The LA Chargers are winners. That’s all there is to it and it is undeniable, they beat the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 on the road on Sunday, starting 1-0 for the second year in a row. Unlike past seasons, when the talk of a Chargers win was typically centered around the quarterback, victories like this one most likely won’t focus on that position.
LA’s first win was a true team win in the sense that they needed every inch and every positive play they got this week in order to beat the Bengals. Anything less would’ve been no better than a trip to overtime.
Anything more and well, we’ll get to the “anything more” part too.
This is a typical NFL column, except I don’t feel like at this time in my life I want to refer to people as “losers.” Instead, I think that there are some Chargers who have something to think about and yet at the same time, they’re all winners today.
Jerry Tillery and the Chargers pass rush as a whole
If it’s Week 1 and your 2019 first round pick has half as many sacks as he had all of last year, that’s no less than acceptable. Tillery had two tackles, one sack and two QB hits on Bengals rookie Joe Burrow. He’s one sack and one QB hit away from matching his rookie totals.
We have no way of knowing what type of season Burrow will have in terms of getting and taking sacks and what will be considered average or above average as far as a defense’s performance in that area, but the Chargers were successful in consistently disrupting him in his debut.
Melvin Ingram said he saw Jerry Tillery grow right in front of his eyes today. #Chargers— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) September 13, 2020
Joey Bosa and Uchenna Nwosu also had sacks, with Bosa notching three QB hits and two fackles for a loss. Burrow fumbled one out of bounds, while Joe Mixon lost a fumble, his first since 2017. Additionally, Melvin Ingram had his third interception in as many seasons on a terrible decision by Burrow to shovel the pass right at Ingram.
If LA is going to have a top-three defense, then today’s performance by the front seven, including the debut of Linval Joseph at nose tackle, was indicative of many more games like this to come.
Joshua Kelley and a two-headed rushing attack
It was unclear who would take Melvin Gordon’s role in the backfield this season but fourth round rookie Joshua Kelley left no doubts for the time being. While Justin Jackson only got two carries and gained four yards, Kelley had 12 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown. As a rookie, Gordon only had two 60-yard rushing games; one for exactly 60 and another for 88.
His presence only complemented Austin Ekeler, who had a career-high 19 carries for 84 yards.
The rookie Josh Kelley ties things up in Cincy! pic.twitter.com/M8vk0r5Z5S— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) September 13, 2020
The Chargers have an obstacle to deal with in the form of Tyrod Taylor starting at quarterback, at least as far as passing the ball downfield successfully goes. That’s why it is important that in addition to great defense, they’re able to run the ball a lot, in any situation, and continue to pick up first downs.
Taylor and Jackson played practically no part in that success on the ground, but they still managed 39 carries for 155 yards in a win on the road.
It’s a pretty typical Mike Williams day when he catches four of nine targets for 69 yards, but considering that he went through an injury scare before the year and then played and had an important impact in the win has to count for something.
The New Guys
In addition to Joseph taking part in the win:
- Rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray had eight tackles in his debut
- Chris Harris had three tackles and the Chargers held Burrow to 5.4 yards per attempt with no touchdowns and one interception; A.J. Green led a hyped receivers corps with only 51 yards on five catches, while Tyler Boyd had four for 33 and John Ross had two for 17
- Bryan Bulaga started and that’s great and I don’t feel comfortable really judging his performances based on this one live viewing but all seems good to me! For what it’s worth, Taylor was officially sacked twice but only lost one yard. (Accidentally had Trai Turner in here earlier)
- Rookie Joe Reed had a 46-yard kick return
Something to think about
It’s only a game and we can’t continuously judge Steichen based on things like yards and points. Something to think about is that when a team puts the franchise tag on their tight end, has a $20 million number one receiver, a running back who they also extended long-term this offseason and a defense that is giving you opportunities against the worst team in the NFL a year ago, the offensive coordinator may need to think of ways to score around Tyrod Taylor.
The Bengals were 31st in net yards per pass attempt allowed last season and they don’t appear to have made many notable upgrades. Taylor wasn’t good, what will Steichen do next week to help him play better?
Keenan Allen and how to get him the ball+downfield=end zone
Allen finished with four catches and 37 yards on eight targets and his last 100-yard effort came on September 22nd, 2019 against the Texans. That means that over his last 14 games, Allen has caught 79 of 115 targets for 832 yards and three touchdowns.
Your best offensive player and one of the top-10 receivers in the NFL should not be averaging 7.23 yards per target and scoring once every four games.
By all accounts, Allen is as capable now as he was at the beginning of 2019 when he had 404 yards and three touchdowns in three games. So something to think about is how to get him in position to be productive again — and “Tyrod” alone is not a valid excuse.
Jackson will have to think about his immediate future on the offense because even if an injury was holding him back, Kelley took all the steps forward on Sunday. Anything other than an Ekeler/Kelley duo taking the majority of the snaps in the backfield next week would be surprising.
Winner/Something to think about
If you’re the quarterback and the team wins, that’s a win. If LA is 4-0 in a month, I can’t imagine that it will matter if Taylor’s passing stats continue to be as bland as they were this week (16-of-30, 208 yards, no touchdowns, six carries for seven yards). Not as it relates to making a change at quarterback because if they thought that Justin Herbert was better than mediocre, I think they would have started him this week.
No matter how much Anthony Lynn can claim to have confidence in Taylor, the reality is that they drafted Herbert to be the eventual starter and probably no later than 2021. So I think this version of Taylor is about as good as can be expected, minus the fact that he wasn’t a dual threat.
Tyrod Taylor connects with— #ClemsonNFL (@ClemsonPros) September 13, 2020
Mike Williams down the sideline for a 36-yard gain.
But even if the bar for Taylor is low, he only barely reached it this week. Do the Bengals have a much improved defense this season? Is this going to be par for Taylor? And how many more games can the Chargers win by a missed field goal?
Something to think about.