The Chargers are spiraling. Granted, a win against the Chiefs was a long shot but they REALLY needed it. As of now, it’s doubtful if Justin Fields will play in Chargers vs Bears. And if he doesn’t, the Chargers may have their best chance to right the ship. Here are the things they’ll need to do to not completely tank the season:
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1. Stop the Run
This will be crucial if Fields plays. And if he doesn’t, it still applies with a running back like D’Onta Foreman on the roster. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Foreman is coming off a season-high game in rushing yards (89) and rushing touchdowns (two) and is on pace to match his career-high rushing touchdown number from last season (five). He’s had multiple first downs in each game with six during this last matchup against the Raiders. Though Foreman is listed as third on the depth chart, with Khalil Herbert on IR, though he may see a reduced role if Roschon Johnson clears concussion protocol, he’ll still be a player to keep an eye on.
The Chargers have not done too badly in run defense and in particular players like edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu, Khalil Mack, and safety Derwin James have been the standouts. Where they have not excelled is in stopping rushing quarterbacks, so that will be a worry if Fields plays.
2. If Justin Fields Doesn’t Play, Khalil Mack Must Have a Repeat Performance of Week 4
If Tyson Bagent is going to be the quarterback come Sunday, he better watch out. Though Bagent did well for his first full NFL start, Mack is very capable of dismantling rookie quarterbacks, as was evident during the Chargers matchup against the Raiders, where he had six sacks on rookie Aidan O’Connell. If the pass rush is on point, Mack will be able to be the disruptor we all know and love, giving the Chargers an advantage.
3. Keep the Offense Going in the Second Half
The offense was pretty non-existent in the second half on Sunday. The Chargers had quite a few three-and-outs in the fourth quarter, and besides that one incredible rushing touchdown from Joshua Kelley for 49 yards in the second, there was a combined 139 rushing yards for the Chargers during that entire game. The run blocking has been lacking since the Miami game and Austin Ekeler is getting stopped at every turn.
Kudos to Kelley for his rushing touchdown and to left tackle Rashawn Slater and tight end Gerald Everett for the blocks to make it happen, but there needs to be more of these moments if Ekeler and any of the other running backs can ever be productive.
The pass blocking during this game was slightly better than against Dallas but the pressure was still on, as Herbert was sacked a total of five times and only got one passing touchdown. So far the weak link appears to be right tackle Trey Pipkins, who’s allowed the most sacks (five) and QB pressures allowed (17) throughout the season. Slater isn’t too far away in terms of QB pressures allowed (15) but he’s only allowed one sack.
The center position is also an issue and though Will Clapp wasn’t responsible for any sacks, he did allow some hits and pressures in this last game. This area will continue to be a problem until Corey Linsley is back. The offensive line will have to be fortified somehow in order to get anything going.
The Chargers seem to always come out hot on offense in the first half of games, and on Sunday they were going score for score with Kansas City. But in the second half, they ran out of steam, which can’t continue. They have to finish like they start.
4. Improve the Receiver Coverage
DJ Moore is having a year and he’s currently at five receiving touchdowns, close to his career-high in 2022 of seven. And he’s had multiple first downs each game. Moore will definitely be a threat to this defense as the receiver coverage has not been great.
During the Chargers/Chiefs game, Travis Kelce had the most receiving yards of the season and as always, there were moments when he was wide-open. I expected better coverage on him but part of the issue may be that the Chargers are missing some pieces like safety Alohi Gilman, who has been out with an injury, and they’ve had to turn to players like safety Dean Marlow, who has struggled in receiver coverage. Marlowe will need to step up if Gilman doesn’t play, especially if players like cornerback Michael Davis, who did so well in this area last year, are underperforming.
5. Stop Turning Over the Ball
Unfortunately, Herbert has had at least one interception each game since Week 4 and in this last matchup against the Chiefs, he had two. He’s also had quite a few batted passes. Part of this is due to not being able to evade the pass rush and having to make quick decisions, while the other part is his finger, as Daniel Popper of The Athletic mentioned in his article that Herbert’s injury has impacted his play. Herbert needs time to throw but he also needs to play cleaner, which is hard given the injury, but has to happen to not let opportunities slip by.