We’re here! We’ve made it to week one of the regular season! Excitement is in the air, and it’s time to put into practice everything the Chargers have built since last season. Here’s to a season where they can pick up from where they left off and fingers crossed, make a playoff run. Below, we’ll look at some x-factors the Chargers have against their division rival Raiders.
Protection for Justin Herbert
The Chargers finally seem to have an offensive line that can truly keep Justin Herbert standing. Between the rookies like Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer, to the veterans like Corey Linsley, and Matt Feiler the line seems solid enough to hold the likes of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones at bay. We also finally have a definitive right tackle in Trey Pipkins.
Pipkins has begun to hold his own, and Brandon Staley remarked on the day of the final roster announcement how much Pipkins had grown during camp. When Storm Norton did have the spotlight last season as right tackle, the numbers weren’t that impressive, especially against the Raiders. He allowed a total of 9 sacks last year and 59 total quarterback pressures, 11 of which occurred during the season-ending Raiders game. Pipkins played a very limited number of snaps last year compared to Norton, but in that time he didn’t allow for any sacks and very few pressures. Though I do have some worry that Pipkins may not be the best man for the job, it’s better to go with someone new at the position, and with a solid offensive line, there will be strong guys around to pick up the slack if things go a little haywire.
The Chargers Edge Rushers
We’ve been hearing all throughout the off-season about the dynamic duo of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack and so far this duo is every bit worth the hype. It’s going to be exciting seeing these guys complement one another on the edge and make the Raiders receivers and especially Derek Carr uncomfortable. Carr’s completion percentage was the lowest it was all season during the final game against the Chargers at 55.6%, and I fully expect it to be around that or even lower with those two pressuring him from the outside. On Day 14 of training camp, Staley discussed how complete of a football player Mack is, and how he doesn’t chase sacks, but rushes only when it calls for it. Bosa has already proven his worth as he’s made it to the Pro Bowl for the last three years. And with the development of Chris Rumph, there’s certainly some pure pass rush power in this defensive line.
Besides The Edge Rushers, There’s A Retooled Defense
Missed tackles were a big problem throughout the 2021 season for the Chargers, including during the Chargers’ last game against the Raiders, when there were 13 missed tackles. I believe there are two key additions and the development of one Chargers holdover that will be key to fixing this issue. Having an inside linebacker added like Kyle Van Noy, who has been extremely solid throughout his career, and can also play on the edge, should prove to be a great asset. As we all know, the interior defensive line of the Bolts last year was a big weakness. This is why they went and signed Sebastian Joseph-Day. He will be the linchpin of the Chargers’ run defense and needs to dominate his matchups on Sunday.
Finally, there’s Nasir Adderley. He was one of the team’s most consistent defenders last season and appears to have taken another step forward. He has shown tremendous growth throughout the offseason, even at times serving as the primary leader of the secondary while Derwin James was holding in. He showed elite range and physicality playing as the team’s center fielder last season and that should continue to show up this season.
More (Running Back) Power, Rabbit!
The Raiders had double the rushing yards of the Chargers in that last game at a combined team total of 174, while the Chargers only had a combined team total of 85, 64 of which came from Austin Ekeler. With the improvements made on the offensive line, there will definitely be more chances for the Chargers to increase their rushing yards this upcoming game and this season. I’ve talked before about how Joshua Kelley really stepped up during training camp and was a standout out among the running backs during the preseason games, so I hope he can be that reliable weapon to share some of the load with Ekeler.
I’m curious about the role that Sony Michel will play in this offense. Over the years, despite his fluctuating touchdown number, there hasn’t been a large decline in terms of rushing yards. And based on Staley’s press conference from this first week, it seems like they are interested in Michel for his versatility and that they could use him in a wide range of running back situations. Michel does still have to contend with Isaiah Spiller, who looked strong during the preseason before the injury. All the options that the Chargers have at running back, I believe will increase this team’s rushing yards this season and help Ekeler out in a big way, but it seems like we’re still in store for a showdown in the running back room as Michel and Spiller battle for that RB2 spot.
Special Teams Weapon(s)
It’s no secret that the Chargers have been struggling on special teams and that point was further solidified during their preseason game against Dallas this year, where a punt and kick return were each returned for touchdowns. Luckily there’s been an emphasis on special teams this summer, and with more experienced players back there like Troy Reeder and Nick Niemann, there’s hope yet for this position. The biggest asset to this position group is DeAndre Carter. In 2021, Carter had a combined 904 kickoff return yards and 134 punt return yards. Meanwhile, the Chargers for the entire 2021 season had a combined team total of 976 kickoff return yards and 107 punt return yards and the majority of those were from Andre Roberts, who is no longer with the team. With someone like Carter on the roster and all the preparation put toward special teams this summer, the Chargers are definitely on their way up.
Chargers X-Factors For Week One Matchup Against The Raiders. Photo Cred: Mike Nowak