The New York Jets visit the Los Angeles Chargers tomorrow in a matchup of struggling teams. Previewing this matchup, Michael Peterson of Bolts From The Blue was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2020 Chargers.
1. In terms of yards gained and yards allowed, the Chargers have a top 4 offense and a top 12 defense. Those are numbers ordinarily reserved for playoff teams. How are the Chargers just 2-7? With every loss by a touchdown or less, is it just bad luck, or is something else going on here?
You can always claim bad luck, but there’s that old saying about teams who work hard tend to be luckier than those who don’t. The theme of the season so far has been the Chargers’ impressive offense. They’ve been good enough to put up double-digit leads on some of the best defenses in the NFL, including a 17-point lead on both the Bucs and Saints. However, the defense, like clockwork, has continued to fall apart in each second half they play. It also doesn’t help that the offense fizzles out a bit in their own right, but the defense’s inability to consistently create takeaways also limits the team’s chances of winning these close contests.
I always say, “big-time players make big-time plays,” and it’s time the Chargers start playing like the team the entire NFL thought they were during the offseason.
2. How would you attack this Chargers team on offense and on defense if you were coaching the Jets?
I think the way the Dolphins exploited the Chargers’ offensive line in Week 10 is the best blueprint we’ve seen to stopping their offense. Justin Herbert has actually been pretty good when it comes to completing passes against pressure, but the Dolphins got real tricky with their zero blitzes and it rattled the rookie from the very beginning. If the Jets can set the tone early with some pressure, Herbert and the offensive staff may be forced to call a more conservative game than they’d want.
Defensively, the Chargers have struggled with stopping the run, especially up the middle. Linval Joseph has been a great signing, but every other defensive tackle on the roster is better-suited as a pass rusher as opposing to a gap-plugging run stopper. The Raiders had their way with the front seven and the Dolphins showed they could exploit the Bolts with their inside zone plays. Another area to exploit is the Chargers’ linebackers in coverage. As athletic as Kyzir White and Kenneth Murray Jr. are, they don’t have the nuance to stick with many players out in space. Both of them rank in the top 15 in terms of yards allowed by linebackers in coverage, so if the Jets are able to get someone like Braxton Berrios or Jamison Crowder on a non-DB, it’s usually game over.
3. Justin Herbert has enjoyed a spectacular rookie season. Are you convinced you have the Chargers answer at QB for the long haul? Assuming he is the answer, how close are the Chargers to being a perennial contender? What changes need to be made to get there?
Yes, I believe he’s the future of the quarterback position for the Chargers. The way he handled himself against the top teams on the Chargers’ schedule, coupled with his historic start to his career, I think it paints a very clear picture of where Herbert is headed. When you get paired with names like Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and the like, you know you’re doing something right.
As far as how close the team is, I think they’re really close. But that’s with a healthy team, which usually is never the case. They’ve never had an offensive line that’s been an above-average unit, so this team’s recent success (2018) has been in spite of that. I could only imagine how smooth this offense could run with a decent line. Aside from upgrades to the front five, the Chargers may be in serious need of some offensive originality. I think Steichen is a good, young play-caller, but Lynn’s influence as an old-school, smash-mouth type of offensive mind could be holding this team back. Lastly, the defense needs a good kick in the rear, paired with a new DC. I like Gus Bradley. He’s so much fun to talk to and simply be around, but his defense is predicated on having elite athletes across a number of positions and the Chargers simply don’t have that. And when they finally do, half of them get injured. This defense with Derwin James is night-and-day different. By next year, he’ll have played just 21 of 48 possible games in his young career.
4. What Chargers players may be relatively unknown to fans of other teams, but Jets fans should look out for on Sunday?
Jalen Guyton is a name most probably don’t know but he could have a big day on Sunday if the Jets don’t have the speed to keep up with him. He’s a 4.37 guy in the 40 and has multiple 70-yard touchdowns to his name this season. He’s a big play waiting to happen, which makes him a great fit in an offense being led by the rocket-armed Herbert.
5. At 0-9, Many Jets fans are actively rooting for the team to lose to get the top pick in the draft. With the Chargers at 2-7, are Chargers fans also embracing a tank for draft position outlook, or are most Chargers fans still fully invested in winning this year? What player, if any, are Chargers fans hoping to get in the draft?
You’ll obviously find plenty of fans who want to win no matter what, even if it ruins their chance at a blue-chip prospect. Personally, I want a future cornerstone of the team, and so do a good number of the fan base. I’d say it’s fairly split down the middle.
As far as players whom the Chargers hope to land in next year’s draft, the biggest name is Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell. He looks to be a generational talent at offensive tackle and that’s the type of player fans have been waiting on for decades. Another player of note is Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley. He’s a lengthy corner who plays with aggression and tenacity. Paired with his natural ball skills, he’s the perfect fit for this defense’s heavy zone scheme.