The Los Angeles Chargers seem like they’ve been the unluckiest team in the NFL for at least a decade, and that string of bad karma continued in Week 3.
Not only did the Chargers get destroyed by the up-and-coming Jacksonville Jaguars, but they lost left tackle Rashawn Slater to a season-ending biceps injury, per Tom Pelissero of NFL Media.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only issue the seemingly-cursed Chargers are dealing with.
Rashawn Slater’s injury is devastating for the Los Angeles Chargers
We’re still about a month away from Halloween, but L.A.’s loss to the Jaguars on Sunday was a nightmarish experience. The Chargers headed into the game without wide receiver Keenan Allen, cornerback J.C. Jackson, and center Corey Linsley, while Justin Herbert’s rib injury clearly hampered him throughout the defeat.
By the time the final whistle blew, Los Angeles was also down Slater and edge rusher Joey Bosa. We’re still awaiting word on the severity of Bosa’s groin injury, but the fact that he was ruled out at halftime doesn’t bode well for his immediate availability.
It always seems to be something for the Chargers. Sometimes, it’s special teams gaffes. Other times, it’s questionable coaching decisions. This time, it’s injury luck. In 2021, L.A. lost the ninth-most adjusted games in the NFL, per Football Outsiders, and that trend is continuing into this season.
Aside from Herbert (who seems like he’ll continue to gut it out despite his injury), Slater was the player the Chargers could least afford to lose. The 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft, Slater was a rock solid left tackle from Day 1.
He’s undersized at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, but the Northwestern product is smooth as silk in his pass sets. Slater gave up only 25 pressures and committed one penalty in his rookie season en route to earning a second-team All-Pro nod.
Like most NFL teams, the Chargers don’t really have a player capable of replacing their starting left tackle. But the dropoff from Slater to Storm Norton is immense. Norton is the same player LA decided wasn’t good enough to keep his job at right tackle after making 15 starts a year ago.
In 2021, Norton allowed 59 pressures, second-most among offensive tackles behind only the Dolphins’ Liam Eichenberg, per Pro Football Focus. This year, despite playing only 65 offensive snaps, he’s already given up nine pressures, fourth-most among OTs.
Still, the Chargers don’t have many other options to take over for Slater. It’s nearly October — there aren’t troves of high-quality offensive linemen sitting freely available at this time of year. Even the veterans that had to wait to find new deals, like Jason Peters and Duane Brown, have landed in new destinations.
The one free agent tackle who could make sense for the Chargers is Eric Fisher, who is still on the open market after starting 15 games for the Colts last season. Fisher, who struggled early on while recovering from a torn Achilles but settled in down the stretch, has maintained that he wants to continue his career. He’d be the best solution for the Bolts and would represent a significant upgrade over Norton.
Assuming Linsley can return in the near future, the rest of the LA’s front five is still solid. But the offensive line is a weak-link system — and Norton is an extremely weak link.
Slater’s absence isn’t the Chargers’ only problem
Luckily, the Chargers had the cornerback depth to withstand two missed games from Jackson, whom LA signed to a five-year, $82.5 million deal in the offseason. They won’t have the same luxury if Bosa is sidelined for a while.
Aside from starter Khalil Mack, Chris Rumph — the Chargers’ fourth-round pick in 2021 — is the only other pure edge roster on the roster. Veteran Kyle Van Noy is extremely versatile, and he can play on the edge, too. Both Rumph and Van Noy played their highest snap counts of the season in Week 3, and both should see ample time if Bosa is out.
On the offensive side of the ball, Herbert’s health and pain tolerance need to be monitored, but there are other issues here, too. LA’s offense under coordinator Joe Lombardi continues to look stagnant. There’s no speed threat among the pass catchers, and Herbert’s average depth of target (7.4) ranks 23rd of 33 quarterbacks.
A unit that was supposed to be among the league’s most explosive ranks just 22nd in expected points added per play, behind the likes of the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears. Austin Ekeler hasn’t topped 40 yards rushing in a game, and LA’s run game is second-to-last in EPA per play.
Additionally, some of the shine has begun to wear off head coach Brandon Staley. He was the NFL’s most aggressive coach in 2021, consistently making decisions that agreed with win expectancy models. He’s dialed back that approach this season, and it cost his team a potential Week 2 win against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Staley’s defense, which should be his bread and butter, doesn’t look any better through three games than it did a year ago. The Chargers have given up 84 points, tied for the third-most in the league. And Staley’s decision to leave the hobbled Herbert in the game during LA’s blowout loss to the Jaguars was questionable, at best.
Despite coming up short of a playoff berth in 2021, the Chargers were a nearly unanimous pick for the postseason this year. This was supposed to be the season it all came together in Los Angeles.
Instead, FiveThirtyEight now gives the Chargers a one-in-three chance of making the playoffs and only a 12% chance of winning the AFC West. The sky is falling in southern California.