along the sideline for a touchdown during the third quarter.
Now, all the defense had issues keeping up with Hill, but Jackson’s lack of speed was evident. Jackson also had the second-worst receiver coverage grade of the team (45.2%). So it begs the question, can he still contend with some of these high-powered receivers after his injury?
The Receiver Coverage Was Not On Point
Hill was just everywhere on the field and when he wasn’t catching passes, Waddle was, or tight end Durham Smythe, or wide receivers River Cracraft and Berrios. Hill had 11 receptions from 15 targets for a total of 215 receiving yards, and the entire team had 466 total receiving yards. The receiver coverage grades were abysmal for all the Chargers, except for cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor and safety J.T. Woods who had grades in the 60s.
Cornerback Michael Davis, safety Alohi Gilman, and Taylor each had some good coverage moments. James had a great pass breakup on Smythe in the end zone during the second quarter, where he just drove in front, making sure to get his arm around Smythe to swat the ball away. But there were some low moments.
Davis had a couple of pass breakups but during the second quarter, Waddle caught the ball for a gain of 22 yards and went out of bounds as Davis was still running to make contact with him. Despite being in good coverage on Hill in the end zone during the fourth, Hill somehow caught the ball for the game-winning touchdown. The Miami receivers always seemed open and there was not enough pressure all around.
Justin Herbert’s Longer Throws Were Off
According to PFF, Herbert attempted four passes of 20 plus yards and completed two, and attempted five for 10 to 19 yards, also completing two. Herbert is known for letting it rip on longer throws, getting it to the right spot at the right time, but he overthrew a couple of deep shots. A lot of the quarterbacks who didn’t play during the preseason had some rust, so maybe we can chalk this up to first-week jitters.
Austin Ekeler’s Still Got it
To end on a positive note, Ekeler is still killing it. He had one rushing touchdown, 117 rushing yards, and 47 receiving yards with four receptions. He looked as good as last year. If he’s able to overcome an ankle injury sustained during the game, he seems to be on his way to getting those contract incentives regarding touchdowns and total yards that were added during the offseason.