Chargers Suffer Crushing Loss To Texans: By The UGLY Numbers
The Chargers squandered their chance to punch their ticket to the playoffs Sunday morning as their lack of roster depth was exposed by the Houston Texans. Both teams entered the game down key players at several positions, but the Texans proved to be the more resilient squad. Houston paired a career day from running back Rex Burkhead and three L.A. turnovers into a 41-29 victory.
The Chargers offense knew it was going to have to carry the team’s success in this game with the Los Angeles defense missing superstar pass-rusher Joey Bosa and Michael Davis due to COVID protocols and safety Derwin James due to a lingering hamstring issue. Quarterback Justin Herbert recorded his eighth 300+ passing yard game of the season but also threw two costly interceptions. The second of which was returned for a touchdown and put the game out of reach even though L.A. responded with a touchdown from receiver Josh Palmer on the ensuing possession.
Receiver Mike Williams was also not available in this game as he remains on the COVID list. With no Mike Dub, a reasonable response would be to fall back on All-Pro Keenan Allen who has more receptions than any other receiver in the NFL since 2017. As it turns out, the Houston depleted, yet determined secondary had a terrific game plan in place for Allen. Slayer was held to just four catches for 35 yards on six targets, significantly lower than his season averages (7 rec., 77.5 ypg).
Leading the Bolts in offensive production for the second-straight week, Justin Jackson has emerged as a capable second-string option behind starter Austin Ekeler. With Ekeler also in COVID protocols, Jackson played well, for the most part, recording a career-high 98 receiving yards with 64 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Even with the impressive outing, he did cough up the ball early in the fourth quarter which turned out to be extremely detrimental as the Chargers tried to surge their way back into contention.
Very much playing the role of spoiler, the Texans have now delivered a huge blow to the Chargers’ playoff chances. Entering the week Los Angeles was in control of its own destiny, boasting an 8-6 record and holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC Playoff race. Now 8-7, this frustrating loss changes things drastically as the Bolts have been bumped down to the No. 8 seed. If the Miami Dolphins can defeat the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football that would drop the Chargers down another spot. Next week the Chargers face the Denver Broncos at home before closing out the season on the road against the Las Vegas Raiders. All three teams are in the running for a wildcard spot.
The Chargers season is far from over with some very meaningful football games yet to be played. Still, that does very little to ease the pain of this defeat given the playoff implications. Where exactly did the Bolts go wrong in this game? Let’s look at some key numbers.
Self-inflicted mistakes are the theme of this game for the Chargers as they suffered three turnovers at the hands of the Houston defense while unable to force any themselves. Houston made the most of the Los Angles miscues and was able to convert all three turnovers into points. After forcing two interceptions from Herbert and recovering the Jackson fumble, the Texans came away with two touchdowns and a field goal for a grand total of SEVENTEEN points.
In a game where the Chargers ultimately lost by 12, those 17 points allowed off turnovers proved to be extremely costly. Not only did they take away potential points from Los Angeles, but they enabled an ailing offense that has struggled to score all year by presenting Houston with momentum and favorable field position. On the year, the Texans only average 14.8 points per game (2nd-worst in NFL) but managed to outproduce their season average on only three drives. Handing points to a team that has shown it struggles to do so is not a part of a winning recipe.
ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-NINE
It’s been very apparent all season that one of this team’s biggest deficiencies has been its inability to slow down the run game. After an atrocious start to the year, the run defense from this unit was slowly making improvements. Most notably the Chargers run defense played outstanding against the run-heavy offenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, beating both teams, and holding each to under 100 rushing yards.
Against the Texans, the Chargers were admittedly without some of their best run defenders, but that is no excuse for how poorly the unit played on Sunday. Houston’s banged-up offensive line played with tremendous physicality as the Chargers struggled to consistently set the edge or fill running lanes. In turn, Burkhead torched the Los Angeles defense for ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-NINE rushing yards (career-high) and two touchdowns. Burkhead is a serviceable back who has had an admirable career now in his ninth season with his third different team. Still, he is not the type of player you expect to explode for 6.8 yards per carry against what is supposed to be considered an improving run defense. The Texans finished with a total of 189 rushing yards, this marks the ninth time this season Los Angeles has surrendered at least 130 rushing yards in a game.
SIXTY-NINE POINT TWO-THREE
On the heels of the ground game, the Texans had tremendous success on early downs which allowed them to get into a ton of third-and-manageable situations. The Chargers’ struggles against the run are well known. However, a little less talked about but arguably just as worrisome has been their inability to get teams off the field on third down. This season the Los Angeles defense is ranked dead last in the NFL allowing teams to convert at a 49.71% conversion rate. That embarrassing number will get even more so after this last outing. The Texans finished 9-for-13 on third down for a SIXTY-NINE POINT TWO-THREE percent conversion rate.
Houston’s dominance in the run game relieved a lot of pressure off the shoulders of rookie quarterback Davis Mills, who simply played within himself and never tried to do too much. He finished with an efficient 21-for-27 passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Houston seemingly picked up first downs at will in this game which allowed them to sustain long drives and out-posses the Bolts by nearly ten minutes.