The Chargers are heading into their first primetime game of the year with a 1-3 record against the surprisingly 2-2 Saints. But don’t let New Orleans’ record fool you, they’re much better than that.
One could also argue that the Chargers are better than their 1-3 record, but that’s a can of worms we don’t have time to get into.
Prior to the season, this game was the final one circled in what was deemed the Bolts’ toughest stretch of their schedule. Many saw them potentially starting the year 1-4 or 2-3 through the first five weeks, and half of those people are about to be correct, no matter the outcome of Monday night.
Like the Bucs’ defense, the Saints have themselves a stingy front seven paired with feisty secondary members. Yards will be hard to come by on the ground once again as they rank 6th in rushing yards allowed per game at 97.5, although passing may come a bit easier as they allow 236.8 yards per game through the air which is good for 14th.
Injuries are a part of life with the Chargers. There’s just no way around it. Instead of keeping it in their back pocket as an excuse whenever they drop a game, the young talent and veterans alike to need to get together and find a way to win without their top guys being available. With that being said, here are my three keys the Chargers need to adhere to in order to come away victorious against the Saints.
1.) Keep a defensive back on TE Jared Cook
The Saints employ one of the best vertical threats at tight end in the NFL. He’s a veteran, so he’s got some nuance to his game, and that means he can take advantage of those less-frequented in coverage skills if given the chance. This will be a situation where I would not have either Kyzir White or Kenneth Murray on him in coverage. If anything, I’d rather trust Desmond King to stick in his pocket throughout the game.
White has unfortunately been a liability in coverage up to this point, and Murray hasn’t been a lot better. Both are athletic and rangy, but coverage isn’t coming to them as easy as we would all hope. It’s surprising for White because he’s a converted safety, but maybe that injury is still affecting him in some way, shape, or form. It’s less surprising for Murray, who didn’t all that much in college and is still finding his stride at the NFL level. He can stick with anybody, but the instincts will have to come with time.
2.) Stress gang-tackling against RB Alvin Kamara
Running back Alvin Kamara has proved through the first four weeks of the season that he might be the best back in the NFL. Doesn’t matter if it’s running or receiving, he’s the best at both for the Saints, especially while Michael Thomas has been sidelined. In all honesty, when I call his contact balance “elite,” it actually doesn’t do it enough justice. That long touchdown run against Green Bay was one of the most casual plays I’ve ever seen from him, and he broke about a million tackles on the way to the end zone.
This type of ball-carrier is the worst nightmare for a Chargers defense that has struggled with bringing players down with the first tackler since early last season. So I cannot stress this point enough: put multiple hats on Kamara every time he touches the football.
This might actually be the toughest test for rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr., who is likely going to be the one charged with covering Kamara out of the backfield. In all honesty, Murray would likely beat Kamara in a foot race nine times out of 10, but Kamara’s change-of-direction skills are on a completely different tier. Murray will have no problem getting to his spots, but it’s his ability to break down and keep Kamara in front of him that will make a difference on Saturday.
But again, Gus Bradley can’t be content with just putting Murray in that position and hoping it works out, he’ll need to scheme some reinforcements just in case things get out of hand early for the 2020 first-round pick.
3.) Herbert doesn’t need to pelt Allen with targets to beat the Saints
When the Packers won a 37-30 shootout against the Saints in Week 3, they did it without Davante Adams and without a wildly successful run game.
Former UDFA wide receiver Allen Lazard was their leading receiver, with six catches for 146 yards and a score while tight end Rob Tonyan was their second most-productive player with five catches for 50 yards and another score. In fact, you have to bypass their top-six pass-catchers in that game before you found another wide receiver in the box score.
In their loss to the Raiders, Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller led the team in receiving with 12 catches and 105 yards with a score. Backup tight end Foster Moreau also caught three passes for 37 yards, good for third in both marks in that game.
What does this all mean exactly? The Saints can be beat through the tight ends and running backs.
Last week, I thought Hunter Henry was about to have a big game against the Bucs as Tampa Bay had struggled previously against tight ends. I’m re-upping that prediction for this week, and I also think Donald Parham may make another appearance after proving he can be that threat when the offense gets within the red zone.
If you combine Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson together, they’re still probably not the same caliber of back that Austin Ekeler is, but they’re still pretty capable as runners and receivers. They’ll both likely split carries in this one, but I’d put my money on Jackson being the lead back for touches after back-to-back weeks in which Kelley coughed the ball up.
There’s also a chance the Saints will once again be without starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, and I don’t have to go into too much detail as to why that’d be great for Herbert’s first start in primetime. Wide receiver Mike Williams was limited in practice yesterday after missing last week’s contest, so he’s trending in the right direction. I have a feeling if he isn’t full in Saturday’s practice, the coaches may elect to sit him one more week, especially after the offense showed they’re still pretty viable without him.