The New York Jets won their third straight game last week with an ugly overtime victory against the New York Giants to get to 4-3 on the season. The defense put on a dominant performance. Zach Wilson and the Jets offense disappeared for most of the game before coming alive in the final seconds and in overtime to squeak out a come from behind victory. Now the Jets return home for a game against the 3-4 Los Angeles Chargers.
The Los Angeles Chargers are coming of their third win of the year last week, a 30 - 13 beatdown of the Chicago Bears. The Chargers have beaten three of the league’s weaker teams in the Minnesota Vikings, Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears, while losing to three Super Bowl contenders in the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. The Chargers also dropped a game to the Tennessee Titans.
The Chargers offense, led by star quarterback Justin Herbert, ageless wide receiver Keenan Allen, and running back Austin Ekeler, has been a top 10 unit, but the Chargers defense has been a catastrophe. The Chargers rank last in the NFL in pass defense, last in first downs allowed, and 31st in overall defense. If ever there was a game to get Zach Wilson and the Jets offense on track, this one may be it.
Previewing this matchup, Arif Hasan of Bolts From The Blue was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2023 Los Angeles Chargers.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. Jets fans have lived for decades with rarely having a competent quarterback. As such we would kill to have a young quarterback like Justin Herbert for the next decade or so. But in three plus years with Herbert under center the Chargers have just one playoff appearance and zero playoff wins, and they are currently on the outside looking in on the playoff race for this season. Why do you think the Chargers have struggled a bit despite having one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and do you think that will change any time soon?
A lot of that has to do with support and injury luck. It’s not as if Herbert has been completely immune to mistakes, but he’s not been the reason that the Chargers have found themselves on the outside looking in. They have had significant stretches of time where offensive linemen like Bryan Bulaga, Oday Aboushi, Trey Pipkins, Rashawn Slater were out for most of at least one season due to injury. Receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen have missed time, as have replacements like Jalen Guyton. Other pass-catchers like Donald Parham have missed most of a season as well. Losing Joey Bosa doesn’t help, either. None of this is to ignore the coaching situation, either — both Brandon Staley and Anthony Lynn have shown remarkably poor game management and haven’t employed outstanding play callers on either side of the ball. Staley’s late-game time management has itself lost Chargers a few games even when Herbert has been performing well. Herbert himself has performed outstandingly well in late-game scenarios, and though much of that has been concentrated in his rookie year, it’s a quality he’s had throughout his tenure as a Charger. Could he do better? Of course. But the primary issue has been what has been around him.
2. The Chargers have struggled badly in pass defense, ranking last in the NFL in passing yards allowed and averaging almost 300 passing yards allowed per game. What have been the root causes of the poor Chargers pass defense, and do you think it will improve as the season progresses?
Some of it has been the scheme itself. While Brandon Staley ran a smartly designed unit with the Rams several years ago, it’s become clear that it has relied on the talents of players like Aaron Donald to occupy the attention of multiple blockers and Jalen Ramsey to provide outstanding run support as a corner. But with a dozen coordinators now running a variation of the Staley/Fangio scheme, some of the more clever wrinkles have been solved. They are comparatively better against the deep ball — not great, but better — than they are against intermediate and short throws, where they’ve been forced to give up a lot of space in order to stop deep throws and the run. It also means misusing chess pieces like Derwin James — a lot of Fangio defenses have had issues with utilizing swiss army knives at safety and the Chargers are no different. The injuries at safety have led to miscommunication and disrupted chemistry — five different safeties have played significant snaps. We’ve also seen some underperformance from players like cornerback Michael Davis and Ja’Sir Taylor. Sometimes it seems like Asante Samuel Jr. is the only cornerback who can consistently be where he needs to be. Kenneth Murray manning the hook zones has been a bit of a catastrophe as well.
3. Each team’s fanbase knows their team much better than other fans. Usually there are a few guys who your team’s fans know about and love, but other fans might not be too familiar with. Could you let Jets fans know a few unsung heroes on the Chargers, if possible at least one on both offense and defense?
The first name that pops into mind for me is Tuli Tuipulotu. The commentators in-game sure notice him and he seems to appear at the top of a lot of statistical lists, but I haven’t seen any national conversation about him. In just his first year, he ranks 23rd in disruption rate (pressures plus stops per snap), right next to T.J. Watt (21st) and Haason Reddick (24th). He’s come up big in key moments, too. We’re excited to see how he grows. Alohi Gilman at safety is worth mentioning, too. The retirement of Nasir Adderley should have thrown the Chargers’ plans at safety in flux, especially with how often James gets injured. But Gilman stepped up in a big way and has kept the back end relatively safe despite the issues they’ve had at cornerback. On offense, we’ve been excited to see 2022 sixth-round pick Jamaree Salyer turn into a starting-quality guard, especially as a powerful run blocker. Donald Parham has also been reliable and a bit of a favorite. After injury issues in college and in Los Angeles, it’s been nice to see him complement the tight end receiving group with his range — and he hasn’t dropped a pass in two years and only one over the last four. And he leads the league among players with at least ten receptions in touchdowns per catch with 30.7 percent of his receptions coming as scores.
4. If you were the head coach of a rival team, how would you go about attacking this Los Angeles Chargers team on offense and on defense?
I would keep exploiting the intermediate zones the Chargers seem intent on giving up, especially by using eye candy to misdirect players like Murray, whether that comes in the form of motion or play-action. While I would trust Garrett Wilson against Asante Samuel Jr., it would be smart to move players around and exploit the matchups against Davis and Taylor. I would focus on a quick-strike offense to mitigate the pass rush, especially knowing that the deep ball is already harder than the shots over the middle. Defensively, focusing on the blitz makes sense. Herbert does well under pressure, but blitzing in general does speed up his process so he can be prone to error even before pressure arrives. Only one team — the Raiders — allowed a worse YPA versus the blitz than on standard defensive looks. When possible, bracketing Keenan Allen makes sense without Mike WIlliams available — though they need to be wary of Gerald Everett and Joshua Palmer. And, technically, Quentin Johnston will be out there too.
5. If you were a betting man, which team would you bet on winning this game, and why?
Even without Mike WIlliams, the Chargers offense is very good and it’s hard for me to bet against Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The passing defense is a concern against teams that can consistently field a passing offense but they’ve done their work against subpar units. Against Aidan O’Connell and Tyson Bagent, for example, they gave up 15 points per game. The Jets have one of the best rosters in the NFL, but quarterbacks rule the league and only Zach Wilson’s mom’s friends wouldn’t pick Herbert in that matchup. For me, I have to take the Chargers outright. DraftKings has the Chargers as 3.5-point favorites and I’d take that, too.