The Seahawks host the Chargers this weekend, a team that has won four in a row and looks like a serious contender in the AFC. To find out more about this week’s opponent, Seahawks.com reached out to Eric Williams, who covers the Chargers for ESPN.com, and who happens to be a Tacoma native who used to cover the Seahawks for the News Tribune.
Q: The Chargers come to Seattle having won four straight, how high is the confidence level around the team right now, and how big of a test is a trip to Seattle to face a Seahawks team that has won four of five?
Williams: You’re right John, the Bolts are playing with a lot of swagger, based on how they have performed over the past four weeks. Specifically, Philip Rivers is having his best year since 2013, when he was in the conversation for league MVP before tailing off the second half of that season.
However, with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and ex-Seattle players like Brandon Mebane and Russell Okung now a part of this team, the Chargers understand how tough of a place CenturyLink Field is to play. They should be used to the crowd noise, with opposing fans regularly taking over the team’s temporary home, the StubHub Center, as the Chargers continue to try and cultivate a fan base in their new home of L.A.
Q: The Seahawks pass defense has been very good this season, but faces Philip Rivers, who at 36 yards old is on pace to put up the best numbers of his career. What has gone into his and the offense’s success this season, and how do you see the matchups with Seattle’s pass defense playing out?
Williams: Rivers is doing a good job of taking care of the football, with 17 touchdowns on the year and just three interceptions. When Anthony Lynn took over as head coach of the Chargers last season, he emphasized to Rivers being mindful of turnovers. Mission accomplished.
Rivers should look to test an improved but young Seattle secondary with big-bodied receivers in Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams on the outside, and Keenan Allen in the slot. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Williams, who played at Division II Western Oregon. An undrafted rookie the Chargers signed in 2015, Williams is averaging 21.4 yards per catch.
Q: What has rookie safety Derwin James brought to Gus Bradley’s defense?
Williams: James has brought athleticism and swagger to L.A.’s secondary. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he possesses the physicality of a Kam Chancellor but also has the short-area quickness, long speed and anticipation of a rangy free safety like Earl Thomas. James is special player that fits perfectly into Bradley’s defensive scheme, and the Chargers were lucky to have the Florida State product fall to them at No. 17 in this year’s draft.
Q: It seems there has been a lot of talk about special teams struggles for the Chargers. How big an issue is that, and what is being done/has been done to address it?
Williams: Inconsistent special teams play is probably the most glaring weakness of this team. The Chargers have gone through six kickers since the start of last season and have one of the worst field goal percentages in the NFL over that time. Caleb Sturgis, who Seattle showed interest in during free agency, will return to the starting lineup after missing the last two weeks with a quad strain. But his replacement, Michael Badgley, did not miss a field goal or extra point while starting in place of Sturgis. The Chargers waived Badgley this week, but brought him back on the practice squad. So Sturgis is on a short leash.
Q: What’s the latest with Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon? With Bosa out, how has the pass-rush functioned this season without him, and with Gordon questionable, who steps up in the running game if he can’t go?
Williams: Thought to be minor when he suffered the injury in August, Bosa has not played this season and remains out with a bruised left foot. He’s likely still a few weeks away from getting back on the field. However, the Chargers have figured out a way to generate pressure with Bosa out. Damion Square has played well as his replacement, and the Bolts also have used James effectively as a blitzer.
Gordon missed the Bolts’ last game in London two weeks ago with a hamstring issue. The Wisconsin product has been a limited participant in practice this week, and likely will be a game-time decision. If Gordon does not play, cat-quick third-down back Austin Ekeler likely will get the lion’s share of the touches out of the backfield.
Q: What color sweater vest will you be wearing on Sunday?
Williams: That’s also a game-time decision, depending on the weather—looking forward to being back home in Seattle this weekend!