Depleted Los Angeles Chargers Defense Folds in Week 16 Loss

Los Angeles Chargers Defense
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The Los Angeles Chargers hit a tough break when, in the time between their Week 15 Thursday night game and their Week 16 game, they suffered a Covid breakout, which robbed them of over a dozen players, several of them being starters; this required a lot of promotions from the practice squad. Fortunately, the timing did not appear so bad as they were set to play the Houston Texans – a franchise with a countless number of problems right now. However, as it turned out, the roster losses were too much to overcome, particularly on the defense as the Los Angeles Chargers lost 41-29.

Los Angeles Chargers Defense Depleted by Covid and Injuries in Week 16 Loss

Deflecting Blame From the Offense

The Chargers offense suffered multiple losses to Covid as well, including Corey Linsley, Austin Ekeler, and most of their wide receiver corps (Mike Williams most critically) – to the point where they had to promote three wideouts from the practice squad. Given that there were a few turnovers, some might be tempted to point fingers at the offense.

But the Chargers did score 29, which would be enough to win more often than not – especially against a team in the running for a top-five draft pick. Justin Jackson performed admirably in place of Ekeler, racking up 162 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. Despite a couple of interceptions, Justin Herbert did finish 27-for-35 for 336 yards, so he was not rendered an afterthought with all the absences. It was not necessarily a pretty performance, but on paper, it should have been enough to win.

Los Angeles Chargers Defense Absences

Unlike the Chargers offense, which still had their star quarterback, top receiver, and a couple of other important pieces, the defense was stripped of basically all their best players. Joey Bosa was the early biggest name on defense that got Covid; Justin Jones, their arguably best interior defensive lineman, also tested positive. Cornerback Tevaughn Campbell also was out for the same reason, and while he has not been good most of this season, he would still have most likely been a better depth option than Davonte Harris or Essang Bassey. You can easily be forgiven if you have never heard of those two. To make matters worse, Michael Davis tested positive on Sunday morning.

And if all of that was not enough, Derwin James was unavailable – not due to Covid, but due to a bad hamstring that he apparently strained a little against the Chiefs. He was active, but only for emergency purposes – and in this case, “emergency” apparently meant “only if we run out of other healthy safeties during the game.”

So just to recap, the team’s best pass-rusher, best cornerback, best interior lineman, and best overall player (James) were all unavailable. Under those conditions and without a lot of depth, perhaps disaster was inevitable.

Burned by Bottom-Dwellers

Without Davis and Campbell, the best available cornerback was Asante Samuel Jr, who was finally back from the concussion protocol. Unfortunately, he surprisingly struggled today against Davis Mills and the Texans receivers. This does serve as a reminder that he is still a rookie, so this performance is hardly unforgivable. But no one else was doing much better. A few big plays aside this year, Chris Harris’s best days appear to be behind him. And after those two, it was just practice squad players left on the cornerback lineup; and without Davis or James, the secondary in general got carved up as Davis Mills went 21-for-27 and two touchdown passes.

In the defensive backfield, Kenneth Murray ended up taking Bosa’s place at pass-rusher. This did not work out as he recorded no sacks or quarterback hits, and was a liability again as a tackler. Murray has been a massive disappointment in Year Two and barring a turnaround next year, he appears to be headed for “bust” territory.

With Bosa and Justin Jones out (among others), the run defense struggled even more than usual, as they got carved up Rex Burkhead of all people. They gave up 189 rushing yards to the Texans in total, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry. This was not entirely just the run defense’s doing, but the Los Angeles Chargers defense also allowed an alarming nine-for-13 third-down conversion rate – not a recipe for winning.

Looking Ahead

The Chargers will get almost all of these players on the Covid reserve list back by Week 17’s game, but the damage has already been done. The Chargers fell to 8-7 and are now one spot out of the playoff picture, and the AFC West division title is now out of reach. They will most likely need to win the final two games (Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders) in order to make the playoffs as a Wildcard.

Fans will be understandably upset after this loss; however, this loss does at least partially require the asterisk of “Covid” next to it. If the loss reflects much of anything on the team itself, it reflects only on their lack of depth defensively; and not so much on the rest of the roster, or the coaching staff. It is certainly fair to say the Chargers probably should have won this game nonetheless, simply because it was the Texans. But this game shouldn’t be used as a reason to burn the staff (or the actual starting roster) at the stake.

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