The Los Angeles Chargers are heading into their bye week with a record of 4-3. In a way, it feels like they’ve limped to that record at times, given how much they have had to deal with particularly with regard to injuries. But there have also been some just plain disappointments. Strangely enough, some fans have already seen fit to panic on the season—despite having a winning record. Granted, they have not had to face many tough opponents since the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. But there are reasons to still be optimistic for a Wildcard berth – as well as concerns.
READ MORE: Chargers Trade Targets
2022 Los Angeles Chargers Bye Week Report
Injuries, Injuries Everywhere
The Chargers are well known for often getting decimated by injuries – and this year is no exception. Keenan Allen has missed time due to a bad hamstring and he’s almost healthy, but now Mike Williams has an ankle injury. Rashawn Slater and J.C. Jackson are both lost for the season. So was their only speedy weapon on the roster, Jalen Guyton. Joey Bosa has been on short-term IR as well. The kicker, Dustin Hopkins, has been hurt too. And that’s just among among the more critical players – and also not counting players who were hurt earlier in the season but are now healthy.
Justin Herbert got injured in Week 2 as well (fractured ribcage), and though he has played through the pain, it has seemed to affect his game a bit. There have been a number of other factors as to why the passing offense has seemed weaker this year – more on that later – but although Herbert does seem to be getting better, that has been a factor in some of their games, particularly the Week 3 blowout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Passing Offense Concerns
Between Herbert’s injury, a lack of receivers that can stretch the field, Keenan Allen being out, and more passive play-calling from offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, the passing offense has looked borderline neutered compared to last year. There are a lot of factors going on here, unfortunately. Herbert would probably like to stretch the field more, but Jalen Guyton was the only speedy option on the roster and he’s out for the season. Allen is the only receiver that has been that good at getting separation consistently – and he’s been out. Mike Williams fortunately doesn’t need a ton of separation to make plays, but Herbert can’t throw downfield to him every play.
The result has been an offense where a fair number of the passes has been short backfield passes to Austin Ekeler and some wide receiver screens. With all of the above mentioned factors, there unfortunately is only so much that can be done to fix this right now. Herbert continuing to heal and Allen coming back will hopefully help a bit. The Chargers adding a receiver via a trade or free agency during the bye week would certainly not hurt either, though given Tom Telesco’s history, it is doubtful that this will happen.
Some Defensive Struggles
With all of the additions the Chargers made this off-season at defense, we expected them to do a lot better than this. However, they are a bottom ten defense in the league, and the run defense has also been disappointing. This is despite strong individual performances from the likes of Khalil Mack and Sebastian Joseph-Day; and even the linebackers Kenneth Murray and Drue Tranquill have taken some steps forward this year. However, as a unit, the group is still under-performing. What’s strange is that the run defense has gotten better at making stops in “third and short” situations and the like, but they seem almost more prone to giving up big burst plays as opposed to last year where they usually got picked apart slowly.
Meanwhile, in the secondary, free agent acquisition cornerback J.C. Jackson has been a rather big disappointment. It seems that the issue is one of schematic incompatibility – Jackson did quite well in Bill Belichick’s scheme as a man-cover guy, while he seems completely lost in Brandon Staley’s primarily zone scheme. And now he has been lost for the season due to injury. Oddly enough, the secondary without Jackson has held its own against non-top-tier quarterbacks, which suggests that the loss of Jackson could accidentally lead to improved play in the pass defense – as unfortunate as the circumstances are.
The Chargers haven’t performed up to expectations this year – and while there are some extenuating circumstances (Herbert’s injury), fans are still getting restless and some seem ready to give up on the coaching staff. It is probably fair to say that if the Chargers miss the playoffs again, Staley’s job could be in danger – but it’s unnecessary and too early to write him off at 4-3 midway through the season. Some of his fourth-down decisions and other calls have admittedly been more suspect this season, but the Chargers are still in relatively decent position at the bye and have time to get some things straightened out – key players returning from injury should help.
Calling for an offensive coordinator switch – as soon as midway through the season – is a bit more understandable, given that the passing offense and play-calling have seemed frustratingly conservative. However, even that probably cannot be blamed entirely on Joe Lombardi, given that the wide receiver corps as of late quite simply has not allowed for stretching the field unless Mike Williams is open – plus the lack of any separation on the receivers’ part with Allen banged up. Lombardi may be frustrating at times, but he and Herbert can only do so much when no one is fast enough for a 50-yard bomb and no one can get separation most of the time. Allen coming back should help the latter issue, at least.
There’s been a lot of pessimism surrounding this 4-3 team, so let’s go into some of the positives. First off – the fact that they are 4-3. For a team with this many key player injuries, the fact that they’re in this position is not shabby at all. Sure, they’ve kind of limped their way there and the schedule has been pretty light. But it is better to win ugly than to lose prettily.
There is reason to believe that some things will look better down the stretch. Herbert will get healthier, and getting Allen back will help – and Allen and Williams both being healthy later on will be even better. And as explained earlier, the secondary may actually be less prone to giving up big plays without Jackson in his schematic mismatch (as unfortunate as that circumstance is for Jackson). And if the run defense can cut down on giving up the big plays as well, they’ll be in much better shape too since they are doing fine otherwise. Bosa returning later in the year should help the front seven out.
It’s also worth noting that multiple AFC teams have been underwhelming this year – including two of the Chargers divisional opponents, the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders. The Chargers are pretty firmly in second place in the division. A Wildcard spot still feels fairly realistic for them, especially as they get key players back down the stretch for tougher games.
The frustration with the under-performing is understandable. But the Chargers are not in “sky is falling” territory right now going into their bye week. If things continue to spiral and they miss the playoffs again, it will be time for some structural changes for sure. But the team will cross that bridge when/if they come to it.
Embed from Getty Images