The LA Chargers came away with a huge victory in Week 17 over the Denver Broncos in a game that really was not all that close. The Chargers played well in practically every area of the game to beat the shorthanded Broncos and keep their playoff hopes alive. Now the Chargers head into a Week 18 Sunday Night Football matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders that will determine who makes the playoffs.
This was a welcome sight after the team played an absolute clunker against the Houston Texans last week. While a win kept the team alive, a win like this helps us fans feel confident in the team for the Week 18 matchup against the Raiders.
The best part of this win is that the Chargers did not have to do it in their typical fashion. This was not a game in which Justin Herbert played perfectly and carried the team to a win. In fact, despite setting a new franchise record, Herbert didn't have that big of a game. He certainly was not bad, but his overall output was not the same.
Instead, it was the LA Chargers biggest weaknesses that shined in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos
There are three big weaknesses that have plagued the LA Chargers thus far this season. When the team loses games, it is often because one (or multiple) of these things cost them the outcome.
1. Special teams
The special teams unit has not been as bad as it was last year but it still has been one of the worst in the league. For the first half of the season the Chargers could not return a kick past the 20-yard-line and the kicking operation was not exactly consistent.
The team still ranks in the bottom tier in special teams DVOA but things have changed for the better in LA. Most importantly, the Chargers have brought in two very impactful players in the two most important special teams positions: kick returner and kicker.
Andre Roberts has brought electricity to the return game and on Sunday he finally broke one free to the endzone, scoring the first return touchdown for the Bolts since 2012. Meanwhile, Dustin Hopkins made all of his kicks in this game. Hopkins has made 17 of 18 field goals with the Chargers and 27 of 29 extra points.
2. Run defense
The run defense was a problem early on in the season that started to improve before having an absolutely terrible showing against the Houston Texans last week. However, the Chargers were short-manned last week and it was a completely different defensive line in this game. Joey Bosa and Justin Jones returned, who are the team's two best run defenders on the line.
Jones was particularly great in this game, coming up with a key third-down run stuff in the second quarter. The Chargers run defense is completely different with him on the field and he has solidified his position as a must-sign.
After getting torched by Rex Burkhead last week, the Chargers held a potent Denver run game to 83 yards on 27 carries. Without Drew Lock's three carries, Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams carried the ball 24 times for 73 yards.
3. Third-down defense
The poor run defense has made the third-down defense really struggle this season. Of course teams are going to be able to pick up third downs at high rates when they are constantly trying to convert third and threes instead of third and sevens. Heading into this game, the Chargers had the second-worst third-down rate for a defense since the NFL counted the stat in 1991 and was one of just two teams that allowed a first-down on over 50% of third downs.
Having a much better run defense (and playing Drew Lock) resulted in a much better third-down rate for the Bolts defense. The Broncos converted just three of 11 third downs in this game and were one of four on fourth downs.