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NFL Team Previews: Los Angeles Chargers

2018 Season Review: 12-4 (2nd in AFC West)

The Chargers narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2017 after going 9-7 and needed to address some holes on their team and get more consistent under HC Anthony Lynn. They did both in 2018.

Starting with the draft the Chargers took one of the most well regarded picks at #17 overall with Safety Derwin James from Florida State. James was a vital part to a defense that only gave up 20.6 PPG, forced 20 turnovers, and recorded 34 sacks.

Derwin James actually led this team in tackles with 105 and recorded 3.5 sacks to go along with 3 INTs. He was voted to the Pro Bowl and was voted First Team All-Pro. Adrian Phillips also joined him on both of those squads, Phillips recorded 94 tackles, and had 1 INT. Desmond King had 3 INTs and returned one of those for a TD, he also had 62 tackles and earned First Team All-Pro in for his returning skills where he returned 23 punts for 318 YDS and 1 TD, and returned 22 kickoffs for 522 yards. We haven’t even mentioned Casey Hayward who was a Pro Bowler the previous two years, and Jaheleel Addae who opposite James recorded 75 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 INT. This secondary was loaded for the Chargers.

Up front the Chargers were led by Melvin Ingram. Ingram made the Pro Bowl also had ad 1 INT, 1 FF, 7 sacks, 43 tackles, 8 TFL, and 16 QB hits. The chargers could have been better up front but 2017 1st Round pick Joey Bosa only played in 7 games all year. In those 7 games Bosa recorded 23 tackles and 5.5 sacks which was second on the team. The LB core was really the only weak spot for the Chargers, where there wasn’t any real standouts.

The offense averaged 26.8 PPG which was tied for 6th in the league, and ran for 117.1 YDS per game while passing for 255.6 YDS per game. Ole Phil Rivers threw for 4,308 YDS, 32 TDs, and 12 INTs while earning himself a Pro Bowl trip. He threw the ball mainly to Keenan Allen who had 97 catches for 1,196 YDS and 6 TDs. Behind him was Mike Williams who had a bit of a breakout season with 43 catches for 664 YDS and 10 TDs, he just wasn’t consistent enough. Tyrell Williams caught 41 balls for 653 YDS and 5 TDs, while Antonio Gates caught 28 balls for 333 yards and 2 TDs. A not absence from that list is TE Hunter Henry who tore his ACL in May and didn’t play a snap all season until the divisional round game against the New England Patriots.

Running wise Melvin Gordon missed another 4 games in 2018 but still ran for 885 YDS, 10 TDs and caught 50 balls for 490 YDS and another 4 TDs. Behind Gordon was Ekeler who proved himself a very solid backup, Ekeler ran for 554 YDS, 3 TDS, and caught 39 balls for 404 YDS and 3 TDs. Rookie Justin Jackson from Northwestern also found some playing time and ran for 206 yards, 2 TDs, and caught 15 balls for 135 YDs.

Really the only weak part of the Chargers offensive in 2018 was the offensive line which was ranked as one of the worst in the league by Pro Football Focus (PFF). The Chargers allowed QB pressure on 30.8% of their drop backs, which was 25th in the league, and their individual rankings weren’t good as well.

As far as the year went, the Chargers started off 1-2 but their two losses came against the two highest scoring teams in the NFL – the Chiefs and Rams. From there on out, they went 11-2 and their offense blossomed and the defense shut down their opponents. IN the first four games, the defense gave up 38, 20, 35, and 27 points. From there on out the defense held seven teams to under 20 points. They also won some very tough games, they demolished a solid up and coming Browns team on the road, won at Seattle, won at Pittsburgh, and won a thriller on Thursday Night at the Chiefs.

Sadly for the Chargers they lost two games they really should have won and both were at home. The first was a last second FG loss to the Broncos in week 11, and the second was Week 16 at home against the Ravens and Lamar Jackson. If the Chargers would have pull out a win in one of those games, they would have been the #1 seed in the AFC over the Chiefs and Patriots. Instead, the Chiefs on the tiebreaker at 12-4 and the Chargers went into the playoffs as the #5 seed and had to play a Wild Card game at the Ravens.

Having lost to the Ravens just two weeks earlier, the Chargers knew how to attack the odd offense that the Ravens ran with Lamar Jackson. The Chargers went into Baltimore and won 23-17. It wasn’t a close game until the 4th quarter when Jackson finally learned how to throw and made it interesting but in reality, the Chargers offenses sputtered on the Ravens side of the field and should have put the game away earlier.

With some very good road wins during the regular seasons, the Chargers traveled to New England with a lot of people picking them to pull the upset. Instead, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady proved their greatness and picked apart the Chargers defense by getting rid of the ball quickly so Ingram and Bosa and zero effect, and they dumped the ball to back and WRs on short routes to take advantage of the Chargers mediocre LB core. The Patriots scored on 5 of their 7 first half possessions, including the first four and went to the locker room with a 35-7 lead. Meanwhile the Chargers offense gave their defense no help, and had four different three-and-out drives during the game.

It wasn’t that the Chargers were outmatched in talent during that game, they were and still arguably more talented the Patriots. They just got out coached and out schemed. What was such a good season ended in another playoff loss to the New England Patriots.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

QB Tyrod Taylor (2 Years, $11 Million)

Quality backup here. Rivers hasn’t had any injury issues but he is getting older and you never know. Taylor is one of the best backup QBs in the league and could step in a still lead this team to the playoffs if Rivers was gone.

OLB Thomas Davis (2 Years, $10.5 Million)

We mentioned the LB core was one weak part for the Chargers, so they addressed in here. Although Davis is older and has had multiple knee injuries, his leadership, and veteran presence should help the defense and LB core overall.

2019 Draft

Round 1 Pick #28: DT Jerry Tillery

Tillery was very good for Notre Dame in 2018. He helped lead a ND defense that brought them to the College Football Playoff. Tillery is tall at 6’6″ and should help with the pass rush which wasn’t what the Chargers would have liked last year. Tillery had 30 tackles, 10.5 FL, 8 sacks, 3 FF, and 2 blocked kicks in 2018 that led a Second Team All-American pick for him.

Key Off Season Departures

WR Tyrell Williams (via free agency to the Oakland Raiders)

Williams was a deep threat for the Chargers but they still have Travis Benjamin on the roster, and with the emergence of Mike Williams last year and Hunter Henry coming back it just wasn’t worth it for the Chargers to give him the money he got from the Raiders.

CB Jason Verrett (via free agency to the San Francisco 49ers)

This really isn’t a major loss because Verrett did miss all of 2018. However, if healthy Verrett is a very good CB and if came back the Chargers this year their secondary would probably be regarded as the best in the league.

2019 Preview

This part is going to be short and sweet for the Chargers, they only have two major issue going into 2019 but we’ll get to that next. If the Colts are solid up and down their roster, than the Chargers are loaded everywhere but the OL. This is a 12-4 team that is bringing back almost the same team into 2019, so there are really no reasons why they shouldn’t be one of the favorites in the AFC.

The questions come in a few spots. First off, the OL needs to be better. They were one of the worst in 2018 and didn’t do much in the off season to address those issues other than drafting OT Trey Pipkins in the third round. What the Chargers do get back is former second round pick Forrest Lamp who missed all of 2017 and 2018. Lamp can play guard but he’ll have to beat out one of the two incumbents for that spot. The only sure spot on the OL is at Center with Mike Pouncey.

Going off the OL, the other question for the Chargers is at RB with Melvin Gordon and his contract issue. Gordon is apparently going to pull a Le’Veon Bell and not play in 2019 unless he gets a new contract, and he wants to get paid big time. I don’t think Gordon is worth what Bell got, mainly because Gordon hasn’t shown he can actually play a full 16 game season. If Gordon could guarantee he’d be healthy and not miss a game for the next three years, he probably gets the contract he wants. Gordon has gotten better and better each year in the NFL, mainly at pass catching, but with the short life of RBs now-a-days he wants to get paid before the Chargers run him into the ground on his rookie contract and you really can’t blame him. Can the Chargers be successful at RB without Gordon? Yes they can. Ekeler and Jackson have shown they can fill that void just fine but I don’t think the Chargers are as good without Gordon on the field. It will be interesting to see if they can get something done and get Gordon back out on the field.

The final question for this team is at head coach. Anthony Lynn got shown up in New England in a bad way. Its not hard to get out coached by Bill Belichick, but the Chargers are the more talented team and didn’t even look like they wanted to be there. I think it started with going back to the West Coast after being Baltimore instead of staying out East for the week before the Pats game. Then during the game, you had no idea what their game plan actually was. The Patriots came out with a game plan and executed it to perfection. It almost looked like the Chargers just wanted to lineup and beat the Pats with talent, you don’t do that with the Pats – you need a game plan. Hopefully Lynn has learned from his mistakes last year and will grow as a coach so the Chargers can take the next step.

Schedule

The AFC West plays the NFC North and AFC South this year. The Chargers also play the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins because they finished second in the West.

The Chargers have 16 away games. I kid, I’m just kidding. But really, every team they play at home this year is going to have more fans at the Chargers “home” stadium then they do.

Starting out the Chargers get at least four prime-time games with their Week 16 game against Oakland apparently up for grabs as of when this is being written (mid-August). They kick things off in prime-time at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6 on Sunday Night Football, then Week 10 on Thursday Night Football they play at the Oakland Raiders, Week 11 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs they play on Monday Night Football, and Week 15 they host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football.

Obviously being on the West Coast its important to note their noon kickoffs on the east coach and they only have two of those game. Week 2 at the Detroit Lions is a Eastern Time Zone game, Week 4 at Miami could be a trap game because of the start time and the heat in September, and Week 8 they travel to Chicago to play the Bears.

They also play a lot of the late afternoon games being on the West Coast. I see their late games against the Colts, Texans, and Packers as possibilities to be the featured late game.

They Chargers get a late bye week, coming in Week 12 and their division opponents are pretty spread out even though they don’t play one till the Broncos in Week 5.

Fantasy Player You Want

Lots of options here but whether Melvin Gordon plays or not I want Austin Ekeler on my squad. He’s gonna get a lot of carries either way, and he’s gonna get a lot of targets his way. I love him as an RB3 or starting Flex guy.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

This is tough because I like everybody on this team, Allen, Williams, Ekeler, and Henry. If I’m going to pick one though I’ll say Henry. He has a lot of potential but hasn’t proven it yet. He’s on a team with a lot of talent and a lot of targets to go around. I think you can get a more dependable TE that is more of a focal point of an offense around the same spot you’d be taking Henry.

Ceiling

This team has everything you want, I see no reason why they can’t win 12 games again.

Floor

I don’t see much of a regression but they could miss the playoffs in a tough division plus they have to play the most competitive NFC division in the North. I say the Chargers win at least 8 games.

Phil Rivers slinging the rock at Chargers training camp (Photo by Mark Hammond)
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