The New York Jets have a chance to improve to 5-3 on the season after escaping with a scrappy overtime win against the New York Giants last Sunday. It won’t be easy, though, against a talented Los Angeles Chargers team that has a top-10 offense. According to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Chargers are favored by 3.5 points in this game.
Justin Herbert, a 2021 Pro Bowler, racked up over 4,700 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, and he is on course for similar numbers in 2023. The one thing potentially holding Herbert back right now is a finger injury, although this seems to bother him more fielding snaps and handing the ball off than it affects his passing.
Herbert can also make plays with his legs from time to time and has already rushed for three touchdowns this season.
If Herbert was sidelined due to the finger or another injury, the Chargers would have to turn to Easton Stick, who has only thrown one NFL pass in regular season action.
The Chargers received a blow earlier in the season when they had to place Corey Linsley on the non-football illness list due to a heart issue. Linsley is the highest paid center in the league and the team averages about a touchdown more with him in the lineup than when he’s out since the start of the 2021 season. He’s actually eligible to return this week, but he isn’t practicing and it doesn’t sound like his return is imminent.
Will Clapp, who has been starting in Linsley’s place, is a clear downgrade from Linsley. He also started three times in 2022.
The other four starters have all played every single snap this year. Pro Bowler Rashawn Slater has made his return to the lineup after missing most of last season, and he has played well, although he leads the team with five penalties. Jamaree Salyer, who played left tackle while Slater was sidelined with a torn biceps tendon in 2022, is now the starting right guard.
Last year’s first round pick, Zion Johnson, is starting at left guard, and Trey Pipkins is the starting right tackle. Pipkins has given up a team-high five sacks this season.
Other than tackle Foster Sarell, none of the Chargers’ reserves have started an NFL game. Sarell started three games last year and will sometimes enter the game as an extra lineman in jumbo packages.
Fifth round rookie Jordan McFadden saw the first three offensive snaps of his career in Sunday night’s game ... at the fullback position. Zack Bailey and Brendan Jaimes round out the offensive line rotation.
Although he’s missed three games this year, Austin Ekeler is back in the lineup after a monster 2022 season that saw him rack up 107 receptions, 18 total touchdowns and over 900 rushing yards. He’ll be a major threat in the screen game, as always.
Due to Ekeler’s absence, Joshua Kelley is the Chargers’ leading rusher for now. He had 91 yards in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, but he hasn’t surpassed that since then.
Isaiah Spiller, who only averaged 2.3 yards per carry last year in a minor role, and undrafted rookie Elijah Dotson are also on the roster.
The Chargers are getting another huge year out of five time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen, who already has 54 catches for over 600 yards and four touchdowns.
He’s not their only threat though. Josh Palmer caught 72 passes last year and rookies Quentin Johnson and Derius Davis have been flashing some potential.
Palmer has been playing through a knee injury which seems to be more of a pain tolerance issue than anything that’s going to keep him out. The first round pick Johnson only has 12 catches so far, but looked good on Sunday, showcasing his hands and abilities after the catch. Davis, who was a fourth round selection, has rushed for 75 yards on seven carries this year so could be a threat on jet sweeps or end arounds.
The other receiver on the roster right now is Simi Fehoko. He caught his first pass of the season on Sunday night and it went for a touchdown.
The Chargers are without Mike Williams, who tore his ACL, and Jalen Guyton, who is still on the PUP list as he works back from his own torn ACL last season.
At tight end, Gerald Everett caught 58 passes last season, although he missed Sunday’s game. The three backups - Tre’ McKitty, Donald Parham and Stone Smartt - combined for just 24 catches and one touchdown last season, but Parham has stepped up this year and has four touchdown catches already.
Although their official depth chart has them configured in a 4-2-5 nickel alignment, the Chargers operate out of a 3-4 base on defense and are in the top-10 for run defense.
They operate with a five man defensive line rotation, with Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson listed as starters and getting the most reps.
Morgan Fox is their most productive pass rushing lineman, as he had 6.5 sacks last year and already has five in 2023. Sixth round rookie Scott Matlock has also been seeing some regular playing time and Nick Williams was disruptive last Sunday night, drawing a penalty on consecutive plays at one point. Christopher Hinton is also on the roster, but he has yet to see any action on defense this year.
For the second year in a row, Khalil Mack is leading the Chargers in sacks, quarterback hits and tackles for loss. However, he had six sacks in one game and otherwise has just one sack, two tackles for loss and four hits in the other six games.
2021 Pro Bowler Joey Bosa was limited to five games last year because of a groin injury but he’s working his way back and has four sacks so far. It could be an interesting matchup between Bosa and Mekhi Becton, who did a good job on him during his rookie season.
The main backup on the edge has been third round rookie Tuli Tuipulotu, who has been solid against the run and generating some good pressure. Chris Rumph also sees time on the edge, although he often rushed from the interior when he was at Duke.
On the inside, Kenneth Murray plays a full-time role and is the Chargers’ leading tackler. Veteran Eric Kendricks is in the game most of the time. When he missed two games earlier in the year, Nick Niemann filled in for him. Niemann is also the most likely to see action if they have three off-ball linebackers in the game.
Tanner Muse, Amen Ogbongbemiga and third round rookie Daiyan Henley don’t typically see action on defense, but they contribute on special teams.
The Chargers have some talented defensive backs, but they currently have one of the worst pass defenses in the league and are prone to giving up big plays. Analytics indicate that they are much better in zone coverage than in man.
Pro Bowl safety Derwin James is the leader of the Chargers’ secondary and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is off to a strong start with six pass breakups and two interceptions. However, Michael Davis and nickelback Ja’Sir Taylor have been struggling. Davis led the Chargers with 15 pass breakups last season.
The other starting safety is Alohi Gilman, although Dean Marlowe saw action in that role earlier in the year and the Chargers will sometimes operate with three safeties on the field.
At cornerback, Deane Leonard and recent addition Essang Bassey provide depth while Jaylinn Hawkins and undrafted rookie AJ Finley are available as cover at safety.
The Chargers also had JC Jackson at the start of the year, but he was traded back to the New England Patriots last month.
Cameron Dicker has established himself as one of the league’s best young kickers by only missing one kick in 10 games last year. He’s also only missed one this season.
Punter JK Scott’s net average of 41.1 yards per punt last season was a career best, but he’s been below 40 in every other season, including this year.
In the return game, Davis has done a solid job on punts with an 11.6 yards per return average and a long of 26. He’s also the team’s kickoff returner, but has only returned two kickoffs so far. Dotson is listed as Davis’ backup for both roles.
In kick coverage, Leonard and Taylor are the team’s primary gunners, although Fehoko also shows promise in that role. Henley has also already made some plays on special teams and could develop into a difference maker.