The Los Angeles Chargers lost to the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, but they were competitive against the two best teams in the NFL.
Big things were expected of the Chargers in 2017. They started the season 0-4 and while they finished strong, they missed out on the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
Big things are expected of the Chargers in 2018. They are currently 1-2.
However, there’s no need to hit the panic button just yet. Why’s that? Because the Chargers just lost to the two best teams in the NFL.
And which two teams handed the Chargers a loss?
The Chiefs (3-0) and Rams (3-0) look like they are ready for the Super Bowl. The Chiefs are being led by second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has set an NFL record with 13 touchdown passes through the first three weeks of the season. The Rams are off to their best start since 2001. Both teams rank in the top three in points per game (Chiefs at No. 1 and Rams and No. 3).The main difference is the Rams have allowed the fewest points per game on defense and the Chiefs have allowed the third-most.
And the thing is, the Chargers actually had a chance to beat both squads. Let’s look at a few stats through the first three weeks of the season.
On offense, Philip Rivers is lighting it up. He ranks seventh in passing yards (906), tied for third in passing touchdowns (eight) and has only thrown one interception (one against the Chiefs is better than three!). The running game looks so much better, too, as the Chargers rank in the top 10 in yards per attempt (5.5, third-best) and rushing yards per game (124.3, ninth-best). And that’s without promising second-year guard Forrest Lamp in the lineup, as well as their starting right tackle Joe Barksdale missing two games due to injury.
Overall, the offense has scored at least 20 points in each of their first three games; they struggled to hit the 20-point mark in two of their first four games last year (and didn’t fully hit their stride until midway through the season).
The problem lies on defense. In what was supposed to be a top-10 defense, the team has given up 38 points and 35 points to the Chiefs and Rams, respectively. They’re struggling to stop the run and without Joey Bosa, who has missed the first three games (and counting) with a foot injury, they have have no pass rush. If there’s one bright spot, it’s watching the rookies play. Derwin James, Kyzir White and Uchenna Nwosu have already made their mark. James has a great shot at winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Then comes bad special teams play, rustiness and questionable playcalling. The first play of the Chiefs-Chargers game started with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown by Tyreek Hill.Chargers returner J.J. Jones fumbled (twice) on his only punt opportunity, which resulted in the Chiefs’ final touchdown of the day. With less than two minutes to go in the game and the Chargers down by 10, Caleb Sturgis had a chance to make it a one-score game but missed a 48-yard field goal. The Chargers got the ball back once more but there was no shot at winning. They might not have been in that situation if receivers Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams didn’t drop easy touchdowns during the game.
Special teams had another tough day against the Rams. The Rams blocked Drew Kaser’s punt in the end zone, which resulted in a touchdown. Sturgis also missed an extra point on the Chargers’ first touchdown drive. The good: After not creating a turnover against the Chiefs, the Chargers did force Todd Gurley to fumble and picked off Jared Goff in Sunday’s game. The bad: Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler had turnovers of their own in crucial points of the game. Head coach Anthony Lynn also made the decision to go for a field goal on 4th-and-goal with 12 minutes left in the game and down by two scores, which didn’t make too much sense. Coordinators Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley have also made their mistakes, like running the ball up the middle twice on their own goal line (vs. Rams) and playing Kyle Emanuel over Nwosu (vs. Chiefs)
So it’s not like the Chargers got blown out. They could have won, but they were bested by better teams. Excuse me, the two BEST teams.
However, I’m not completely defending them. I pointed out mistakes that they must address if they want to win games. If we don’t see changes, then we can bring out the pitchforks.
That said, the Chargers have the talent to compete with any team in the league. The concern is the struggle to win games against top competition. Seven of their nine wins last season came against teams with records below .500 (the Bills and Cowboys were the two that finished above .500, with Buffalo sneaking into the playoffs). Meanwhile, five of their seven losses came against teams that made the playoffs (Chiefs*, Eagles, Patriots, Jaguars).
The Chargers have a relatively soft schedule going forward, including games against the 49ers, Raiders, Browns, Titans, Seahawks, Broncos and Cardinals, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go on a big win streak.