Chargers vs. Saints: What to watch for
By Matt Pagels
The Los Angeles Chargers host the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 of the preseason. Here are a few things to watch for.
The Chargers underwhelmed in Week 1 of the preseason, getting blown out by the Seattle Seahawks on their own turf (or soccer field).
The starters, though, played very well in very limited time. On offense, Philip Rivers led his team to a 7-0 lead on their opening drive. The defense, meanwhile, held Russell Wilson and Co. to three points on Seattle’s first drive. The league’s top pass-rushing tandem (?) shined.
With that said, let’s take a look at what to watch for when the Chargers face the Saints at the StubHub Center on Sunday:
1. Can someone other than Rivers play quarterback?
Despicable. That’s the only word to describe the Chargers’ backup quarterbacks in the first preseason game. Kellen Clemens turned the ball over three times, including throwing a pick-six. Cardale Jones, who the Chargers recently traded for, finished 2-of-9 nine passing for 50 yards. Mike Bercovici started the first of his two series with a three-and-out and followed that up by losing a fumble.
No bueno. Even though Rivers hasn’t missed a game since becoming the starter in 2006, the Chargers need better backup play. I mean, how are you supposed to evaluate the rest of the offense when the quarterback can’t complete a pass?
Not only that, but the Chargers need to be looking for Rivers’ future replacement. Is he on the roster? That remains to be seen. But let’s see if Jones or Bercovici (sorry not sorry, Clemens) can bounce back against a Saints team that’s been desperately trying to fix their defense (five of their seven 2017 draft picks were defensive players). The backup offensive linemen, which had their fair share of struggles, need to step it up, too.
2. Can Gus Bradley’s defense turn it around?
Gus Bradley was brought in to replace John Pagano as the team’s defensive coordinator. In his first game with the Chargers, the defense allowed a whopping 48 points.
I understand it’s the preseason, but that’s a whole lotta points. I don’t mean to single him out, but 2017 undrafted free agent corner Michael Davis, who was reportedly having an outstanding camp prior to Week 1 of the preaseason, got burned a lot (allowed five passes of 20-plus yards). Aside from DE Chris McCain, who’s a player to keep an eye on against the Saints (especially with Jeremiah Attaochu dealing with a hamstring injury), the pass-rush was nonexistent. And to top it all off, the Chargers allowed several missed tackles.
Again, the starters did their job, but the second- and third-stringers need to turn things around. Let’s see if they do.
3. How will these three rookies do?
Third-round offensive lineman Dan Feeney had his ups and downs in the preseason opener but did a pretty good job overall. Feeney, who’s been asked to play center and guard, is currently competing with former undrafted free agent Kenny Wiggins, who did a fine job in limited snaps, for the starting right guard position, getting first-team reps in practice this past week. Maybe we’ll see Feeney with the first team on Sunday.
Fifth-round cornerback Desmond King was one of the few backup defenders that stood out against the Seahawks. King made an incredible interception on a deep ball by Trevone Boykin. He also showed great effort by catching up to running back Tre Madden and punching the ball out. King returned a kick for 19 yards, too. The versatile rookie continued to be a playmaker in the Chargers’ joint practice with the Saints. Starting off as the third free safety on the team’s first unofficial depth chart, “The King” is quickly rising.
Undrafted free agent receiver Artavis Scott was Mike Williams’ teammate at Clemson. He had 19 receiving touchdowns in three seasons with the Tigers and leaves Clemson as the franchise’s all-time receptions leader with 245 career catches. Despite having talent, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Scott is a long shot to make the roster because of how deep the Chargers are at the wide receiver position. He only had one target in the first preseason game, but after turning heads in camp this past week, maybe the Chargers will give him more playing time.
4. Does Tre Boston overtake Dwight Lowery?
The battle for the starting free safety gig is arguably the biggest one–and we will keep talking about it until Tre Boston or Dwight Lowery is announced the starter for Week 1 of the regular season. On a side note, look out for Rayshawn Jenkins, the Chargers’ fourth-round pick of out Miami (FL). The 6-foot-1, 214-pounder should be a force in the run game, but I’d like to see how he holds up in coverage. Last week I predicted safety Dexter McCoil would come up with some nice plays, and he did just that on both defense and special teams. Let’s see if I can go 2-for-2.
5. Who will step up in Denzel Perryman’s absence?
The third-year linebacker will miss a good amount of time after undergoing ankle surgery. Perryman was the starting middle linebacker and defensive play-caller. Korey Toomer, who played exceptionally well last year after being signed off the Raiders’ practice squad, should be the favorite to replace Perryman. Toomer, along with Nick Dzubnar and Nigel Harris, saw first-team reps this past week. Let the battle commence.
6. Speaking of injuries..
The Chargers need to get out of this game clean. If that means playing the starters for only a handful of snaps, then so be it. The Chargers, being as unlucky as they are, can’t afford to lose any more impact players, especially in August.