The Los Angeles Chargers opened the 2022 season with one of the games with the highest stakes of the weekend. Everyone knows the AFC West will be one of the linchpins of the NFL season, and everyone remembers what happened in Week 18 last season. That loss ultimately set the tone for the wildest season in franchise history for the Charges, and a loss in the following week did the same thing for the Raiders. Yesterday, they got to put everything out on the field after an offseason of pure insanity. Here are my key takeaways.
Return Of The (Khalil) Mack
There were a lot of strange takes surrounding Khalil Mack from fans and media members alike this offseason. He had six sacks in six full games last year and everyone talked about him as if he put up a goose egg. It was the first time EVER in his career that he sustained a major injury and for some reason, he was tagged with the “injury prone” label. Despite playing in all 16 games in six of his first seven seasons in the NFL. He did miss two games in 2018. How dare he.
Mack is not a boisterous player. He prefers to lead by example and let his effort and production do the talking for him. But he was very vocal about how much he was aware of the narratives surrounding him and how motivated he was to prove people wrong. Well, he got off to one heck of a start against the team that drafted him. On the day he registered five total pressures, sacked Derek Carr three times (including the game-winning strip sack), and hit him another time for good measure. The Raiders elected to trust Kolton Miller one on one for most of the game while they sent help to Joey Bosa’s side. That was a mistake. Watching these two edge rushers work in tandem this year is going to be a real treat for us.
Derwin James Is The Ultimate X-Factor
Every week around the league the word X-Factor gets thrown around in every preview article out there. At this point, the term should just be defined by what Derwin James does week in and week out. We’ve all known the ability that he has shown in his career, this is not news to those of you who are reading about this.
Still, I was in awe watching him yesterday on a snap-to-snap basis. He set the tone and opened the pass rush flood gates early in the game when he lined up off the left side of the Raiders defense, got cut by Josh Jacobs, and STILL managed to sack Carr. Later in the first half, he made a touchdown-saving tackle as a deep safety on Darren Waller. In the third quarter, he blanketed Hunter Renfrow from the slot which forced Carr to go to his next progression which gave Bosa and Morgan Fox the necessary time to get home on their rushes.
Finally, as the game was winding down and they had to get off the field, who did Brandon Staley put on Davante Adams? James. How many other safeties can take on an assignment against the team’s number one receiver in crunch time, let alone DAVANTE FREAKING ADAMS?? James is one of one in this league and we should not take him for granted.
Mixed Bag From The Offensive Line
The Chargers have come a VERY long way in the offensive line department over the last few years. It can feel a little nitpicky to criticize this unit with the way they pass protected against the Raiders compared to the previous groups we have had to watch. But the standard has changed with this team’s version. The Chargers view this offensive line as a weapon, and it’s hard to blame them after how they played last season, and then presumably upgraded the right side of the group. The expectations have changed.
The good news is that they successfully accomplished their primary objective yesterday, which was to neutralize the Raiders’ vaunted pass rush. Outside of two or three reps from Maxx Crosby, the offensive line did not let Justin Herbert get hit. Chandler Jones was a total non-factor going up against Rashawn Slater and Trey Pipkins mostly held his own against Crosby. The interior trio of Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, and Zion Johnson was fantastic in pass protection. Again, no surprise given the makeup of those three.
The bad news is that the Chargers were not able to generate nearly enough push in the run game. Outside of a few nice runs from Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley, the Raiders’ defense proved to be very stingy. On the day the Chargers’ three running backs were held to 77 yards on 26 attempts, which is less than three yards on average. There were far too many instances where the Chargers’ backs got hit behind the line of scrimmage and a large part of that is due to the offensive line. I expect them to be better as the season goes along but this was a poor showing on the ground.
Special Teams Trending In The Right Direction?
The Chargers made a bunch of special teams changes this offseason, including the hiring of Ryan Ficken to head up the unit. They then went out and re-signed Dustin Hopkins, signed All-Pro long snapper Josh Harris and former fifth-round draft pick JK Scott. Clearly, they wanted some established veterans at the three established veterans to take on the specialist spots. They learned their lesson from last year in that regard.
The punting unit in particular was a big problem over the last few seasons and so far, so good for that group. Scott is proving to be worthy of the training camp hype that was surrounding him. He had two absolutely beautiful punts yesterday, including one that was downed at the two-yard line. He was one of two punters in the league to average over five seconds of hangtime per attempt in week one, pending Monday Night Football. Harris also led a very clean operation overall that held Renfrow to just 4 yards of return yards on the day.
The one concern is obviously Hopkins missing a 49-yard field goal that would have given the Chargers a true 14-point lead. Instead, it gave the Raiders a short and they capitalized on it with a six-play, 61-yard drive ending with a touchdown. That made it 24-19 when it should have been 27-13. Yesterday was a step in the right direction overall though.
Justin Herbert Is An Alien
What else is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Herbert is an absolute alien out there. There are three or four throws a game that leaves my jaw on the ground. The dude was just throwing dots all day long. He will be unanimously regarded as one of the three best quarterbacks in the league by season’s end. If you disagree, argue with a wall.