Bye Week Wish List For The Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers put out a less than enthusiastic effort against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens last week. While there is some cause for concern as the Chargers have definitely had some chinks in their armor exposed, no one should be panicking just yet. After all, fans and media alike were dubbing them as Super Bowl contenders.
One game in the NFL shouldn’t drastically change how we evaluate teams. The Packers got blown out by the Saints in Week One, The Chiefs got demolished by the Bills, who got outclassed by the Steelers. Such is the challenge in the NFL on a weekly basis. That being said, there are some things that the Chargers need to correct in order to reach their ceiling this year. That is the topic for this specific article, or rather wishlist.
A Healthy Justin Jones
The Chargers traveled to Baltimore without several key defensive starters. Including Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill, Nasir Adderley, and Jones. Murray and Jones are currently on injured reserve and hopefully could be back for the Patriots game, but their status is murky at best at the moment. The Chargers missed all of these players against the Ravens, but Jones’ absence, in particular, has been a tremendous loss over the first six games.
Linval Joseph has been the Chargers’ best interior defensive lineman, which is kind of a double-edged sword given his advanced age and the expectations placed on Jerry Tillery and Jones. Joseph can only do so much and needs more help. The rest of the defensive line has not played well enough, and as a result of Jones’ cramp-turned calf injury, the Chargers’ defensive line has simply been outmatched on a weekly basis.
They need him to be healthy because he is the most talented run defender at this stage in his career. We’ve only seen him for one-half of football this season, but he showed flashes of dominance against a very good Washington offensive line. That’s also the problem because that is all we’ve seen from him over the last few seasons. This is a make-or-break season for Jones, and he needs to stay healthy just as badly as the team needs him to stay healthy.
Embrace The Youth
The Chargers are relying upon a lot of their young players right now but there are two players in particular where I believe younger players would be performing, and have performed at a higher level. It’s not always easy to shuffle position groups around, especially when a veteran player is involved. In this instance, I believe that the secondary and offensive line could use some shuffling.
Unfortunately, the excitement has not turned into equivalent results. Harris had a couple of good games against the Broncos and Raiders last season, but other than that he has been underwhelming or injured during his time as a Charger. He has been asked to play a lot more safety this year and it has not been pretty. He is often out of position, not communicating effectively, and simply not providing much juice at that position.
I believe that giving Harris’ slot snaps to Tevaughn Campbell, and his safety snaps to Alohi Gilman and/or Mark Webb would be beneficial to the team overall. Harris is one of the best slot corners in NFL history, but he’s not that player anymore and isn’t providing the athleticism or instincts that the younger players on the roster do.
As for the offensive line, the Chargers are rolling with Michael Schofield and Storm Norton on the right side in the absences of Oday Aboushi and Bryan Bulaga. Individually, these players are fine backups. Schofield is a steady veteran and Norton is a solid developmental project. The problem is that they are playing next to each other and by extension lowering the ceiling of the unit rather significantly.
The Ravens cause a lot of problems for every offensive line so this isn’t an overreaction to one game, but rather an overarching belief that kicking Matt Feiler to right tackle for Norton, and inserting rookie Brenden Jaimes at left guard elevates their ceiling as a unit. (I also don’t believe Bulaga will be back this season, despite Staley’s optimism, which does play a factor in this belief.)
This would place two rookies next to each other in Jaimes and Rashawn Slater, and while I understand the coaching staff’s hesitancy to do that, Slater is not your typical rookie. I believe he is already an elite left tackle in the NFL, and he was renowned for his high football IQ throughout the draft process. They also showed good chemistry together in the limited amount of action that we saw in the preseason.
Chargers 1st round pick (LT Rashawn Slater) & 5th round pick (LG Brenden Jaimes) just absolutely mauling the Rams here. https://t.co/1uXaLxsv0M
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) August 16, 2021
This change allows the team to have a more consistent presence at right tackle where Feiler excelled in Pittsburgh, and get a higher ceiling player in the lineup instead of a developmental project. The lack of reps for Jaimes has been puzzling, as he had a very good preseason and training camp and seemed to be earning the team’s trust. Allowing him to play next to Slater, and Corey Linsley should allow him to play at a high level.
Sign A Reliable Return Man
One of the most striking differences on the field in Baltimore was the special teams play. A lot of the Chargers core four players are younger players so it stands to reason that the blocking and technique side of things is a work in progress. However, the Chargers have zero juice in their return game, which only accentuates the poor play around them.
Since they don’t want to overwork Adderley, the team has mostly been working with Larry Rountree or K.J. Hill as their main return men. These two players are safe options but lack the explosive ability needed to make a true impact in the return game.
Thankfully for the Chargers, the Texans and Buccaneers each just released some solid options that are available for signing. Andre Roberts has bounced around throughout his career because he doesn’t bring much to the table as a receiver but he’s been a Pro Bowl returner a few times for a couple of teams. He averaged 28 yards per kickoff return for the Bills last season. Roberts interests me more than the recently released Jaydon Mickens or David Moore do. Although, the Chargers are currently the worst team in the league at returning kicks so they should be exploring all options.
Make A Significant Addition To The Defensive Line
I couldn’t make a wishlist like this and not include the most obvious one. On Sunday the Chargers did something that really pointed to the lack of talent and depth along their defensive line: they played their star pass rusher Joey Bosa on the interior of the base defense more than they ever have leading up to this point. In fact, he had only done that twice before the game against the Ravens, and he lined up in that position 22 times on Sunday.
To me, this was as clear of an indication as any that they don’t trust their interior defensive tackle group to get the job done. So while general manager Tom Telesco is not known for his aggressive mentality around the trade deadline, I think Staley knows they need help beyond what Jones’ return can give them.
The rumors connecting them to Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks are legitimate. We know that they called around before the season started, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Who knows how the Bears standing as a fringe playoff team, and Hicks being banged up has changed that specific situation, but we do know the Chargers have explored other options.
We also know that the Chiefs are exploring options to improve their own deficient defensive line, and this could turn into an arms race, as PFF’s Brad Spielberger put it, for the AFC West title. Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox and Cleveland’s Andrew Billings are also thought to be available via trade, and the Dolphins and Giants are looked at as deadline sellers and both have talented defensive tackles that should attract the Chargers.
The Chargers simply do not have enough talent in the defensive tackle room to make me feel comfortable about a Super Bowl run at this point. Stopping the run is paramount when you are looking at potential playoff matchups with the Titans, Browns, and Ravens. Time to pick up the phone and get to work, Tom!
Let me know what your wishlist is for the Chargers after the bye week!