The Los Angeles Chargers have reasons to think things are starting to turn in the right direction. They’ve won three consecutive games and on Monday night they overcame a double-digit first quarter deficit to beat the Denver Broncos.
That marked the first time in the franchise’s notable history the team rallied from such an early deficit to win the game.
So everything should feel good about the Chargers.
But, oddly, it doesn’t. Not yet.
Oh, the Chargers will tell you things are good.
But something’s missing. Something is slightly off.
Los Angeles Chargers Offense Not Clicking
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, for example, called the Denver victory “a slog.” He bemoaned consistent red zone problems and added the performance was “not as good as we had hoped.”
“We’d hope that we had a little more explosive [plays],” Lombardi admitted. “I felt that we left some stuff on the field that we could have scored some more points.”
This offense, with Justin Herbert among the league’s top quarterbacks, isn’t maximizing. The unit is 7th in total defense so, yes, it collects a lot of yards. But it is 13th in points scored, which suggests it’s not clicking often enough.
The defense, meanwhile, has its own issues.
Chargers Defense Has Problems, Too
Cornerback J.C. Jackson, one of the team’s prized free agent acquisitions in the offseason, was benched in the second half of the Monday night game.
And this is a problem not just for the player but for the personnel department and the coaching staff. Because Jackson the previous four years has been among the NFL’s best man-coverage corners while he played with the New England Patriots.
He collected 25 interceptions in those four years and was considered one of the best at his position in the entire league. But after getting an $82.5 million contract from the Chargers, he has zero interceptions so far this season, has struggled mightily playing the team’s zone coverages, and obviously spent part of the last game as merely a spectator.
And after that benching, Jackson said he felt “defeated.”
“For four years, he’s been doing one thing and one thing alone, they asked him to play man,” said Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill. “We’re going to try to do as much as we can to simplify and do the things that made him success over there.
“It doesn’t happen as soon as a guy comes into the building all of the time.”
This is a problem because it’s the personnel department’s job to make sure a player fits the scheme the coaching staff is going to employ before paying that player $82.5 million.
And it’s up to the coaching staff to perhaps adjust its scheme if its star addition is best suited to do something else — it’s called putting players in the best position to succeed.
So this failure so far is on everyone, not just on Jackson.
But coach Brandon Staley doesn’t see it that way.
“No, I don’t think anything different schematically,” Staley said about a possible scheme adjustment.
Look, if the Chargers didn’t want to change their scheme because it’s proven and is otherwise doing great that would be a solid argument for staying the course. But that doesn’t apply here.
Because so far the Los Angeles defense is just kind of middling.
This club added edge rusher Khalil Mack this offseason to combine on the front seven with Joey Bosa, who is admittedly missing games due to a groin injury. This unit added linebacker Kyle Van Noy who, by the way, is also still not fully integrated because coaches cannot figure out how to use him. The Chargers also already had Derwin James and promising youngster Asante Samuel Jr.
That’s a lot of star power.
But the Chargers are giving up 25.3 points per game. That’s 26th in the NFL.
They’re 23rd against the run, yielding 125 rushing yards per game. The pass defense is 18th against the pass.
This feels like a collective under-achievement.
And, yes, I read the first paragraph. I wrote it. The Chargers have won three consecutive games and are the AFC West co-leaders now.
Seattle Seahawks Overachieving
But compare that to this week’s opponent, the Seattle Seahawks. That team is the NFC West co-leader.
Except there’s a significant difference between these two.
The Seahawks are rebuilding. They traded away their starting quarterback and are going with a journeyman who is playing at a level beyond what his history suggests he’s capable of playing. As is the young, rebuilt offensive line.
And, in that regard, Geno Smith and other players there are a personification of the Seahawks theme right now. Because they’re overachieving.
Are the Chargers overachieving?
They’re 4-2 with some injuries (everyone has injuries) but is that good enough?
“It’s just part of the NFL,” Staley said. “I think we don’t make too much of it because that’s just the way the NFL is. That’s what I tell the guys; that’s what the guys know is that’s part of the NFL. There’s a lot that happens and you have to be ready for it.
“I think our guys have done a really nice job of playing together in all three phases and figuring it out.”
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For a breakdown of the rest of the Sunday NFL slate, check out OutKick’s Watchability Rankings by Dan Zaksheske.