The Los Angeles Chargers deserve far more credit

Through these first 11 games, it’s pretty easy to see who’s at the top of the food chain. Obviously, you have teams like the Saints, Rams, Patriots, and Chiefs, but if there’s one team I think is sorta going over everybody’s head, it’s the Los Angeles Chargers. Yeah, this team may not be as electric as the Rams or Chiefs, but they have been having a hell of a season this year.

The Chargers are now sitting pretty at 8-3 in the AFC South with only the Chiefs ahead of them, and it looks like they’re in pretty good shape as of now. The Chargers have shown that they’re not just a team with playoff hopes. they have put beat downs on teams not just once but multiple times. Out of the 3 losses they have, 2 of those had come against previously undefeated teams—the Rams and Chiefs—and despite losing those games by at least 10 points, they looked like they’re very capable of putting up a fight. Take a look where this offense ranks throughout the league.

    Points per game: 11th (27.5)
    Yards per game: 6th (402)
    Pass yards per game: 10th (273)
    Rush yards per game: 7th (128.8)

Not too shabby, if you ask me.

But, take a look at the personnel this offense consists of: Phillip rivers, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Tyrell Williams, mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and good ol’ reliable, Mr. Antonio Gates. Every one of them have been very beneficial assets to this team throughout the season.

Passing game

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

My biggest wonder coming into this year for the Chargers was really how much they were going to include Mike Williams in this offense. Williams wasn’t too much of a factor last season due to the fact that he was banged up for most of the year. This year was different though. Coming into the season healthy and ready to go, Williams was primed for a breakout year.

He had a pretty solid start to the season this year, but his targets began to drop from 8 in the first game of the season to only about 3-4 per game now. Williams has only been targeted 39 times this season, but has been making the most of every chance he gets. He has 24 catches on 39 targets for 419 yards and 7 touchdowns. Williams has been an excellent red zone option this year after having to step up since Hunter Henry went down with a torn ACL. Even though both Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams haven’t been targeted a whole lot, they’ve both still found ways to find the end zone quite a bit.

Tyrell Williams has actually out-targeted Mike Williams, but not by much. Tyrell Williams has had himself a pretty steady year as the second option behind Keenan Allen, catching just 28 of 42 balls. He has been able to find the end zone five times while racking up 519 yards. Both of the Williamses are not only looked at as red zone options, but man, can they go down the field and catch the ball. Both of their career longest catches have come this year with Mike Williams catching a 55-yard score and Tyrell Williams catching a 75-yard score.

These two are both promising young athletes that I think should both be involved maybe just a little bit more the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Keenan Allen had himself a hell of a year last year. After coming back from the ACL injury that cost him the 2016 season, Allen capped off his 2017 season with a career best in yardage, games played, and receptions. Allen finished the 2017 season with 103 catches for 1,393 yards and 6 scores. He was then awarded comeback player of the year. Allen has shown some regression since his career best season, but has still shown why he’s an elite receiver in this league. So far this year, Allen has 69 receptions on 94 targets for 848 yards and 4 scores. Allen has a pretty rough injury history but when he’s healthy and out on the field this is a different team. As long as Allen stays healthy, he’s in line to go over 1,000 yards for the second straight time in his career, something he has yet to accomplish as a pro. Along with that milestone, he still has plenty of time to beat out his season high in touchdowns as well.

Rivers has been having a career year. He has completed almost 70% of his passes while throwing for 3,110 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Rivers has done a good job spreading the ball out to all of his receivers, but he doesn’t look like he’s showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Having (finally) a trio of recievers I think benefited him a lot more than it did last year since Mike Williams never really got to get going. Last year, Travis Benjamin was techinachly the third reciever on the depth chart, but we all know he’s not capable of too much. Rivers has a couple easy games and then a couple tough ones coming up in the next few weeks. The Steelers are probably the second biggest threat since they’re playing at home and the Chargers don’t have Melvin Gordon currently.

After that, they play Cincy at home, travel to Kansas City, home for Baltimore, and then travel to Denver. From the look of this, I don’t think that they could win all of them. I’d expect the losses to be to the Chiefs and Steelers.

Even though Antonio Gates was never supposed to play this season, he’s still managed to find the end zone two times and still put together 239 yards on 19 catches. Nothing crazy but ill take it from the future Hall of Famer.

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 23: Melvin Gordon #28 of the San Diego Chargers rushes for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Running Game

Now on to one of my favorite players in the league, Melvin Gordon. Ever since coming into the league, Gordon has been nothing but Efficient with a capital E. He has had 1,000 scrimmage yards in all but one season, which happened to be his rookie year. After that, Gordon has been one of the best options on this team, being featured in almost every game since his rookie campaign.

The biggest thing I took away from Gordon coming into the start of the season was that he finally felt 100% for the beginning of a season. Before the year began Gordon told reporters that he’s “usually felt about 70-75%”coming into the seasons prior. Well, if that’s the case, then we haven’t even seen it all yet because in the 2016 season Gordon was able to rack up 1,416 yards from scrimmage while scoring a total of 12 touchdowns on the year. Ten came from the ground and 2 came through the air. He set a career high in rushing yards with 1,105 while averaging just under 4 YPC. So far this season, Gordon has 802 yards on 153 carries while averaging 5.2 YPC. He’s already found the end zone a total of 13 times, coming from both the ground (9) and the air (4). Not only did Gordon set a new season high in touchdowns from scrimmage but he also set a season high in rushing yards/gm with 80.

Even though Gordon’s more of a big back, he’s still shown he can catch 50 balls a season out of the backfield. Gordon is currently having a better year on the stat sheet in the passing game, but you can’t count Ekeler out on his big play ability with how explosive and determined he plays.

After Gordon was put on the injury report for his knee and hamstring, he told coaches that he insisted on playing this past Sunday. With the Chargers coming off a tough loss to the Broncos I’m sure they wanted to win this, and badly. Even though the team won by a heavy amount, Gordon really put himself at risk by playing. It turns out that Gordon has a grade 2 MCL sprain and while it’s not ideal, he should be ready by the postseason. He’s lucky all he did was sprain it because, ultimately, it would’ve been a turn for the worst. With 5 games left in the regular season, I wouldn’t be shocked if that was the last time we saw Gordon until the playoffs. Rivers looks locked in at this point and with Gordon having an injury history, I don’t see them jeopardizing the rest of his season unless they somehow start to tank, which is unlikely.

With Gordon out, Ekeler will not only be featured in the passing game but his overall workload is going to rise. This season, Ekeler has hauled in 32 tosses for 354 yards and 3 scores. He’s averaging a nice 11.1 yards per catch, something teams may not get from their second back. While he was taking away targets and carries from Gordon, I think it was more of the fact that they wanted to keep Gordon healthy all year since, like I said, he wasn’t feeling 100% coming into each year except this one. But it looked like his past eventually caught up with him. Ekeler has been a terrific piece to this offense. Whether it’s running the ball or catching passes, he always seems to get the job done. He has found himself on the way to his first 1,000-yard season from scrimmage with Gordon now out for multiple weeks. Ekeler has now managed to pile up a total of 763 yards from scrimmage with 354 of those yards coming from the air and the remaining 409 from the ground.

Key contributors to the defense

Before getting into the rest take a peek at where this defense stands throughout the league.

  • Yards per game: 339 (9th in NFL)
  • Pass yards per game: 227.3 (7th in NFL)
  • Rush yards per game: 107.5 (13th in NFL)
  • Points allowed per game: 19.9 (4th in NFL)

Although this defense has shown its struggles, it looks like that they are very capable of staying in games as long as their offense is performing. This defense can have many different players who can take over such as Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Brandon Mebane, Desmond King, and Casey Hayward. All of these guys are people you would like to have on your team, but there’s a few that should be addressed.

Bosa and Melvin Ingram posed the best outside attack in the NFL last year, racking up 21 sacks combined. These two are both very important players in the defense, and even though Bosa had missed the first 10 games, he wasted no time getting back to his old self. In the first game Bosa was supposed to play about 20 snaps but they thought he was looking good so they kept him out there for a total of 31. That may not have been the most intriguing game we have seen from Bosa, but he made up for it right away. In his second game we caught a glimpse of the animal we have been seeing for the past couple years, Bosa finished the game with 2 key sacks that had both come on 3rd downs.

Bosa said after the first game that he was nervous how his foot and other body parts were going to hold up but it looked like after that first week it was no longer an issue. With Bosa now fully healthy I expect him to get back to wreaking havoc opposite of Melvin Ingram. Ingram has been efficient as always with 21 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks (leads team), 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, while also leading the team in quarterback hits with 14. I would expect Ingram’s stats to also see a nice boost with the return of Bosa. A lot of teams are going to have to shift their focus to the both of them. So expect this defense to ignite an even bigger spark once Bosa has played a more than 1 full game.

Since Bosa wasn’t set to return at the start of the season, it looked like someone else was going to have to step up and really contribute. Who else other than the rookie DB Derwin James. This kid has been absolutely lights out this year, recording a total of 78 tackles combined. James currently leads the team with 78 combined tackles and 52 solo tackles. He is making a firm statement for defensive rookie of the year and from the looks of things he may just find himself in his first Pro Bowl as well. James is nobody to mess around with, he hits with authority and knows what he’s doing at all times. This is going to be an exciting career for James and this is only the start. Not only does James lead his team in tackles but he ranks in the top 3 in a few major categories for rookie DBs. Check it out below:

  • Tackles: 78 total (2nd)
  • Interceptions: 2 (3rd)
  • Sacks: 3.5 (1st)

These next few games may be tougher without Gordon for the Chargers, but I fully expect this team to continue what they have been doing and find ways to win without him. As long as they all come out of the regular season healthy then we might see a little bit of a momentum shift in the playoffs for a team that hasn’t had that much luck in the past.

photo: nick novak

MH
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