The Los Angeles Chargers remain winless with Justin Herbert as their starting quarterback. But the rookie continues to improve each and every week and ahead of Week 5’s Chargers vs. Saints matchup, Head Coach Anthony Lynn finally gave Herbert the starting job permanently.
Last week, the Chargers opened up the playbook a little bit and let the rookie show off his rocket arm to the tune of two long touchdowns to Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson. Herbert also showed off some nice timing and anticipation on his touchdown to former XFL-er Donald Parham. Herbert continues to impress with his pocket management and ability to throw under pressure as well.
On the injury front, they suffered yet another key blow in Austin Ekeler and the team will sorely miss him. The team has done a good job of building depth on the roster and guys like Uchenna Nwosu, Desmond King, Kyzir White, and Forrest Lamp have done a fantastic job filling in behind the presumed starters. This one feels different though.
Joshua Kelley got off to a hot start against Cincinnati but has struggled in the three games since that point, and Justin Jackson has never really been able to stay healthy. Those two will need to step up in a big way if the Chargers are going to start winning games any time soon.
Life in the NFL is not easy for any team and it won’t get any easier this week for the Chargers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a very good football team, as is this week’s opponent in the New Orleans Saints. The league is keeping an eye on the weather as Hurricane Delta is approaching the gulf, and the game could possibly be moved to Indianapolis. Either way, yet another big challenge for Herbert in Chargers vs. Saints.
Week 5 Key Matchups: Chargers vs. Saints
Kenneth Murray, Kyzir White, and Denzel Perryman vs. Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara is back to his 2018 self, and that is a PROBLEM for the rest of the league. Through four games he has 557 total yards from scrimmage to go along with seven touchdowns. Kamara is not a traditional workhorse running back, so Latavius Murray also has a role on this Saints team. Where Kamara will really hurt you is through the air, where his explosiveness is on display on a weekly basis. He’s averaging nearly 11 yards per reception this year, up five whole yards from 2019. He already has more catches of 20 yards or more than he did in 14 games last season.
Kenneth Murray has been worth the price of admission so far, in terms of physically popping off on the tape. His speed is outrageous for a linebacker. He flies around in the running game and makes his presence known. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, he dropped into his zone coverage assignment and chased Tyreek Hill across the middle of the field and leaped for a pass break up.
The range and tenacity he plays with are blatantly obvious. Although, he still is learning how to play pass defense. At Oklahoma, they didn’t really use him all that often in actual coverage. They really just stuck him in the middle of the field essentially serving as a quarterback spy. There have been growing pains in that regard, but he has an incredibly bright future.
Kyzir White has been a revelation so far in 2020. He got picked on by Tom Brady a little bit this past weekend, but who hasn’t that happened to? He’s shown off his former safety skills on numerous occasions and has come inches away from four or five turnovers. There was a lot of skepticism about who would step up Drue Tranquill’s absence, but White has been fantastic so far.
The same goes for Denzel Perryman as well. He’s playing in a limited role in 2020 and thriving in it. He delivered the team’s only forced fumble in Week 1 and forced a key third-down stop after hitting home on a blitz on Brady. He’s also looked much sprier in passing situations and even had a pass break up on OJ Howard in the first half.
The good news is that this group has still been very good even without Tranquill. The bad news is that Kamara is not going to drop five passes like Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn did on Sunday. A few of those drops came in really key moments, including on their last drive which forced the Buccaneers to kick a field goal after eating up almost six minutes of clock and getting into the red zone.
In terms of explosive plays, the Chargers trio of linebackers were able to keep the Tampa Bay running backs in check on Sunday, and they’ll need to be outstanding on Monday against Kamara. If he busts a few big plays, the Chargers defense could be in for another long day.
Joey Bosa and Uchenna Nwosu vs. Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk
The formula for beating a Drew Brees-led offense is very similar to the strategy to beat Brady. Priority number one is hit them early and often. The Chargers pass rush got off to a red hot start to the season, and it started with the Chargers $100 million dollar man.
Joey Bosa in the first two weeks registered 17 total quarterback pressures, including a whopping 10 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and he also registered a sack in each of those two games. But then he hurt his tricep and he is clearly struggling with that injury.
He did register a crucial sack of Teddy Bridgewater in Week 3 but he’s only registered five total pressures in the last two games. Hopefully the extra day of rest this week will do him well because the Chargers desperately need him to return to form.
On the other side of Bosa is Nwosu. He has been starting the last two games while Melvin Ingram deals with a knee issue that landed him on injured reserve. Similar to Bosa, Nwosu’s efficiency has dropped off the last two weeks. In the first two games, Nwosu rushed the passer 30 times and registered eight pressures and a sack. That kind of production had him as one of the most efficient pass rushers in the league, in terms of pass rush win rate percentage. Since taking over for Ingram he has rushed the passer on 67 occasions and only has seven pressures (and zero sacks) to show for it. If Nwosu and Bosa aren’t hitting home the Chargers defense could be in trouble.
It won’t get any easier for that duo this week. The Saints have arguably the best duo of offensive tackles in the league with Armstead and Ramczyk. Both have been All-Pro/Pro Bowl level players and continue to do so. Armstead has been stellar this year and has only allowed four total pressures and one sack. In 2018 and 2019 he only allowed three sacks COMBINED. On the other side, Ramczyk has proven to be one of the biggest steals in draft history. He’s one of the best young tackles in the game and continues to produce at an elite level. He has not allowed a single sack this season and has only given up four pressures.
For those keeping track, that’s one sack and eight pressures allowed by the Saints duo. Bosa registered more pressures against the Chiefs than this tackle duo has allowed all season. The Chargers will have their hands full this week. (Ramczyk left their game in Detroit early due to a concussion and as of writing this, he has not cleared concussion protocol so this is something to keep an eye on.)
Malcolm Jenkins and Demario Davis vs. Hunter Henry
The Saints’ defense has shown some cracks this year, even with the addition of Malcolm Jenkins. Some of that is related to injuries as they were mostly healthy last season and they’ve had several key players miss time this year, including shutdown corner Marcus Lattimore. One of the areas they have been susceptible to this year is versus tight ends.
The starting tight end of every team they have faced has scored a touchdown this season. The group of Howard, Darren Waller (who really torched them), Robert Tonyan, and TJ Hockenson have combined for 24 catches, 200 yards, and four touchdowns against the Saints. Hunter Henry has been a very reliable target for both Tyrod Taylor and Herbert this season. He’s averaging 4.5 catches and 61 yards per game this season, but the one blemish is that he hasn’t been able to get in the endzone.
If there were ever a perfect opportunity for a massive game, it’s this one. Henry is often the main beneficiary when the Chargers go up-tempo and use the quick passing game, and he’s clearly earned the trust of both quarterbacks because of it. The Chargers have really struggled in the red zone, particularly because of penalties, so his usage down there remains a mystery. He did have one catch in the red zone against the Panthers that was nullified by an illegal hands to the face penalty, though. Hopefully, he’ll get in the end zone this week.
Jenkins has been an incredibly consistent and versatile player in this league (he had six sacks for Philadelphia last season), but he’s starting to struggle against tight ends this year. Waller exposed him in a bad way and teams will start attacking him more frequently because of it. He’s allowed six catches in each of the last three games, something that only happened once in 2019 as a member of the Eagles. Not all of those are caught by tight ends obviously, but the strong safety spot that he mans is usually the one who is primarily responsible for defending those passes.
It will be interesting to see if the Saints pivot a little bit and have Demario Davis take some more responsibility with guarding the tight ends. The former Arkansas State standout has developed into one of the best linebackers in the league, particularly in the last few years as a member of the Saints. His speed and range are the first things you notice when you watch this Saints defense play.
He is everywhere out there and is involved in every play. With Ekeler being sidelined to injury, it’s reasonable to expect the Saints gameplan to shift a little bit more towards Henry. It’s important to note that after Ekeler left the game, Henry was the one who received a couple of calls in the screen game. He could be the main beneficiary in terms of target share in Ekeler’s absence.
So much of this game will ultimately depend on Michael Thomas’ health in Week 5’s matchup of Chargers vs. Saints. The Saints offense has really missed the superstar receiver and if he plays, that will make things that much more difficult for a Chargers defense now playing without Chris Harris. The Chargers will have to play a very clean game in terms of penalties and turnovers if they are to win, and that is amplified even more if Thomas is active.
If Thomas does play, I’ll take the Saints 31 – Chargers 27. Thomas is just that good. It feels like the Chargers are so close to figuring this thing out, and what better way to end a losing streak than on Monday Night Football in the Superdome? If Thomas doesn’t play, I’ll take the Chargers 27 – Saints 24.