Phillip Rivers is better than ever, Melvin Gordon may be back and the Chargers still have questions in pass defense and special teams.
The Seahawks’ road to an unexpected playoff berth isn’t about to get any easier.
In the next four weeks, the Seattle defense will be confronted with the Chargers’ Phillip Rivers, the Rams’ Jared Goff, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Panthers’ Cam Newton. If they can survive that stretch, the Seahawks will be in business.
Here are five things to know about the Seahawks’ next opponent, the 5-2 Los Angeles Chargers.
1. Phillip Rivers is off to the best start of his career.
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In his 15th NFL season, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound quarterback has completed 69.1 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,008 yards and 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions in the Chargers’ first seven games. His passer rating — 117.8 — is by far the best of his NFL career. Among starters, his 9.1 yards per attempt is third behind Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff. He ranks fourth in passes of 20-plus yards (31) and fifth in passes of 40-plus yards (7).
Any way you slice it, Rivers remains one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and an enormous threat for a Seahawks unit that ranks fifth in the NFL in pass defense (219 yards per game) and third in opponent passer rating (82.8).
Not bad for a 36-year-old, right?
2. The Chargers may not be as good as you think.
That’s admittedly a strange stance to take, considering that the Chargers are 5-2 and winners of four consecutive games.
But consider this: The two teams the Chargers have lost to — the Chiefs and Rams — tout a combined record of 15-1.
The five teams they have beaten, on the other hand, are the Buffalo Bills (2-5), San Francisco 49ers (1-7), Oakland Raiders (1-6), Cleveland Browns (2-5-1, and who just fired their head coach) and Tennessee Titans (3-4). The combined record, if your mental math is shaky, is 9-27-1.
To this point, it’s inarguable that the Chargers have exclusively beaten bad teams and lost to good ones. In some ways, despite their record, their legitimacy is unproven. That could all change on Sunday on the road against a Seahawks team that sits at 4-3 and has won four of their last five games.
3. Melvin Gordon is expected to return on Sunday.
The Chargers’ starting running back missed his team’s win over the Titans on Oct. 21 with a hamstring injury. The expectation is that, coming out of a bye week, the 25-year-old standout will be back against the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.
And, if he is, Los Angeles is getting a player who rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns in his last game, against the Browns on Oct. 14. The 6-1, 215-pound running back rushed for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns last season and added 476 receiving yards and four more scores.
The Seahawks can’t take away everything, and they’ll have to decide whether to key in on Rivers or Gordon on Sunday. That is, as long as Gordon makes the trip.
4. The Chargers’ defense allows the big play.
Specifically, the Chargers have allowed 32 completions of 20 or more yards this season, which ranks 30th in the NFL behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (38) and Cincinnati Bengals (34). Part of those struggles could be attributed to an inconsistent pass rush, which has garnered just 18 sacks this season (21st) and continues to do without standout defensive end Joey Bosa, who has missed the team’s first seven games with a foot injury.
On the other side, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson earned a perfect quarterback rating in a win over the Lions last weekend, throwing for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Oh, and the markedly improved Seattle offensive line hasn’t allowed more than two sacks in a game since Week 2. That group may be able to exploit the Chargers on Sunday.
5. The Chargers have kicking questions.
Through seven weeks, the Chargers have used two punters and two kickers. Placekicker Michael Badgley has filled in the last two weeks for the injured Caleb Sturgis, who has missed time with a quad strain. The question now is whether Sturgis will still have a job when he gets healthy. In five games this season, Sturgis connected on 9 of 12 field goals and missed a whopping four extra points. Badgley has been perfect in the last two games, knocking through three (admittedly short) field goals and seven extra points.
As for the punters, the Chargers released Drew Kaser after four games this season and signed veteran Donnie Jones. In three games, Jones has averaged 41.1 yards per punt with an underwhelming net of 36.3 yards.
Unlike the Seahawks’ Michael Dickson, don’t expect the 38-year-old Jones to attempt any “Aussie Sweeps” on Sunday.