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Takeaways From The Chargers Week 10 Loss To The Vikings

The Los Angeles Chargers dropped a very winnable game to Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings. The Chargers have no one to blame but themselves for the loss due to continued inconsistent play at key spots. The Vikings made more plays than they did and that is the basic, field-level takeaway but I’ll dive into a few other key takeaways below. 

The Offense Was Unable To Get In A Rhythm 

At the core of the offensive philosophy that Brandon Staley and Joe Lombardi have been employing all year is the goal to get Justin Herbert and the offense in a rhythm. Lombardi of course is heading up an offense trying to install bits and pieces of the systems in New Orleans, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Green Bay. 

All of those systems are rhythm and timing-based offenses, with a lot of option routes and flexibility built into any given play. The Chargers have also embraced the run-pass-option (RPOs). The intention of the system is to build plays on top of each other and allow Herbert to “stay on schedule” as Staley always likes to say. I believe in the various schematic elements in place will allow Herbert to continue to develop, and eventually “become the system” as Staley said repeatedly throughout the Spring and Summer. 

The problem right now is that the offense is not getting in rhythm at a high enough frequency. We’ve seen bits and pieces of it against the Chiefs, Browns, and Eagles. But we’ve also seen far too many instances of the opposite side, and that happened again on Sunday. The Chargers are not doing a good enough job at extending drives and that’s due to a variety of reasons namely, lack of a consistent rushing attack, dropped passes, protection breakdowns from their running backs and tight ends, and etc.  

Lombardi’s default to things not working has been to overemphasize the quick game dropbacks and once Herbert is back in rhythm, they’ll start being aggressive again. This was on full display on Sunday when Herbert only had 4 completions of 15 yards or more, per PFF. 

While I understand what Lombardi’s thought process is here, that is what he knows and is what he is comfortable with after spending the last five years with past his prime Drew Brees. However, I would like to see him mix up the recipe a little more. We saw the offense get off schedule against the Raiders and it was the run game that got them back on schedule. We saw the offense get off to a hot start against the Eagles in part due to the screen game. Even on Sunday, it seemed that Herbert was about to settle in after he had that 16 yard run on a designed zone read. The point is, that it doesn’t always have to be quick game dropbacks to allow the offense to settle in but unfortunately, that was what happened on Sunday. 

Andre Roberts, Josh Palmer, and Donald Parham are being underutilized in the offense. Maybe start there.

Run Defense Is Improving

Believe it or not, the much-maligned run defense of the Chargers is improving. The unit got absolutely steamrolled by the Cowboys, Browns, and Ravens while Justin Jones was dealing with a calf injury that took him out for six and a half games. That injury was a strong contributor to the Chargers having the worst run defense in the league. They were outmatched in a lot of those early games in the trenches. 

Since Jones returned against the Patriots, however, they have allowed 140 yards per game on the ground which is good enough for 25th best. That number is even a little misleading due to the sheer number of attempts from the Patriots and Vikings, and Jalen Hurts vacating perfectly clean pockets time after time for the Eagles. The Vikings had 32 attempts for 103 yards yesterday, and the Chargers held Dalvin Cook to 3.9 yards per carry average. The Patriots carried the ball 35 times for 131 yards, and the Chargers held Damien Harris to 3.5 yards per carry. The Eagles ran for 176 yards on 33 carries, but three of those were Hurts scrambling for no reason. The Chargers held Jordan Howard and Boston Scott to 111 yards combined on 27 carries, good for a 4.1 per carry average. 

Jones has made a huge difference for the Chargers’ defense. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he is an explosive gap shooter to go along with Linval Joseph, who is tied for second in the league in run stops among all defensive tackles with 20. That duo allows the linebackers and safeties to flow to the ball more often and make plays more consistently. The Chargers are one other consistent defensive tackle away from really figuring this out. Getting Drue Tranquill and Nasir Adderley back will also help that going forward, but this is good news overall.

Secondary Struggles To Make Plays

Injuries to Michael Davis, Asante Samuel Jr., and Adderley have definitely compounded things for the back end of the Chargers defense, but this is the NFL, and depth players need to show up at a higher level. That, unfortunately, did not happen on Sunday, as Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen continually beat them, particularly in third and long situations. 

The Chargers have been harping on their inability to get into what Staley calls “known pass” situations, which are long-distance second and third down plays. They were finally able to do this at a high level on Sunday, and as a result, the pass rush had their best output of the season. The pass rush amassed 20 total pressures and hit Cousins five times. We finally saw Uchenna Nwosu have a productive day as a rusher, totaling four pressures and two quarterback hits. Joey Bosa added six pressures and was his usual disruptive self. 

The problem on Sunday was the secondary. Tevaughn Campbell has been solid as a depth corner behind the starting trio, but he has been thrust into a starting role over the last two weeks and Jefferson ate him alive. He was the primary defender on five of Jefferson’s eight targets and that resulted in five catches for 100 yards for the Vikings star defender. Campbell was also out of position on the final third down play of the game, which resulted in an 18-yard reception by Theilen on third and 20. That Vikings duo is as good as it gets, but still, Campbell was relatively in a good position on several of the passes but couldn’t take advantage of the situation. To make things worse, he dropped a potential pick-six early in the first half after Thielen tripped.

Campbell was not alone, unfortunately. Samuel Jr. missed two bad tackles which allowed the Vikings to get some big plays. Derwin James and Alohi Gilman ran into each other in the red zone which resulted in Tyler Conklin’s touchdown. Gilman also struggled to make an impact and missed two tackles himself. Even James dropped an interception in the endzone that would have taken away three points from the Vikings. It was overall just a rough day for the Chargers secondary. 

Puzzling Decision Making By Brandon Staley

Staley has made a lot of fans around the league due to his aggressive nature and an overarching belief in his players’ ability to make plays in the clutch, most importantly Herbert. He has constantly preached aggression over recklessness, but the pattern for a hyper-aggressive coach had definitely emerged at the halfway point of the season. That unfortunately changed on Sunday. 

The Chargers had three opportunities to be aggressive on fourth down and elected to be conservative on each one. Two of them in particular were quite puzzling. They had a fourth and four at the Minnesota 40 yard line on their second drive of the game. Staley elected to not go for it, and in addition, took a delay of game and then punted. The recommendation from Ben Baldwin’s model was a strong go, and Staley has usually stuck to those models. To make matters worse this was the possession after Cousins fumbled. They were unable to capitalize on the rare mistake. 

Later on, in the fourth quarter, a similar situation arose when the Chargers were down 10 points. They had driven down the length of the field and were moving the ball fairly well. After Mike Williams dropped a would-be touchdown the Chargers had a fourth and two at the Vikings’ six-yard line. Baldwin’s model again had a very strong recommendation to go, and again Staley elected to be conservative and take the field goal. The Chargers needed two scores, and at least one touchdown. These were poor decisions by Staley and a puzzling alteration from his previously exhibited decision-making processes. 

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Steven Haglund

Author Steven Haglund

Hello LA Football fans! I am so stoked to be joining the LAFB team and get some high-quality content headed your way. I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve been a Chargers fan since I was 10 years old when we traveled to San Diego and attended my first NFL game. I saw LaDainian Tomlinson score early in the first quarter and have been hooked ever since! I am also a contributing writer for Bolt Beat and the host of the Guilty As Charged Podcast. Bolt Up!

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