Welcome back! It’s been a while since we did this article series, and since the Los Angeles Chargers actually won a close game, we decided to bring it back. The Chargers and Atlanta Falcons each tried really hard to lose that game Sunday. Whether it be the weekly Chargers game management miscue, or the Falcons’ tendencies to turn the ball over, it seemed like neither team wanted to win the game. Ultimately, the Chargers got three very timely interceptions from the defense, the last of which gave the Chargers offense just enough time for Justin Herbert’s first career game-winning drive.
There were plenty of things to take away from this game, and we will get into that but the talk of the town this morning is how week fourteen affected the 2021 draft order. By virtue of their loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Cincinnati Bengals essentially locked up the third overall pick – the Penei Sewell pick. They now sit at 2-10-1 and would have to win two of their last three games in order to move out of that spot. I think it’s safe to say that won’t be happening considering they play the Pittsburgh Steelers, coming off of a loss, this week and close the season out with the Baltimore Ravens, who will be fighting for their playoff lives. Sewell might as well sign on the dotted line right now.
The Cowboys and Chargers each won so they continue to hold onto picks four and five. Where it gets tricky is after that because there is now only one game separating picks four and thirteen. The Chargers, Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, Falcons, Houston Texans (their pick goes to Miami), and Philadelphia Eagles are all sitting at four wins. Then you have the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, and Denver Broncos each with five wins. The Falcons and Panthers are easily the most likely teams to lose the rest of their games, especially if Julio Jones and Christian McCaffrey’s seasons are over.
Draft order aside, the Chargers still have a lot to play for over these last three games. It’s rare that an NFL team gets to play all three divisional opponents to close out the season. As much as Chargers fans don’t want to hear it, it’s not out of the question that Anthony Lynn saves his job down the stretch. Mike McCoy and Norv Turner each stuck around one year longer than they should have, it’s not crazy to think the same will happen with Lynn. Even though he should absolutely be relieved of his duties at the end of this season.
That being said, let’s get into some key numbers that helped tell the story of the Chargers victory yesterday afternoon.
Chargers Beat The Falcons: By The Numbers
Coming into the season there was a lot of excitement around Austin Ekeler. He more than earned his first big-time payday in the NFL, and he would have his first chance at being the Chargers starting running back. His season got off to a red hot start, but then he tore his hamstring against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the game. The running game for the Chargers was so inconsistent without him because he can compensate for poor blocking unlike any of the other Chargers running backs. It really is a shame that he had to miss so much time because his full-season pace is just outrageous.
As for the game plan on Sunday against the Falcons, it was pretty clear that they wanted to feature him early and often. To the tune of amassing TWENTY FOUR touches; fifteen carries and nine receptions(on nine targets). He ended up totaling 146 yards on the day: 79 rushing and 67 receiving. It was a great day for him, and the offense needed every ounce of it.
They used him in a variety of ways: jet sweeps, outside zone, inside zone, screen passes, and quick routes out of the backfield. The fact that he’s able to take on such a heavy workload just three weeks after returning from that injury, is simply amazing. He ran hard all game long, breaking tackle after tackle. 67 of his 79 yards rushing came after first contact, per pro football focus, which points to how elusive he is at the point of attack.
Plenty of folks will point to the injury as evidence that he can’t handle a full starter’s workload, but that hamstring injury was a freak accident and only the first major injury of his career. Obviously, it would be nice if the Chargers had a better, or at least more reliable, stable of backs behind him, but there shouldn’t be any reason to doubt Ekeler going forward. His backups on the other hand? Now that’s a different situation entirely.
Another player that the Chargers were very optimistic about coming into this season was Mike Williams. There was a lot of talk that he had improved his route running ability and that Keenan Allen was having a real effect on him. He was coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his career and led the league in yards per reception. It even looked like he was going to be much more involved in the offense after Tyrod Taylor targeted him nine times in week one against the Bengals. However, it now seems that all the optimism surrounding him was essentially just hearsay.
Williams is a fine player. He compliments Allen well as a number two target. The way he lays his body on the line every week is truly amazing to watch. There aren’t many things that get the heart rate up like watching him come down with an incredible jump ball that no other player in the league could. But that’s also kind of the problem with Williams’ game. His skill set is not conducive to career longevity. He missed his NINTH career game on Sunday. That might not seem like a lot, but that doesn’t tell the full story of how many games he has played while dealing with an injury of some sort. He nearly missed the season opener due to a shoulder injury sustained in training camp. He missed the Tampa Bay game with a knee injury. On Sunday he couldn’t play due to a back injury. He is always dealing with something.
At some point, the narrative surrounding a player just becomes who they are. Maybe he will be able to shake the injury bug down the road and improve as a route runner, as was promised by the coaching staff this year. But maybe he won’t. He’s an incredibly entertaining football player, but he only has three career 100-yard games to his name. And yes there are a lot of other mouths to feed in Los Angeles, but the Chargers drafted him to be a number one receiver. At this point, he might not even be a number two, and he’s due over $15 million next year. The Chargers might be better suited to try and trade him and find his replacement in the draft next April.
Michael Davis is having a breakout season for the Chargers. He had been a much-maligned player on social media over the last few years, much of the criticisms were warranted. It even got to a point that people were asking to see Brandon Facyson over him. To his credit, he has improved dramatically this season. He’s become a much more reliable player in 2020, both against the pass and in run support. He’s already set career highs in tackles and run stops.
His improvement from last season to now is incredible, and it has continued all throughout the season. In the first five games of the season, Davis was targeted 28 times, allowed 21 receptions (75%), had one interception and two passes defended. In the eight games since the bye week, he’s been targeted 38 times, allowed just 17 receptions(45%), had two interceptions (really should be three if not for Nasir Adderley running into him last week), and five passes defended. Cornerback is one of the toughest positions in the league, especially given how the rules are so skewed in favor of the offense. Davis managing to improve his reception percentage by THIRTY points over the course of the season is remarkable.
Davis’ emergence could not have come at a better time for the Chargers. Casey Hayward and Chris Harris have both shown their age over the course of the season, and both have struggled with some kind of injuries at different points in the season. Calvin Ridley moved all over the field for the Falcons on Sunday, but Davis was really the only one who had any kind of success in stopping him. When he was lined up opposite of Hayward or Harris, it almost always resulted in a big play for Atlanta.
Davis is arguably the second-best player on the defense right now, behind Joey Bosa. He has become a player that the Chargers cannot afford to lose. He’s not a player that should be counted on as a team’s best corner, which is the case right now, but he’s absolutely a very capable cornerback two.
The Chargers now sit at 4-9 and have three games left to build some positive momentum for next season.