The problem with the Los Angeles Chargers making the playoffs is simple — it could trick the organization into believing that they’ve cultivated a winning situation when the fact is they’re an average football team by nearly every statistical measure. They must take the same aggressive team-building approach this offseason that they did the last, or they will be left behind.
The team ranks 22nd in team DVOA, 19th in offensive EPA, 25th in defensive EPA, and 15th in point differential (-11). But their shortcomings aren’t just of a statistical nature. To any trained eye, their flaws are evident without even having to parse through the All-22. No, their faults are clearly defined, even in a broadcast view.
The Los Angeles Chargers Have Scapegoats
The biggest problem with the Chargers making the playoffs is that they’ve done so largely without Rashawn Slater, Joey Bosa, and J.C. Jackson, who has been in the news despite his injured status.
It would be easy for the Chargers to rest on their laurels in the offseason. “We made the playoffs without three of our star players!” they exclaim as analysts everywhere grit their teeth at their inactivity.
But this roster has plenty of issues, and there is absolutely no excuse to have an offense hovering around the bottom third of the league with Justin Herbert under center.
Offensive Personnel Issues Loom Large
The examples have been abundant throughout the season. But there were some clear issues shown throughout the Monday Night Football broadcast. The Chargers couldn’t run the ball if their life depended on it, and they have absolutely no downfield answer, despite fielding a quarterback who could throw the ball over them mountains.
Keenan Allen is a shell of his former self. He was never incredibly fast, but he was a masterful route runner with enough explosiveness to separate early. Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi is often using him as a checkdown option at this point, aside from on money downs where they need seven or eight yards.
He’ll cost $21.7 million against their cap next season, and the Chargers could save $14.8 million against the cap by cutting him. However, parting ways with him is not the answer.
Their other big… pun intended… offensive weapon is Mike Williams. He’s the only Chargers pass catcher with over 30 targets to post an aDOT over 10 yards (12.2). We’ve seen what he can do, boxing out draping defenders in the intermediate area and on back-shoulder throws. And we’ve seen him elevate over-top cornerbacks for 50-50 balls with success. But the fact remains he’s a big-bodied receiver who runs a 4.6 and does not possess explosive separation skills.
Austin Ekeler is a great back, but the Chargers can’t run the football because they have an offensive line fraught with backup-level players. They don’t even try more often than not. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run the ball more infrequently.
No quarterback has been pressured more than Justin Herbert has this season (247). Only Justin Fields, Daniel Jones, and Davis Mills are pressured more frequently on a per-dropback rate. But according to PFF, his pressure-to-sack rate of 13.4% is third-best in the NFL among QBs who have been pressured at least 100 times.
They can’t run — they can’t pass protect — and they can’t take downfield shots because there’s no speed on the outside, and they can’t protect.
There was no greater example of the onus placed on Herbert to be perfect than the Chargers throwback to Herbert to Allen. Allen was unable to run away from a cornerback in outside and over-top Cover 3 leverage across the field. In fact, undrafted free agent cornerback Dallis Flowers, who all of us had definitely heard of before he got snaps against Minnesota, caught up and nearly undercut the throw. If it wasn’t perfectly placed at a rocket-propelled pace, the trick play would have been for naught.
Tom Telesco, Brandon Staley, and Joe Lombardi have put the offensive onus squarely on Justin Herbert’s back and cracked ribs. Yet, he has somehow remained competent enough not to actively lose Los Angeles football games. Now compare that with Tua in Miami.
Unfortunately, making the playoffs often leads organizations to a false sense of security. But Los Angeles must strike now while the iron is hot, and Herbert isn’t costing them $60 million per season.
Keeping Jalen Guyton around as a WR5 next season for his speed would be a start. Josh Palmer has some talent but still doesn’t possess the explosiveness the Chargers’ offense desperately needs. If Los Angeles doesn’t take a fast receiver within their first two draft picks, they’re making a massive mistake if there is one available. But free agency is where massive team needs are addressed.
The Chargers Offense MUST Change
The Chargers’ offensive infrastructure is even more despicable than their lack of speed. And they’re the slowest team in the NFL! Joe Lombardi has used his Ferrari Daytona SP3 as a Nissan Altima. And after two consecutive seasons screaming into the abyss of the internet from analysts, there is no way the team lacks the self-awareness to the point where Lombardi retains his job.
Changing offensive coordinators for a young QB can be catabolic. But as we’ve seen in Miami and Philadelphia, it can also be as anabolic as an open bodybuilder at the Olympia. It’s incredibly hard to consistently sustain drives at the NFL level, and explosive plays are integral for offensive success in the modern NFL.
Unfortunately, Lombardi won’t magically unlearn and adapt at the snap of a finger. He’s the same man who somehow neutered the combination of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in Detroit. So Staley must make a change, whether he wants to or not.
The Wiz Kid’s Defense isn’t Defending the Run
Staley and the Chargers’ defense has lost most of its pieces on the defensive line throughout the season. However, that does not absolve him from carrying the blame for the Chargers’ horrific run defense once again in 2022.
Although Christian Covington has missed most of the season, Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day have done little to improve the Chargers’ poor run defense from a season ago. And while having a good pass defense can be an equalizer, the inability to stop the run makes it difficult to put offenses behind schedule on offense.
The Chargers’ pass defense has kept them afloat, but they’re far from the level they’d need to be to actually make up for the lackluster run defense. They rank 12th in passing DVOA, 15th in dropback EPA, and 12th in Dropback success rate.
Chargers Playoff Chances
In a matchup against Cincinnati, Kansas City, or Buffalo in the Wild Card round, the Chargers have little hope for a win. They’d be going into hostile territory in likely poor weather outside. Their only hope would be for Joey Bosa to return, play like Hercules, and for the passing attack to play a perfect game, methodically moving the ball down the field.
Against Buffalo and Cincinnati specifically, that seems unlikely. So the Chargers are likely a one-and-done, hurting their draft slot and possibly cozying into a false sense of security about the talent on their roster and the future of their franchise.
But what would the Chargers be if they weren’t consistently letting us down?