Last year nine wins was not enough for the Los Angeles Chargers to make the playoffs, even with three wildcard spots available. This year, it was enough for them to clinch a playoff spot with two weeks left in the regular season. They had plenty of help from other wildcard contenders suddenly collapsing down the stretch, but it does point to the AFC being more top-heavy than expected. At any rate, the Chargers got to 9-6 with a 20-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts, putting them in position for the #6 seed. The Chargers defense, which has been clamping down harder the last two weeks, was the difference again in this game – even if their opponent was a lot weaker than the last two ones.
Los Angeles Chargers Defense Lifts Team to Win, Playoff Berth
Third Quarterback of Season for Colts Struggles
The Colts – who have been one of the more underwhelming teams this year – benched Matt Ryan again this week, turning to former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles this time. Foles has never done very well outside of Philadelphia. But one couldn’t help but wonder if his occasional clutch tendencies would show up here. It would have felt oddly fitting for the Chargers to beat two other AFC playoff contenders but then lose to a bottom dweller.
However, the Chargers defense came in and took care of business. Their only real struggles seemed to come early on when the run defense gave up a few plays and they seemed to be getting used to Foles leading the offense for the first time this year. But as the defensive line continued to get pressure, Foles continued to make wild throws – which resulted in three interceptions on the night. The first one went to Michael Davis – his first of the year. (He also had a team-leading three pass deflections – a great game all-around for him.) The second went to Derwin James, who got ejected later in the game for a brutal hit. The third went to Asante Samuel Jr.
Defensive Line Takes Over
Speaking of the defensive line pressuring Foles, the Colts offensive line essentially completely gave way as the game went on. This had already been a struggling offensive line (one of the reasons for the Colts being a disappointment in 2022), but they gave up a total of seven sacks in this game. Morgan Fox and Kyle Van Noy both got two each; Kenneth Murray, Khalil Mack, and Chris Rumph all got one apiece.
It’s taken awhile for this defensive line to get much traction going with Joey Bosa out for most of the season. Rumph simply was not getting the job done, and offensive lines had taken to just stacking one side so that Mack – the biggest threat remaining – had a harder time getting through. But down the stretch, both Rumph and Van Noy have been hitting their stride as edge rushers. We knew the veteran Van Noy was capable, but his lack of production seemed to be hinting at him being past his freshness date. However, he has been showing these past few games he still does have something left in the tank. And while Rumph is certainly not on the level of Bosa or Mack, he is finally showing promise as well.
Chargers Defense Continues Recent Surge
This has been elaborated on in greater detail, but after a bumpy start to the season, the Chargers defense finally seems to be pulling their act together down the stretch and becoming a more cohesive unit. Even with players like Derwin James and Joey Bosa having been unavailable lately, people have been stepping up and making plays. It’s not been perfect, but nearly everyone has been doing their part lately.
The result is the third straight game where the Chargers have given up less than 20 points after having only done so twice all year prior to this winning streak. In this particular instance, this is also the first game all year that the Chargers have truly won comfortably. Nearly every other win this year ended up being a one-score game (even if in one or two cases, the final points given up were in garbage time) – the lone exception being a 10-point win over the Houston Texans, who they had to pull away from as well (and having to fight to get past the Texans is not a good thing). Sure, the Colts are one of the worst teams they have faced all year, but this is ultimately what good teams are supposed to do – put away inferior opponents.
The Chargers appear to be hitting their stride just at the right time. The offense has not always been on point during this streak (heavily due to Joe Lombardi’s continued questionable play-calling), but they have been doing enough and the defense has been doing their job. The question is whether it will be enough to get a playoff win or not. If the season ended today, they would be facing the Cincinnati Bengals, who are on an even hotter streak with seven wins in a row. At that point, both the offense and defense will almost certainly need to be doing consistently well in order for them to get very far.
Nevertheless, many Chargers fans will likely be happy just to be back in the playoffs after a four-year absence – and after a regular season that has truly been a rollercoaster. It may have been a year with plenty of ugly wins, but it is better to be in the playoffs with those ugly wins than be on the outside looking in with the alternative.
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