After last Sunday’s performance at home, I don’t know how much worse things can get. The Chargers are in a position of winning on Sunday or else they bring on an avalanche of questions about this coaching staff and the direction of the team heading into their new stadium (hopefully) next season.
Beating a third-string quarterback, handedly, would be a solid step in the right direction. The Chargers are still fairly healthy on the defensive side of the ball and the offense is likely to get Hunter Henry back in a limited fashion this week. All arrows are point up, but nothing is ever safe until it actually happens.
With that being said, here are the three biggest themes that I’ll be watching for when the Chargers host the Pittsburgh Steelers at Dignity Health Sports Park.
1.) The Chargers cannot underestimate QB Devlin Hodges
With back-up quarterback Mason Rudolph likely coming back slowly from a nasty hit by Ravens safety Earl Thomas, the Steelers are forced to turn to rookie signal-caller Devlin Hodges out of FCS Samford University.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: “He’s a third-string quarterback who didn’t even play at the highest level! This should be a piece of cake!
Well, no. Remember which team you are rooting for.
The Chargers are notorious for playing down/up to the level of competition in front of them. Last week being a great example.
After Rudolph went down this past Sunday, Hodges stepped in and didn’t look like much of a drop-off in talent. He finished the game with seven completions on nine pass attempts for 68 yards. He also took two carries for an additional 20 yards.
While at Samford, he was ELECTRIC on the field. Hodges was a three-time member of the First-Team All-SoCon squad and a three-time SoCon Offensive Player of the Year. As a senior, Hodges took home the Walter Payton Award, which is the FCS’ version of the Heisman Trophy. He is by no means a stranger to putting up yards and points, finishing his collegiate career with 14,584 yards (an FCS career record previously held by Steve McNair) and 111 touchdown passes.
If the Chargers get torched by this man on Sunday, there will be much bigger things to worry about for coaching staff than playing the Titans the following week.
2.) Will Melvin Gordon see an increased workload after falling flat against Denver?
This is probably my biggest worry heading into Sunday night. After returning from his holdout, Gordon looked like a guy who missed several months when he made his debut against the Broncos.
Gordon got the start and lead the backfield in carries with 12. This number would have likely been more if the Chargers didn’t fall behind 14-0 in the first quarter. Those 12 carries went for just 31 rushing yards as the fifth-year back looked indecisive and hesitant at the line of scrimmage.
He also caught four passes from Rivers but could only manage seven receiving yards on the day.
Ekeler was limited to just three carries for seven yards, but made his mark as a reliable receiving threat, catching a team-record 15 passes for 86 yards. And yes, those numbers are correct. This past Sunday, Ekeler became the first player in NFL history to catch a 15 passes in a game while simultaneously finishing with less than 90 receiving yards.
At the end of the game, Ekeler did out-touch Gordon 18-16, but it was incredibly evident that they were trying to force the ball to Gordon early which put the Bolts behind the chains far too often to start the game.
To make matters worse, I received a notification from my ESPN fantasy app two days ago. This notification, to my dismay, stated that Gordon is likely to see an increased workload against the Steelers according ESPN’s Stephania Bell.
Everyone and their mother could see that the team’s dedication to Gordon getting touches was affecting the entire team’s performance.
If this week looks to be more of the same, I will have to SERIOUSLY question Anthony Lynn’s decision-making capabilities going forward in 2019 and beyond.
3.) The Chargers MUST start hot to avoid anymore second-half collapses.
This season, week two against the Detroit Lions was the only game in the first month that the Chargers failed to score 17 points in the first half. In week two, they scored 10. This past Sunday, they scored zero which ended a streak of 55-straight games that the team had scored in the first half.
If the Chargers weren’t inept at scoring points in the second half of all those games, the team could easily be 3-2, maybe 4-1. That, and Rivers’ three interceptions thrown in the end zone have been the catalysts for this horrid start to the season.
Starting hot out of the gate would also put a lot more pressure on Hodges in his first NFL start. If the Chargers can force him to make all the decision and essentially put the entire game on his back, the Bolts will walk away with a victory on Sunday night.