After an 0-4 start, the
San Diego Los Angeles Chargers finished the 2017 season 6-1 to finish 9-7 overall, which gave fans hope that the 2018 season would be the year the Bolts returned to the postseason, where they haven’t been since 2013.
A strong offseason strengthened this sense of optimism, but through the first four games, Los Angeles has struggled, and with the emergence of the Kansas City Chiefs as an offensive juggernaut, it may be difficult for LA to keep up.
Their schedule the rest of the way is one of the easier in the league, so the Chargers still could put together a solid run.
Longtime quarterback Philip Rivers will turn 37 in December, but he is playing as well as he ever has. Through four games, he has thrown for 1,156 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. A major reason for his late-career success is the plethora of weapons that surround him in LA’s offense.
Running back Melvin Gordon is a true dual-threat; in 2017, he totaled 342 touches for 1,581 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. Gordon’s backup, Austin Ekeler, is a capable change-of pace runner who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. The receiving prowess of the Chargers’ backs makes life easier for their wide receivers and tight ends.
Star wide receiver Keenan Allen suffered a kidney injury that forced him to miss the entire second half of the 2015 season. He recovered, only to suffer an ACL tear in the first game of the 2016 campaign. The next year, Allen played in every game, hauling in 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns, winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. Allen is flanked by 2017 seventh overall pick Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin.
Williams had a difficult rookie season, as he played in 10 games and caught only 11 passes for 95 yards. This year, he has already matched his catch total through three games, yet he already has 189 yards and three touchdowns, including a four-catch, 81-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Los Angeles Rams. Williams is starting to show the talent that made him a top-10 pick, and the Chargers will benefit from his improvement.
Starting tight end Hunter Henry tore his ACL before the beginning of the season, but he may end up returning this year. Henry is a dynamic weapon in the passing game, so his absence is certainly felt by the offense. In the meantime, future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates continues to be a dependable target in his 18th year in the league. Once Hunter returns, the Chargers’ offense can really take off.
The offensive line can be considered the weak point of the offense, but it is quite respectable. Former Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey has been a godsend in the middle. Once 2016 second-round pick Forrest Lamp returns from an injury, LA’s line could be a top-12 unit.
With all that said, surprisingly, scoring points hasn’t been the issue for Los Angeles. It’s been stopping other teams from doing the same.
The third-ranked scoring defense from 2017 has given up 120 points over the first four weeks. A large part of the problem has been the absence of three key players. Starting CB Jason Verrett is out for the year with a torn Achilles. DT Corey Liuget is currently serving a four-game suspension for PEDs. And most importantly, Pro Bowl pass rusher Joey Bosa is nursing a bone bruise which has kept him out of the first four games and is not expected to make his debut until October.
Bosa’s pass rushing mate, Melvin Ingram, has 1.5 sacks so far this year. He is clearly missing Bosa, as opposing offenses can double team Ingram, reducing his effectiveness without worrying much about backup Isaac Rochell.
Bosa’s absence has made things more difficult for the linebacker corps. Kyzir White, Denzel Perryman, and Kyle Emmanuel are solid, but they are clearly better when Bosa is drawing all the attention up front.
The secondary is suffering from the loss of Verrett, but they still have Pro Bowler Casey Hayward as the anchor. First-round pick Derwin James has been every bit as good as he was in college thus far, and is one of the most dynamic athletes in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has many different ways he can use James, who is similar player to former Seahawk Kam Chancellor, who Bradley coached to multiple Pro Bowls. Desmond King and Rayshawn Jenkins are versatile backups who could be starters on other teams.
It hasn’t looked good thus far, but once the defense gets its key players back, it should return to its 2017 form.
2018 Chargers Outlook
If the defense can play like it did last year, the team should be in the playoff hunt deep into the season. With the Raiders imploding and the Broncos a shell of their former selves, the Chargers shouldn’t have too hard of a time beating out at least two of their rivals.
The challenge will be getting past the Chiefs, who are dominating behind their record setting QB, Patrick Mahomes. However, the Chiefs have gotten off to blazing starts in the past before falling off, so Los Angeles shouldn’t count themselves out of the division race just yet.
Regardless, they should be strong contenders for at least a wild card spot, which would be very meaningful, as Philip Rivers could decide to hang up his cleats very soon.