Chargers Winners And Losers: Week One
Our first NFL Sunday is already here and gone. As a result of the new season, I will be bringing you guys the winners and losers of each week. We’re going to do this 17 (plus playoffs?) more times, so I wanted to define some of the ground rules. There isn’t going to be a set amount of winners and losers per week. That forces that issue to a certain degree, and I’d rather see the spotlight go on the guys I actually think earned it that week.
The Los Angeles Chargers opened this new season with the solid, but not great Washington Football Team. While everyone knows that Washington struggles to move the football on offense, Washington sports one of the best defenses in the entire league. As a result, they would not only provide a good challenge but be a solid measuring stick to see where the Chargers were coming into the season. While by no means the cleanest game, the Chargers pulled out a victory and set up their season the right way. Let’s take a look at who I thought won and lost Week 1 with the Chargers.
I chose to put these two in a combo for a few good reasons. Because while both men played excellent football this weekend, they were not as clean as you expect. Herbert had a wonderful game, just not the statistical monstrosities we are used to from last season – at least in terms of touchdowns. Herbert hit tight window after tight window and made some incredible touch and back shoulder passes to keep drives alive. He more than looked the part of franchise savior that we billed him out to be after his stellar rookie season. The reason he doesn’t get his own bullet point is that he’s set the bar so high that watching him fumble (albeit the result of a questionable call) and throw an interception puts a small damper on the positivity.
Allen also suffers from a similar issue as Herbert, and that’s also why he doesn’t get his own bullet point. Allen is just so good in general, and with the presence of Mike Williams this week, we just expect more from Allen. That doesn’t mean he didn’t feast on the Washington secondary. Turning in a 9 catch, 100-yard game, Allen used his excellent route running to get himself open and create separation. Allen is being penalized here simply because we know he is one of the AFC’s best receivers. So even when he balls out, we know he could do even more given the opportunity. Either way though, these two clearly have a special connection and that was on display Sunday.
The big reason Keenan Allen wasn’t the best receiver on the field Sunday, was because Williams absolutely had a day. A lot has been made over the last couple of seasons about Williams being a sleeper type of guy who was ready to bust out. But injuries and inconsistent play kept him on the hot seat. Especially this year, as he’s playing for a new contract next season. Everyone, including myself, expected big performances from him this year to finally see if that potential would be filled. If game 1 was anything to build on, we’ve got the makings of probably the best passing attack in the league.
Williams was allowed to expand his route tree under new Head Coach Brandon Staley, and boy did it pay off. No longer just being used for deep threats or goal-line fades, Williams became the full-blown X receiver he’s meant to be. As a result he had the most well-rounded effort of his career thus far. He was targeted 12 times, catching eight of them for 82 yards and a touchdown. He did drop another touchdwon, which led to the bizarre Herbert fumble a few plays later, but considering how frustrated the fan base has been with him, this was a huge win for Williams’ 2021 outlook.
The Chargers let Hunter Henry go this off-season, and someone had to step up to be Herbert’s second target, so far it looks like Williams is going to get every opportunity to be that guy.
Chargers Resilient Culture
The last few years have been tough for the Chargers. This team had become kind of known for being a sad sack. Late game losses due to turnovers, penalties, missed kicks, special teams mishaps, and just safe boring play-calling have seen a lot of Chargers fans become bitter as they gained a reputation for not being able to finish off games. This game had all those makings.
A number of huge penalties kept Washington in the game. With the turnovers we saw from the Chargers as well, this was definitely primed to be a typical “Chargers blew it” type of game. But that didn’t happen. They dug deep and made big plays when they mattered, Coach Staley didn’t get scared of the moment and kept the aggressive play calling up. When you do that as a coach, it breeds confidence in the guys knowing that you think they can make those plays happen. Good on the Chargers, hopefully, this turns around a string of ugly thrown away games, and establishes a tough demeanor around the locker room.
Ekeler is undoubtedly the engine that makes this offense run. He’s a guy with big expectations on his shoulders to deliver a thousand yards of total offense this season. Being their main guy they rely on for rushing offense, and knowing how big of a contributor that Ekeler is in the pass game led him to fall pretty short of his expectations this week.
Ekeler started the game off strong, punching in the first touchdown of the season for the Chargers. After that though, he struggled throughout the rest of the game. While he rattled off a few decent chunk plays, considering how much of a lion share of the carries he had, he has to be better than 57 yards on 15 carries. Not only does he need to be better on the ground, but uncharacteristically Ekeler didn’t even see a target this week from Herbert. Especially on a day where Herbert spread the ball around to eight different receivers.
There’s no doubt in my mind the coaching staff will work a lot harder next week to get Ekeler involved in the pass game, but as far as Week One is concerned, Ekeler was really a no-show.
It’s hard to nit-pick a defense that came out with a win, and pretty much held the Washington offense in check all day. No win is perfect though, and we’re trying to see what areas they need improvement on. The one consistent source of offense that Washington did find was running the ball. While Antonio Gibson still fumbled twice, he was pretty effective when he did keep the ball in his hands, even though he couldn’t find the end zone on the day. Rushing 20 times for 90 yards, and a healthy 4.5 yards per carry.
For the most part the Chargers front seven played pretty well. Limiting the run game in general, and blocking up the middle of the field. But when Gibson did find some success moving the ball, it generally seemed like he was taking advantage of the Chargers game plan, which was focused on limiting explosive plays in the passing game.
Even if that is the case, on paper the Chargers should be better against the run than what they showed. With players like Bosa, Linval Joseph, Kenneth Murray, and Kyzir White flying around in the front seven, you’d think they would have figured that part out this year. They still could, but this was definitely a weak point in the victory over the Football Team. Christian Covington was a bright spot, but the rest of the group needs to step it up this week against Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.