The Los Angeles Chargers loss to the Los Angeles Rams left fans disappointed and frustrated, but it wasn’t a gut-wrenching loss, and it’s not one that’s going to seriously hurt the Chargers this season, either.
The Rams might be the best team in the NFL (with the Chiefs and Dolphins, they’re one of the only 3-0 teams left in the league), and they simply outplayed the Chargers like the better team that they are. It’s a loss that drops the Chargers to 1-2, but with a soft schedule the rest of the way, there’s no reason the Chargers shouldn’t be in a Wildcard spot by the end of the season (except for the very valid reason of them being the Chargers, but that sadness can be saved for another day).
Next up, the Chargers face C.J. Beathard and the San Francisco 49ers. As a reminder, the 49ers were 1-10 before Jimmy Garoppolo became the starter last season, and C.J. Beathard was 1-5 when playing the majority of the snaps. Beathard is not a great quarterback, and the 49ers are not a great team. After that? The Raiders and Browns before a trip to London to face the Titans, before coming off the bye to face the Seahawks, Raiders, Broncos, Cardinals, Steelers, Bengals, Chiefs, Ravens, and Broncos. Or, to put it another way:
Chargers are 1-2 after facing KC BUF LAR. Here's the rest of their schedule: SF OAK CLE TEN SEA OAK DEN ARZ PIT CIN KC BAL DEN (ranks out as the league's easiest remaining schedule)— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 24, 2018
If the aim for the Chargers was to make the playoffs, their 1-2 start shouldn’t be a major cause for concern. What is concerning, however, was that the usual holes showed up for the Chargers on Sunday. It seems like an eternity since they’ve beaten a ‘top’ team (was Seattle in 2014 the last time?), and nothing from the performance on Sunday gives any indication that they’re going to be capable of getting that win and making a deep playoff run any time soon.
1: The Interior DL
I don’t usually bunch a position group together when I write Winners and Losers, but there wasn’t much of an alternative this week. For years, the Chargers have been too weak in the trenches, getting overpowered on a weekly basis. GM Tom Telesco tried to change that - namely with that ‘hammer’ draft class, in which the only thing that’s been hit hard since then is the Chargers IR list.
Against the Rams on Sunday, that ugly problem reared its head once more, as the Rams asserted their dominance and ran on the Chargers at will, consistently allowing Todd Gurley (and Malcolm Brown) to gain 5 or 6 yards before even being touched by a defender. It didn’t matter who was in the rotation for the Chargers; they were getting moved either way.
It feels a bit harsh to include Brandon Mebane on this list, because Mebane probably had his best game in the past couple of years as a Charger. He made one good stop against the run, had the Chargers only sack of the day, and forced a fumble on Todd Gurley. The problem is a matter of consistency. It’s no good making one splash play every now and then if you’re being dragged around throughout the game. To stop the run, you need solidity. The Chargers are about as solid as a wet paper bag.
An example of what I mean about not being tough upfront. It’s 1st and 12, but Square gets bullied and the Rams pick up the first without breaking sweat pic.twitter.com/sPqUAnN72l— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) September 25, 2018
This was on a 1st and 12, and Todd Gurley is taking a breather. There should be no real danger from the Rams running the ball, but Rodger Saffold pushes Square all the way back to Stubhub, and the Rams pick up a first down. Square is lucky. You usually have to pay $50 and spend two hours of your time to move that far in L.A. on a Sunday.
That example picks out Square, but it could have been any of the Chargers DL (albeit, Square and Justin Jones seemed to be the worst offenders). I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Chargers could really do with Corey Liuget back right around now. At least he requires two players to move him 10 yards downfield.
2: Chris Landrum and Isaac Rochell
The pass rush as a whole was awful against the Rams, but Landrum and Rochell were the worst offenders, and definitely the two who’ve lost the most stead within the team as a result. Uchenna Nwosu didn’t create much pressure but saw just 19 snaps to Landrum’s 23 and Rochell’s 59. Besides, as a 2nd round draft pick, Nwosu ultimately has a far longer leash than Rochell and Landrum, and so hasn’t ‘lost’ as much from his performance on Sunday.
Melvin Ingram was disappointing too, but I was most disappointed with how Gus Bradley chose to deploy Ingram. Time after time, Ingram would stunt or loop around to try and confuse the Rams Offensive Line, rather than head directly after Jared Goff. First things first, the Rams OL is far too experienced and smart to fall for that, and it didn’t get Ingram free once. Secondly, why would you try and scheme open the one pass rusher on your team capable of getting to Jared Goff without any help?
The continual Ingram trickery served only to slow his path to Jared Goff, which is part of the reason Goff saw such a clean pocket on Sunday. Landrum and Rochell could have done with Gus attempting to scheme them open, because they were stonewalled for the entire game. But Ingram? Let your best pass rusher do his thing, Gus.
Onto Landrum and Rochell, however. Whatever we saw out of Landrum and Rochell in preseason, it’s failed to materialise in any form whatsoever in the regular season. Joey Bosa must have been on some pretty strong pain medication for his foot when he hyped Landrum up in the offseason.
While Ingram (and to a smaller extent, Nwosu) faced chips from RBs and TEs as they came after Jared Goff, the Rams were perfectly content to leave Landrum and Rochell 1vs1, daring them to make a play. They didn’t come close once.
As for Rochell on this play...
Let’s check in on Isaac Rochell after his switch to a plant based diet and oh no pic.twitter.com/qz6jk7E0tH— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) September 25, 2018
It’s a good thing vegans can still eat pancakes, because Rochell got served up a serious helping on Sunday.
3: Dan Feeney
I debated not putting Feeney in here, because I don’t particularly fancy blocking Aaron Donald for 60 minutes, either. However, I didn’t manage to write this column in the first two weeks of the season, and Feeney wasn’t much better then, so it needs mentioning.
So far throughout his Chargers career, Feeney hasn’t been the guy the Chargers must have hoped he would be when drafting him in the third round. That doesn’t mean he’s a complete bust - far from it - but it does mean he has a long way to improve. He’s clearly got talent (it was considered a pretty big steal when he fell to the Bolts in the third), but he’s yet to really put together a solid game as a starter.
As an example of his talent, this is everything you want out of your Offensive Lineman:
However, plays like this were few and far between on Sunday. Plays like this were far more common:
Dan Feeney has had a rough start to the year. It’s Aaron Donald, but if Rivers isn’t smart enough to get this out quick he’s going to get killed pic.twitter.com/MVFysSlaPa— Jupjamie (@jupjamie) September 25, 2018
A lot of times, Philip Rivers will make his OL look a lot better than they are, thanks to his quick release and impressive sense on when trouble is coming - hence why the Chargers allowed the least sacks in the league last year, despite having a pretty mediocre line.
If the Chargers had a young QB who wasn’t so used to dealing with pressure, fans would probably be making a bigger deal out of the OL play so far. It’s not been a disaster - Mike Pouncey has looked fantastic since joining - but it’s got a lot of room for improvement, too. That starts with Dan Feeney.
4: Drew Kaser
Kaser has had an up and down start to the season, but made a killer mistake on Sunday to basically spot the Rams 7 points. When you’re so backed up when forced to punt, it’s inevitable that pressure is going to come pretty quickly. You’re not going to have the perfect conditions to punt, so you just need to get that ball away and accept that it might not be your best work.
Instead, Kaser caught the snap and took an age trying to flip the laces around. By the time he was ready to punt it away, he had absolutely no chance of getting it off. Sure, Adrian Phillips whiffed badly in his blocking assignment, but a third year punter has to know better than to take his time like that. Especially one who was in the running for the Heisman Trophy.
1: Mike Williams
How good has Mike Williams looked this season?
In Week 1 against the Chiefs, mistakes by Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams gave Mike Williams the chance to capitalize, and he finished the day with five catches for 81 yards. He followed that up with his first touchdown catch against the Bills, before putting together his best performance on Sunday - against one of the best secondaries in the league - with four catches for 81 yards and two more TDs. In fact, Mike Williams has already caught as many passes as he did throughout the entirety of last season, and has nearly double the yards.
Last season must have been a frustrating time for Williams. After fracturing a vertebrae in his neck cost him his entire 2015 season at Clemson, injury hampered his first year in the NFL, with a back problem plaguing him throughout the season. Despite it only being one year into his career, fans were more than happy to throw out the ‘bust’ word - no doubt fuelled by the fact that very few Chargers fans actually wanted him with the #7 pick anyway.
While Keenan Allen had one of his quieter games on Sunday, Mike Williams more than stepped up to the plate. After that performance, there’s no reason he won’t be locked in as the #2 WR going forward, and could give the Chargers the level of play they’ve been hoping to get from Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin.
Philip Rivers to WR Mike Williams for a 42-yard touchdown.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 23, 2018
Marcus Peters was all over him.pic.twitter.com/HUbouMDiDB
Look at that catch!
Also, there’s this:
That 88.3 grade makes him the highest graded WR in the entire NFL for Week 3, and he did that against two CBs who had allowed a combined 37 yards heading into the game.
I’m starting to get quite excited about Mike Williams.
2: Philip Rivers
Don’t just look at the catch made by Mike Williams on that touchdown - look at the throw!
This is some of the best football I’ve ever seen Philip Rivers play. He’s incredibly calm in the pocket, is reading defenses like I assume he reads the Bible (with ease, like he’s seen it all before) and is throwing some absolute dimes. His deep ball looks better than ever, and his ability to place the ball exactly where he wants it remains unparalleled within the league. Outside of one desperate throw against Kansas City, he’s playing safe, mistake free football, too.
It wasn’t too long ago that Chargers fans wondered whether Rivers was finished, if his arm strength was diminishing too quickly. Personally, I wondered whether the Chargers would ever be able to make a run considering Rivers’ propensity to play ‘hero ball’ whenever the team finds itself in a hole.
So far this season, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Outside of Patrick Mahomes, maybe Jared Goff and Ryan Fitzpatrick before Monday Night, you’d be hard pressed to find another QB playing at the same level Rivers is this season. Long may it continue.
3: Austin Ekeler
It’s hard to write about Austin Ekeler without it coming across like an attack on Melvin Gordon. That’s absolutely not the case here. Gordon played well on Sunday, but Ekeler continues to showcase the ability to make plays that not many other RBs in the league could make. Just take a look at this:
This is a great job by Chargers RB Austin Ekeler to execute a series of sharp cuts to navigate his way through this hole. Super shifty runner. Seems like a gem out of DII Western State Colorado. 20 carries, 163 yards, 8.2 YPC so far this season: pic.twitter.com/YY5pkJBlzP— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 25, 2018
The Chargers have increased Ekeler’s role this season, but it’s a travesty that he hasn’t seen the field even more.
If this doesn’t make your jaw drop, I’m going to assume that you’ve had it surgically wired shut. On 12 first down carries, Austin Ekeler averages... another first down!
Ekeler has such a diverse and impressive skillset, it’s imperative that the Chargers find a way to get him on the field more often. He’s so smooth as a runner, but he’s incredibly polished out wide as a receiver, too. Outside of Keenan Allen, he’s probably the biggest playmaker the Chargers have on offense.
FEED AUSTIN EKELER INTO MY VEINS— Bolts From The Blue (@BFTB_Chargers) September 23, 2018
You said it, past me.