In our Sept. 1 publication, we did a season preview synopsis for the Chargers and identified a few key issues we felt the team needed to improve if it had any chance of competing in the postseason. In this issue, we will re-examine those keys to see if they contributed in any way to the Chargers’ 38-28 loss to the Chiefs last Sunday in the season opener for both teams.
Issue No. 1 — Getting off to a fast start. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Chargers went three-and-out in their first drive of the season. On the ensuing punt, the Chiefs’ speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill returned it 91-yards for a touchdown just 1 minute, 57 seconds into the game.
Following a 45-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis, the Chiefs quickly took a 14-3 lead as Hill caught a quick pass from second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes at the Chargers 47 en route to a 58-yard touchdown reception.
Key Stat: Although they outscored the Chiefs 16-7 in the fourth quarter, the Chargers never led in the game and were outscored 31-12 through the first three quarters.
Issue No. 2 — Protect Philip Rivers/replace Hunter Henry. The O-Line did its job in both the run game (123 yards) and pass protection (one sack). Rivers passed for 424 yards and three touchdowns, Melvin Gordon put up 166 total yards, Austin Ekeler put up 126 total yards with one touchdown reception and Keenan Allen garnered 108 receiving yards and one touchdown reception.
While the Chargers brought back tight end Antonio Gates (two receptions for 16 yards/ one two-point conversion), second-year receiver Mike Williams looked very impressive while catching five of the six passes for 81 yards. With Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin both dropping crucial passes during the game, look for Mike Williams to push for a starting spot soon.
Key Stat: Despite dominating the Chiefs in total yards (541 to 362), first downs (33 to 19) and time of possession (34:26 to 25:34) the Chargers still managed to lose.
Issue No. 3 — Stop the run. Playing without DE Joey Bosa (foot injury) and DT Corey Liuget (Suspension) the Chargers front seven limited last season’s rookie sensation RB Kareem Hunt to 49 yards rushing on 16 carries.
As impressive as the run defense was, ironically, it was the highly touted Chargers secondary that was so disappointing. Ranked as the second-best secondary in the NFL by Pro Football Focus (PFF) in its preseason rankings, the unit gave up four touchdown passes to second-year QB Patrick Mahomes who was making just his second career start.
Key Stat: In addition to scorching the Chargers for a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown, Hill also lit up the secondary by catching seven passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Analysis: As stated in our last issue, for the Chargers to compete for a postseason berth they must remain healthy, quit beating themselves, eliminate stupid penalties, tighten up the special teams and stop committing bone-headed plays. Unfortunately, the Chargers — at least for one game — can’t seem to shake a few of those bad habits.
Case in point: Leading up to the game Head Coach Anthony Lynn announced DE Joey Bosa would be inactive (foot injury) for the Chiefs game and will be evaluated on a week-by-week basis. With Liuget already out the first four games of the season, losing their best defensive player does not bode well for the defense.
One of the goals this past offseason was to solidify the special teams. With Sturgis winning the kicking job and undrafted rookie free agent J.J. Jones earning the return duties after an impressive preseason performance, fans were eager to see the improvement. However, special teams blunders in the 4th quarter by Jones (lost fumble recovered by KC at the Chargers 2), Travis Benjamin (-1 yard punt ret., failure to call a fair catch to save valuable time late in the 4th qtr.) and a missed 48-yard field goal attempt by Sturgis with 1:11 left in the game sealed the Chargers fate.
The Endzone: Although the secondary gave up four touchdown receptions, not all was bad for the Chargers defense. After finishing 31st against the run last season (4.9 yds. per att., 131.1 yds. per gm.) the Chargers defense held last years’ rookie sensation RB Kareem Hunt to 49 yards rushing and limited the Chiefs to 3.9 yds per attempt and 106 rushing yards. In a way too early into 2019 NFL Draft, Jacob Infante (DraftWire) has the Chargers making the playoffs this season and predicts the Chargers selecting S Taylor Rapp from Washington with the 25th pick.
Per Infante: “After just missing out on the playoffs last year, the Chargers figure to be in position to be a serious playoff contender in 2018. With several talented players on both sides of the ball, they have potential to compete for years to come. First-round pick Derwin James is one of those talented players, but Los Angeles lacks a long-term option alongside him at safety. James seems to be a good fit at free safety for the Chargers, so why not go with a player like Rapp, who is a perfect fit for the strong safety position?
“Rapp has a muscular and well-built frame at exactly six feet and 212 pounds. He is a hard-hitting safety with dangerous closing speed, a high motor, great instincts and an ability to consistently take good angles to the ball carrier and wrap him up. He also has good ball skills and has been a solid producer in college: he has five interceptions through his first two seasons at Washington.
“Rapp isn’t a stud athlete by any means, and his acceleration coming out of his breaks isn’t fantastic, but there’s always room for instinctive and hard-hitting strong safeties in the NFL.
The Chargers are secure at most of their positions, so they will have a lot of options in the draft next year. If they don’t choose to draft Philip Rivers’ replacement in the first round, then someone like Rapp would be a very good addition.”