Los Angeles Chargers: 10 wins – 7 losses, 5th in the AFC
It will therefore have been necessary to wait for his 3rd season for Justin Herbert to finally discover the playoffs. Absent from cleaver matches since 2018, the Chargers are back in the finals this year.
They had given themselves the means to compete with a flashy recruitment, the first objective is therefore achieved, even if the road has not been easy. From there to aim even further? One match after another still seems the best option.
How did they get there?
Not without harm. In a division and beyond a competitive and open conference, nothing has been acquired for the Chargers. At the end of week 13 and a defeat against the rival of Las Vegas, the balance sheet was only balanced and very moderate optimism. Average level of play, feverish defense, no ingredient of a confirmed suitor. But a saving series of 4 wins in a row, including that against a direct competitor Miami, made it possible to put the Bolts back on the scene and even win their ticket two weeks before the end of the season.
The season has left some scars in their pride, such as the very heavy loss at home against the Jaguars in week 3. The opportunity during this first round of the playoffs will therefore be offered to them to rectify the situation this time on the field of Jacksonville.
The key player: Austin Ekeler
If Justin Herbert is the image of the team and the leader of the attack, Austin Ekeler is the barometer. Used almost as much in the air as on the ground, the versatile running back is more than a safety valve for his quarterback. He is his basic man. With 107 receptions, he is by far his preferred target.
And when Ekeler produces, the Chargers perform. The matches where he does not score are often synonymous with defeat. An underdog and often forgotten when it comes to NFL offensive stars, Ekeler is well and truly a terror of defenses. Its presence alone makes the attack difficult to read. He has made himself indispensable in the offensive schemes and a successful playoff campaign will necessarily go through shots from Ekeler.
Why are they going to go all the way?
The profile of the 2022 Chargers is reminiscent of that of the 2021 Bengals. A young and talented quarterback, a runner capable of anything, a duo of complementary and explosive receivers and a defense with playmakers capable of tipping the game .
In 3 seasons, and as many exercises above 4,300 yards thrown, Justin Herbert has proven that he is an outstanding pyrotechnician, among the most explosive in the league. Surrounded by Allen and Williams, he can outrun any defense. And if we add to that the contribution of Ekeler, we obtain a complete attack cut for January which can quickly become unplayable.
In defense, the duo Joey Bosa – Khalil Mack will be hell for the offensive lines, and the secondary led by the ubiquitous Derwin James could exploit the slightest error. Perfect ingredients to shine.
Why won’t they go?
This franchise has the unfortunate tendency to follow the line of magnificent “losers”. Never varnished, an injury, a missed kick, there is always a reason why it does not work for the blues and yellows. To force luck, it is often experience that can help. And this experience, neither the players nor the staff have it. If Brandon Staley and his assistants have ever tasted this level, it was only in secondary roles. A coach who has also shown not always positive signs during the season, in these choices, As for the field, with the exception of Keenan Allen, Corey Linsley on the offensive line, and Khalil Mack in defense, the balance sheet is skinny. A world apart with the Chiefs, Bills or to a lesser extent the Ravens.
Always far too fragile against the run (28th NFL), the defense offers a simple key to the opponent to thwart them. Run and hold the clock. Despite the offseason additions, Brandon Staley has not found the keys to improving things in a convincing way. If the main opponents of the conference do not necessarily find their main strength in the field, they will still be able to exploit this weakness. And if we look to the Super Bowl, the NFC favorites (Eagles and 49ers) are ground machines.
Like all teams at this stage, Staley’s men have lost their feathers in 17 weeks of intense play. First to fall from week 3, Rashawn Slater, the man who protects the blind side of Herbert could make his return during this month of January. But for that the team will have to at least pass the first pitfall. In his absence, rookie Jamaree Salyer has taken over the interim well, but the return of one of the very best to his position (2nd All Pro team in 2021) would be more than welcome.
Flagship rookie of the season, JC Jackson will be the great absence in defense. Touched in the knee in the middle of the season, it is Michael Davis who replaces him on the outside. On the good news side, Joey Bosa, the team’s defensive leader for several seasons, returned to the game at the end of the season after a year largely shortened by injury. Affected again in week 18, it should hold its place. Just like Williams, also affected on Sunday but should be able to form his formidable duo with Allen.
The AFC conference seems to be promised to the ogres that are the Bills and the Chiefs, without forgetting the last runner-up Cincinnati. Difficult then to exist and to imagine the city of Los Angeles keeping the Lombardi trophy with its 2nd local team. For the first playoff of Justin Herbert and his coach Brandon Staley, the challenge seems immense. If the first game is up their alley, the divisional round could already represent a high challenge. But like the Bengals last year, the Chargers have weapons on both sides of the ball allowing them to hit harder than they did on paper and dream big.