Chargers vs 49ers Key Matchups

Matt Wadleigh
Members of the Los Angeles Chargers run out of the tunnel before the fan fest scrimmage.

Chargers vs 49ers Key Matchups

Let’s face it, the preseason opener for the Los Angeles Chargers wasn’t the thriller everybody had hoped for, but football is officially back at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Rams and this weekend the Chargers will face the San Francisco 49ers, and there are a ton of matchups to watch in this game.

Previously, we discussed some of the key battles and matchups for the Chargers in their opener against the Rams. With the first batch of cuts officially done, the roster has slimmed down and players feel even more tension as they fight for their jobs.

Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, and Keenan Allen didn’t play, as expected. But Josh Palmer shined brightly, and Larry Rountree also proved his worth in his Chargers debut.

Now, the Chargers and 49ers will clash, and the 49ers have a highly debated quarterback controversy that will steal the show on Sunday evening in the Bay Area.

For now, let’s examine a few more of the matchups and position battles for the Chargers as the regular season gets that much closer.

Chargers Key Matchups #1: Running Back…Again

Last week we discussed the battle between Rountree, Justin Jackson, and Joshua Kelley. Fans will have to monitor the groin injury that Jackson sustained in the game against the Rams as it could prove costly for the former Northwestern back since he is once again forced to sit out. (The Chargers are hopeful he returns for the last preseason game, but that doesn’t seem likely.)

Nonetheless, there is one back that came out of nowhere in the Chargers’ first preseason game: Darius Bradwell. The Anthony Lynn-maligned Bradwell had just three carries for 18 yards but scored the only touchdown of the game for the Chargers. He displayed the kind of power that led Lynn to compare him to an F-250.

Bradwell also played well on special teams, and if anything, he has made a compelling case for a roster spot of some sort.

Then there is Kelley. He didn’t run the ball well on Saturday, toting the rock eight times for a measly 19 yards and just one catch. But, according to Daniel Popper of The Athletic, Kelley has been doing dirty work for Brandon Staley’s squad. Kelley has reportedly been blocking his tail off in the Chargers’ recent practice, and he earned high praise from offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi afterward.

“I didn’t see it, but I heard it. Those pads were popping,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said of Kelley’s blitz pickup. “He’s another guy that comes to work every day, studies the game, and aims to get better. You can certainly see that he’s a trustworthy component when it comes to pass protection.”

If Kelley continues to do the little things right, it won’t matter how many yards he gains. Staley and the new Chargers regime want to play a hard-nosed brand of football.

Finally, there is Rountree, and do we really need to say more? He led all Chargers’ backs with eight carries and 63 yards on Saturday with a 25-yard scamper and flashed his tools all throughout. At this point, not only is Rountree getting a roster spot, but he is a serious candidate for the No.2 running back position. His vision and physicality are giving shades of Mark Ingram.

With Jackson slated to miss the joint practices, and the upcoming preseason game, the other three running backs have a huge opportunity to potentially put Jackson out of a job. Despite his injury history, Jackson is the second most talented runner on the roster. The younger backs will have to play very well to knock him off his horse.

Chargers Key Matchups #2: Offensive Lineman Brenden Jaimes

The trenches are going to be a huge area of concern for this Chargers team, particularly in the depth department. Unfortunately, injuries upfront have derailed their success in recent years, and they wanted to assure that wasn’t the case this season.

Insert Brenden Jamies, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Nebraska and is definitely making his case– not only for a roster spot, either. Jaimes has played well early on in training camp, and his versatility is something the Chargers coaching staff covets.

He played 49 snaps on Saturday and lined up next to Rashawn Slater, forming a dynamic, young duo on the Chargers offensive line. Just watch this talented pairing work during Saturday’s game against the Rams.

Jaimes has been getting work at both guard spots and has recently been working at tackle as well. He can provide the Chargers with much-needed flexibility, barring any injuries that might happen during the season.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also raved about the talent of Jaimes and how he has caught on early in his NFL career (h/t Daniel Popper of The Athletic.) 

“I just see a guy that’s going to be a really solid offensive lineman for a number of years.”

If Jaimes continues to play well, he will not only earn a roster spot, but the Chargers coaching staff won’t be afraid to lean on him when he’s needed. Chargers fans should be very excited about the future of Jaimes and Slater – and hopefully, another early-round draft pick next year, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Chargers Key Matchups #3: Kicker. Yes, Again.

This might sound repetitive, but it is necessary. The Chargers released Alex Kessman earlier this week, and in turn narrowed the kicking battle down to two horses: Michael Badgley and Tristian Vizcaino. 

Now, it is worth telling that Vizcaino got the majority of the kicks in the Chargers preseason opener. He nailed a pair of field goals, with the longest being a 38-yarder. Badgley kicked just one extra point on Saturday.

The two have continued to battle it out during practice, and Daniel Popper once again mentioned the details of the competition.

“Vizcaino went 5-for-5, hitting from 33, 41, 43, 47 and 52 yards. Badgley kicked from the same distances and went 4-for-5, missing from 43 yards.”

It is certainly telling that Vizcaino kicked the field goals and that he again kicked first during practice as of Tuesday. The writing could be on the walls for Badgley, and he will need to thrive in the game against the 49ers if he wants to keep the job.

Truth be told, this is the most interesting– and probably most important– position matchup for the Chargers as a whole.

Members of the Los Angeles Chargers run out of the tunnel before the fan fest scrimmage. Via Chargers Photographer Ty Nowell