The Los Angeles Chargers are heading into their bye week with a record of 4-2. This is definitely a better record than many fans probably expected, despite the most recent game being a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The bye week was quite timely after that loss, as the defense needs time to rest up and recover after that. Still, there is a lot to be happy about, as the Chargers have been winning the kind of games that they likely would have lost in heartbreaking fashion the last two years. Let’s look at the positives and negatives at this stage of the season.
2021 Los Angeles Chargers Bye Week Report
Staley and Herbert Looking Like a Strong Coach-Quarterback Duo
The coaching era of Brandon Staley is looking about as good as we hoped; Ravens loss aside, the offense has been looking great. While the first couple of weeks were a little sloppy at times, that could easily be boiled down to the team still getting used to a completely revamped coaching staff.
What has separated Staley from his recent predecessors is his willingness to take risks and trust in his quarterback (whom he called a “gangster quarterback”), who has shown no signs of regression. He has gone for it repeatedly on fourth down at times when other coaches would have punted or kicked and kept his foot on the gas pedal while holding a lead, and this has paid off as it has helped the Chargers avoid the kind of losses they had the last two years. For his part, Justin Herbert has been very dependable on third and fourth down and has led two game-winning drives against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. Great things lie ahead for both Staley and Herbert, who in just their first year as a coach and quarterback duo, have turned the Chargers back into a legitimate playoff contender again.
Defensive Struggles and Injuries
While the Chargers have not been as decimated in general as usual by injuries, the defense has felt it a bit more than the offense. The secondary has generally avoided this issue or had backups that were able to step up. However, the linebacker corps in particular as well as the defensive line have not been as lucky.
The run defense in particular has been horrendous; they are ranked dead last in the NFL. The absence of Justin Jones, who has been unavailable since Week 1, has been felt; however, this is not the only problem. Linebacker Kenneth Murray – who is also currently injured – has been a bit of a disappointment in Year Two, as he has struggled in coverage and with missed tackles. This was to the point where they started rotating him with Drue Tranquill, who had been a little more consistent – until he got injured as well. The combination of Amen Ogbongbemiga and Nick Niemann was just not able to get it done in Week 6 against the Ravens. Kyzir White has been the main linebacker both playing well and staying healthy.
The defense can now take the bye week to rest up and hopefully get as many of the injured players as they can healthy again. They will need to play better – especially against the run. As we saw in the Ravens game, Herbert cannot bail out the Chargers every single week when they end up in a hole (even though usually that is not the worst bet).
Unexpected Mike Williams Breakout
The single biggest surprise of the season has been the breakout of wide receiver Mike Williams. After having a somewhat underwhelming season in 2020, he’s become an unexpected go-to for Herbert and is even having a better season than Keenan Allen, amazingly. Seeing him being used as more than a target for 50/50 deep passes has made it clear how much he was under-utilized during the Lynn era. We have seen him become a deadly red zone threat due to his height (6’4”) and jumping ability, as well as being used for more short catch-and-run passes similar to what we see Allen often do.
In six games, he has 33 catches for 498 yards and six touchdowns, putting him well on pace for a 1,000-yard season and a career year. Hopefully the Chargers can find a way to keep him after this final year of his rookie contract ends because Allen and Williams would be a great duo to have going forward.
Tristan Vizcaino Needs To Go
The Chargers made a kicker switch this year, going from Michael Badgley to Tristan Vizcaino. Parting ways with Badgley has not backfired, as the Tennessee Titans signed him and then cut him after only one week (and the Indianapolis Colts signed him last week). However, Vizcaino has not been working out either. He is seven-for-ten on field goals and has missed an abysmal five extra points in six games.
Fortunately, the Chargers have not lost any games because of his gaffes, in part because Staley has sometimes kept the offense on the field instead of kicking. But if they stick with him, it is only a matter of time. The bye week is an ideal time to find someone else to take the spot.
Some fans may be feeling a little down after the beating from the Ravens, but overall the Chargers are still in pretty good shape. They are still tied for the lead in the AFC West and have well established themselves as a playoff threat. The biggest concern right now is the run defense, but that should get a little better when some players come back from injury.
If the loss to the Ravens proved anything, it was that the Chargers are not quite ready yet to beat the juggernauts of the AFC (which currently appear to be the Bills and Ravens); and frankly, that is not a huge shock given that this is still a brand new era for the team in most facets. But this is still a different and exciting Chargers team, and there is still much to look forward to this year en route to what should result in a playoff appearance.
Embed from Getty Images