The Los Angeles Chargers are back to work from their unexpected bye week and have a home matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars this weekend. Both teams are looking for their first win of the 2020 season since week one. The Jaguars headed into the season looking like a team primed to make a run at the first overall pick and possibly Trevor Lawrence. After six games that seems to be where they are headed. Although, the New York Jets may have something to say about that.
The Chargers are currently favored by a full touchdown, which is a lot given that both teams have a single win. The given spread is an indicator of where these two teams are in this season. While the Chargers playoff hopes are slim, it is reasonable enough to expect them to be able to win enough games here on out to be “in the hunt”. If there’s another stat that shows where these two teams are, it’s point differential. The Chargers point differential right now is -15, meanwhile, the Jaguars are -56. The same amount of wins, but a drastically different story behind these two teams.
The good news for the Chargers, despite their record, is that the bye week gave players an additional week to get healthy. For the first time in weeks, Joey Bosa practiced in full on Wednesday and is off the injury report. They should be getting back Melvin Ingram and Justin Jones relatively soon, if not this week. The same goes for their starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
That being said, the Chargers are still looking to help Justin Herbert get the first win of his career. Here are three key matchups that could determine the outcome of the game.
The Chargers Pass Rush vs The Jaguars Offensive Line
Per Pro Football Focus, only five quarterbacks in the league have been pressured at a higher rate than Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew. He also has the ninth highest sack percentage of qualified quarterbacks. Much like Herbert, Minshew has been running for his life. Although the difference is that Herbert has been elite while under pressure – he quite literally has a perfect passer rating against the blitz – and Minshew hasn’t been all that great. Minshew Mania is fun and when he’s on, he’s very good. It’s funny that NFL Network made such a big deal of the mustache vs the beard battle a few weeks ago because Minshew and Ryan Fitzpatrick are very similar quarterbacks.
Back to the offensive line. People don’t realize just how much work and time goes into developing quality offensive line units, and both of these two teams are a work in progress upfront. Especially while Bulaga and Trai Turner are not healthy for the Chargers. The Jaguars have invested a lot of draft capital in their unit but they are struggling in a big way at the moment. Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor have combined to allow a whopping 38 pressures this season. Considering that the only team they’ve played thus far that has a high-quality pass rush is the Indianapolis Colts, that is not great.
Last week, you (hopefully) read an article about what needs to change for the Chargers after the bye week. One of the things listed was the Chargers being able to rush the quarterback at a consistent level for all four quarters. Well, this is the perfect opportunity for a pass rush feast from Bosa and company. The defense has been picked on by their last two opponents, in large part because the pass rush hasn’t been nearly as good. On Sunday, they have to do a much better job if they are to hold a lead. We’ve seen the Chargers offense jump out to early leads in every game with Herbert under center, that should continue this weekend, but it’s up to the defense to help seal the deal.
First of all, James Robinson is a fantastic feel-good story this season. The Chargers are one of a small handful of teams that always seems to find undrafted rookies that make a true impact on their roster. Not even they could get that done this year, due to the challenges of covid canceling most of the offseason and all of the preseason. (Gabe Nabers is really the only one, and he hasn’t been very good.) The Jaguars however found themselves a legitimate running back in Robinson. Credit to them for being able to get the most out of him.
Robinson is a physical-downhill-type runner out of Illinois State. He fits what the Jaguars under Doug Marrone want in a running back. When they shipped out Leonard Fournette we all kind of laughed at them and wondered if it would be Devine Ozigbo or the veteran Chris Thompson who would lead their running back room, it turned out to be Robinson and he’s played very well thus far. He really has been quite efficient to the tune of averaging over four yards a carry, and he’s proven to be a capable receiver out of the backfield as well. That seemed to be the main knock on him by draft analysts but he has managed to catch 23 passes for over 200 yards to go along with his 362 yards rushing.
Marrone wants to run the football and be able to use the running game to establish a nice balance between that and the play-action passing game. Sound familiar? Robinson is the engine of the Jaguars’ offense. What’s one-way coaches love to keep their quarterback upright? Have an effective run game to take the pressure off of him. They are hardly an offensive juggernaut, but they really struggle to move the ball consistently if Robinson doesn’t have it going. In the three games where they’ve failed to reach the 20 point mark, he’s been held under 50 yards rushing. Against the Lions, Texans, and Dolphins he had 29, 38, and 46 yards rushing. In those three games, they scored 16, 14, and 13 points, respectively.
The battle on the outside between the Chargers secondary and the Jaguars receivers will be fun to watch, but keeping a lid on Robinson is paramount to their potential defensive success. The Chargers are 10th in the league in rushing defense and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season to an opposing running back. Much of that success is obviously due to the addition of Linval Joseph because he frees up the Chargers linebackers to make plays. At the end of the day though, they still have to make those plays happen.
To their credit, Kenenth Murray and Kyzir White have been very good against the run. They’ve struggled in some coverage situations, but they have been very stout against the running back position, which has been a very nice change of pace from previous seasons. White in particular has been very good in space and probably leads the league in “almost” turnovers. Expect those to start coming in bunches very soon for the former West Virginia standout.
Hunter Henry vs The Middle Of The Jacksonville Defense
Hunter Henry has often been the security blanket for the Chargers’ rookie quarterback. Whenever they’ve needed a play to get them back in rhythm, Herbert has looked his way. He’s been a very solid presence in the offense, to the tune of 22 catches for 268 yards and that one touchdown from last Monday night. But he hasn’t been overly involved since week two when he had 83 yards against the Chiefs.
The Jaguars’ defense will be without their two best players this weekend in Myles Jack and Jarrod Wilson. Both of those players likely would have been spending some time in coverage on Henry, meaning he will have yet another plus matchup over the middle. Getting Henry his first BIG game should help the Chargers offense stay in rhythm throughout all four quarters, something that has been a point of emphasis during the bye week.
On Wednesday, Coach Lynn talked about putting more on Herbert’s plate as the young quarterback continues to grow. Allowing him to pass more on early downs is the simplest way of doing that, and it’s something that has been proven to be a more efficient way to run an offense. Those play calls don’t have to be overly complex, because the quick passing game to Henry or Keenan Allen has been extremely effective. As have the bootleg calls that get Herbert rolling to his left and Henry working the sideline. There’s no reason why Henry shouldn’t be catching six passes a game with how quickly they can scheme him open.
Ultimately, this should be a game the Chargers should control from start to finish and win by 10 points or more. The Jaguars are a rebuilding team that really doesn’t have a ton of talent. Minshew and the receivers are good enough to put up some points in garbage time and maybe make things interesting in the end. But the Chargers are the better team, and they NEED to win this game. They’ve been very close to figuring it out against some very good teams, now they head into the easy part of their schedule and a big win against the Jaguars should give them some nice momentum going forward. I’ll take the Chargers over the Jaguars, 34-23.