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Chargers injuries will define the remainder of the season

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Chargers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Another game, another injury. That’s the narrative of the Los Angeles Chargers season following Sunday’s 23-22 loss to the Denver Broncos. With the long-awaited return of defensive end Joey Bosa, fans headed into Sunday’s game with the hopes that Los Angeles could continue their winning ways moving forward.

Instead, they took another devastating blow on defense for the rest of the season.

Defensive tackle Corey Liuget suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn confirmed the news following the game.

Liuget’s season was quite productive heading down the stretch. The former first-round draft pick had collected 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks as the team’s primary defensive tackle up the middle. With one year left on his contract, the eight-year veteran was destined to receive a contract extension before his deal expired in 2019.

Now, he’ll be on the sideline watching his team either make a postseason run or fall under the pressure.

Liuget is just another devastating blow for the Chargers organization to add to their long list of players now sitting on the injured reserve. Last week, the Bolts defense lost linebacker Denzel Perryman for the year due to an LCL sprain that required surgery. Perryman was the second critical defensive contributor to finish the season on IR as cornerback Jason Verrett was ruled out for the season back in July with a torn Achilles.

Along with three key defensive players out for the year, the Chargers have been without a quality tight end all season as Hunter Henry is still recovering from his torn ACL suffered in May. While he could always return before the season officially ends and be apart of the potential playoff roster, it’s highly unlikely he will make his return.

But the Chargers are 7-3 and still in a stable place down the stretch to make a run at the postseason. Philip Rivers is still playing solid football while running back Melvin Gordon has rejuvenated his career this past season as a versatile running back. The wide receiver trio of Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams is a unit capable of defeating any secondary while veteran tight end Antonio Gates remains useful in the red zone.

But the defense has been the biggest surprise of the season for Los Angeles this season. Even with multiple injuries sustained over the year, the Chargers still are ranked inside the top 15 in turnovers, sacks and total defense. Cornerback Casey Hayward still is reliable in coverage while second-year slot cornerback Desmond King has shown tremendous growth as a top caliber defender against receivers.

Rookie safety Derwin James should be a finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year following a fantastic season. Through nine games, the Florida State product has collected 71 tackles, three sacks, seven pass deflections, and an interception. Overall, James has been the most consistent player for the Bolts’ defense and is the franchise cornerstone moving forward.

Even the absence of Bosa hasn’t stopped the Chargers from being disruptive in attacking the quarterback. Thanks to the combined forces of Melvin Ingram, Isaac Rochell, Brandon Mebane, Damion Square and Darius Philon, the Bolts’ front line has collected 16 total sacks and consistently put pressure on whoever has lined up under center.

But back to back critical losses of Perryman and Liuget are harder to replace for the short-term future. While linebacker Jatavis Brown has shown promise in recent games as the team’s MIKE backer, the move inside has left a hole on the outside. Hopefully, rookie Uchenna Nwosu can contribute to help keep Gus Bradley’s 4-3 defense on the right track.

The loss of Liuget will likely move Square inside permanently for the remainder of the season. While Square’s versatility has made him a reliable option for the Chargers front seven, he’s found more success at defensive end this season rather than up the middle. Bosa’s return, however, should hopefully fix that.

Bosa, however, is still dealing with a foot injury and was limited in play against the Broncos Sunday. Still, the third-year defensive end was productive when on the field and consistently added pressure in the backfield against Case Keenum. Should he return to full form against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chargers should find a way to pressure Ben Roethlisberger into moving outside the pocket and limit his targets deep downfield.

The Chargers are not dead on arrival down the stretch heading into the playoffs just yet though. With games against the Cardinals and struggling Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles has a chance to finish the season strong and pick up their eighth and ninth wins respectively.

But the Broncos have proven to be capable of being a playoff bubble buster while the Baltimore Ravens are finding success no matter who is playing quarterback. The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most electrifying offenses in the NFL while the Steelers are finding ways to pull out victories even without running back Le’Veon Bell.

Bottom line, following Week 12, every game for the Chargers could come down to the wire and end in a solid win or bitter defeat. Key losses to the defense could be the big blow that keeps Los Angeles out of the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

Injuries are apart of the game, and because of it, an excellent franchise destined for a playoff date in January could see their season come to an end in late December. The Chargers offense will need to play their best football down the stretch to make up for the defensive injuries the team has sustained over the past two weeks.

Los Angeles is still one of the top team’s in football thanks to their offensive success and key contributors on defense. With the loss of Perryman and Liuget, the team will now have to prove their status by showing injuries will not define them.

As the old saying goes, it’s next man up mentality. For the Chargers, it’s more than just a saying. It’s the harsh reality.