The Los Angeles Chargers host the Miami Dolphins in the team’s home opener. Here are seven things to watch for:
The Los Angeles Chargers are playing in Los Angeles for the first time since the age of dinosaurs. After a Week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Chargers can’t afford to start the season off 0-2, especially being in the division they are in.
Here are a few things to watch for on Sunday:
1. Can the Chargers start off fast?
The Chargers’ offense was supposed to be dominant, but they only managed to score seven points in the first half in Denver. They finished with 145 total offensive yards (75 of which came on the scoring drive) and punted three times in said half. Miami’s defense isn’t as scary as Denver’s, but they have game-changers on the defensive line in Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. Let’s see if the offensive line, which played well for the most part, especially right guard Kenny Wiggins who was one of 15 guards to not allow a single quarterback pressure, can continue to keep the pocket clean for Philip Rivers (sacked just once last week).
2. Philip Rivers vs. Jay Cutler
Speaking of Rivers, he faces Smokin’ Jay Cutler, who signed with the Dolphins in August after Ryan Tannehill injured his knee. The rivalry (?) between these two isn’t a popular one, but it’s still fun. The image of Rivers and Cutler jawing at each other when the latter was a member of the Broncos in 2007 is still fresh in the minds of Chargers fan.
Despite having a winning quarterback record (regular season) just three times in his 11-year career, Cutler can put points up on the board with his ability to throw the deep ball. He does, however, throw a ton of interceptions (led the league twice in that category). Rivers also led the NFL in interceptions two times (2014, 2016), including throwing a pick-six that gave the Dolphins a win when these teams faced off last season. Both quarterbacks have solid supporting casts (Jarvis Landry/DeVante Parker/Kenny Stills/Jay Ajayi for ‘Phins and Keenan Allen/Tyrell Williams/Travis Benjamin/Melvin Gordon for Bolts). Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over wins this one.
3. Melvin Gordon vs. Jay Ajayi
Speaking of Gordon and Ajayi, these two running backs were part of the same draft class (2015). Gordon was selected in the first round, while Ajayi fell to the fifth round. I was a big fan of Ajayi coming out of college and wanted the Chargers to draft him had the team gone in a different direction with their first pick. Despite a forgettable rookie year, Gordon bounced back in a big way last season and already found the end zone in Week 1.
Both team’s offensive lines received poor grades last season by Pro Football Focus, so let’s see which team can run the ball effectively early on, something the Chargers failed to do in the season opener, finishing with 64 total rushing yards and a 2.9 yards-per-carry average.
4. Will the tight ends be utilized this time?
I chuckled (sadly) at a tweet I saw that said, “There’s an Amber Alert out for Hunter Henry.” Henry, who was expected to take over for Antonio Gates, played just 23 snaps in the opener and wasn’t targeted AT ALL. Meanwhile, Gates, who finished with two catches for 17 yards, played 39 snaps. These two create mismatches when on the field. The Chargers need to get them more involved in the passing game, plain and simple.
5. No more missed tackles
This is self-explanatory. Also, linebackers not named Jatavis Brown need to step up. Kyle Emanuel got beat on a regular basis, especially in pass coverage. This is definitely the Chargers’ biggest weakness on defense.
6. Will Jason Verrett’s absence be a problem?
Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett could have been a top cornerback tandem, but the latter is already dealing with an injury and will miss the home opener. Verrett was targeted four times and allowed just one catch for four yards against the Broncos, as noted by PFF, so his loss is a big one. Trevor Williams will likely step in as the starter, but 2017 fifth-rounder Desmond King needs to be on the field more. King, who was a playmaker in the preseason, played just two snaps against Denver. On one of those snaps, he deflected a pass which resulted in an interception. PLAY THE MAN.
7. L.A. is where you make it
The Chargers will play at home for the first time this season, in a soccer stadium that holds 27,000 people. I’m curious to see whether or not they actually get “home-field advantage” in this intimate setting. Like Bolt Beat’s Tyler Schoon said, cheer for your Chargers!