Here is how the LA Chargers’ season could shake up.
The future of the Chargers’ franchise is obviously supposed to be Justin Herbert, taken this year with the number six overall pick, after long-time starter and future Hall-of-Famer, Philip Rivers, left town after 16 seasons to finish the last year or two of his storied career in Indianapolis.
For me personally, I do not know the Chargers without Philip Rivers quarterbacking them, which is a testament to how reliable he was to always suit up on Sundays. 14-straight years never missing a start and over 59,000 yards thrown for makes Rivers an intricate part of Charger history and his presence will be missed.
Although Rivers always brought reliability and stability to the quarterback position for this franchise, 2019 was not his greatest showing. The position of quarterback is rapidly evolving and Rivers, though a revered figure in NFL lore, has a style that is falling by the wayside. Rivers’ generation is waning. The days of the strictly-immobile pocket passer are coming to an end, and unfortunately for Rivers, he held the Chargers back last season with the frequency at which he started turning the ball over.
Rivers threw for over 4,600 yards in 2019, the most since 2015, but he also tied his highest interception rate of 3.4% since he began his 14-year tenure as the full-fledged starter of the franchise. As Rivers ended the year with a TD-INT ratio of 23-20, the Bolts floundered to finish 5-11 and dropped back down the ladder in the AFC.
It was time for a change and the Chargers made the right decision to move on. Now they’re in a tricky place where they have to reboot quickly and develop Herbert within a year to not waste a playoff-ready roster surrounding him.
Unfortunately, that development has been placed on the back burner for now as the team is slated to go with Tyrod Taylor as the starter for the early going of 2020. Some even think Herbert may not even see the field this year.
As talented as this roster is, the quarterback position is what is going to make or break the Bolts’ season. Tyrod Taylor is a fine quarterback who can win games here and there. But is he good enough to win you a division at this stage of his career? A division with the reigning Super Bowl champs and the second coming of our Lord and savior himself according to some, Patrick Mahomes? Highly-unlikely.
As we go down the rest of the Chargers’ roster, it’s clear the caliber stacks up to almost any other team in football, especially on the defensive side.
The Chargers were 6th in the league last year in yards per game allowed (313.1) and 5th in passing yards per game allowed (200.3). Where they seemed to struggle was in run defense, as they ranked 18th in rushing yards per game allowed (112.8), as well as takeaways where they were dead last with 14, and sacks where they were bottom five with just 30. And the fact that they didn’t win a lot wasn’t so great for their points per game allowed ranking, either.
In 2018, the Bolts were also middle of the pack in takeaways (20) and sacks (38). What has happened is the Chargers have had a defense for a few years now that has gotten a ton of credit while at the same time under-performing in some aspects.
The crazy thing is we know the pass rush can be elite with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and we see the secondary can rank top five in passing categories with the loaded cast of characters they have like Desmond King as well as one of the top corners in the league in Casey Hayward who’s still getting the job done (83.0 PFF grade in 2019 with just 48 targeted passes at him), though Derwin James out 6-8 months is going to be a tremendous hurdle for them to get over.
Good news for the Bolts, now they add Chris Harris Jr. who, even though he had a down year in 2019, is still widely regarded as one of the top corners in the game.
They add a great run stopper in Linval Joseph to a defensive line and front seven that has, for years now, struggled to stop the run.
To help further that improvement, they also drafted the supremely-athletic linebacker out of Oklahoma, Kenneth Murray, and brought on Cincinnati’s best linebacker the past couple of years, Nick Vigil.
We know what this Charger defense can do. It’s absolutely loaded with star players, hellacious pass rushers, athletic linebackers, and the most versatile group of defensive backs in the league. If the Chargers can keep themselves above water and in the playoff hunt, you best believe this defense is going to re-emerge as a major force.
Where I believe the Bolts will struggle in 2020 is their offense. They have an improved offensive line with the additions of Trai Turner (now a Pro Bowler in the past five-straight season), and Bryan Bulaga to go along with another perennial Pro Bowler in Mike Pouncey. To their credit, this O-line was even top ten last year in sacks allowed (34).
However, with the exception of Keenan Allen, I fear this Charger offense lacks reliability of production and availability, which doesn’t make it any easier for a stop-gap starter like Tyrod Taylor to work with.
We know what Allen can do as a thousand-yard receiver in each of the past three seasons. But now we have Mike Williams who’s supposed to be out around a month with a shoulder sprain and a fragile tight end in Hunter Henry who can go down at any minute.
There are two areas on offense that I think the Chargers are going to have to step up in. One is their young players in the receiving core. The Bolts are already not very deep as it is with their wide receiver and tight end group.
Outside of Allen, Mike Will, and Hunter Henry, the group they have is extraordinarily thin. Rookies like Joe Reed out of Virginia and KJ Hill out of Ohio State are going to see increased roles. Vets like Jason Moore and Jalen Guyton will finally have a chance to get their names on the board. Can any of these guys step up?
The second area is the run game. I tend to be on the side of this team was a lot better at running the football when they had Melvin Gordon. To me, Austin Ekeler is not quite what Gordon was and is more of a pass-catching, third-down back than a grind-you-down north-to-south runner.
The Bolts were (again to their credit) actually middle of the road last year in rushing yards per game (117.1). Going in, I didn’t think they’d be that good at all. Now with an improved offensive line and two young backs to keep an eye on behind Ekeler, I’ll be very interested to see if this is an area they can surprise us all with and shine in.
Justin Jackson rushed for 200 yards last year in a very small window of 29 carries (6.9 yards per carry and a PFF grade of 84.4). Joshua Kelley, in just two seasons at UCLA, rushed for 2,303 yards with 24 rushing touchdowns and averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
What are Jackson and Kelley going to do being that they, much like the receivers I just mentioned, will also be seeing exaggerated roles in the offense being that there’s a lot of players to test out?
I think the Chargers have a lot of young players to break in and they as a team might not be quite ready to get back to the top of the division. Tyrod won’t let this team collapse, but at the same time, how good can this team really be in an in-between state with a franchise quarterback who’s not yet ready to take pro snaps?
Here’s my run-through of their schedule: