Happy Black Friday, Chargers fans.
The Bolts (5-5) are taking on the Cardinals (4-7) in a little over 48 hours and both teams will be vying to avoid a two-game skid.
This game features a huge amount of star power on both sides of the football for either team, so this is sure to be one of the better games from week 12.
Below are three things I’ll be watching closely when these teams take the field in Sunday night.
1.) With Keenan Allen back in the lineup, can the Chargers capitalize on the league’s 31st-ranked scoring defense?
When the Chargers offense was one the field for their opening drive against the Chiefs, there was a night-and-day difference between what we saw with both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the field together and the prior stretch of games where neither were available.
The Bolts scored on a 50-yard touchdown to Joshua Palmer which was the longest touchdown of the year for Justin Herbert, and it more than likely wouldn’t have been as open as it was without both Allen and Williams drawing attention from the majority of the defense.
Before Williams re-aggravated his high ankle sprain early in the first quarter, the Chargers were moving the ball at will. Number 81 seemingly won’t be available this week after failing to practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, but Allen’s presence should still do wonders against the league second-worst scoring defense.
Entering week 12, the Cardinals are allowing 26.9 points per game. That’s second only to Detroit’s 28.2. Having Allen back on the field, especially in the red zone, should help the Chargers push the ball into the end zone at a higher rate and hopefully keep them from settling for field goals against a team that’s still quite intimidating through the air, especially with All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
2.) Cardinals receiver corps could see big boost should Hollywood Brown return from injured reserve
The pass catchers surrounding Kyler Murray have seen better days entering week 12. Tight end Zach Ertz suffered a serious injury that could keep him out for the remainder of the 2022 season and a the pair of young wideouts in Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch are both dealing with ailments that have kept them out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
Those injuries seemingly would have left Murray only with Hopkins as a real threat through the air, but the team is likely to get back Marquise Brown for Sunday after he was nearly activated in time for their game against the Niners in Mexico City. With an extra week of rehab and work under him, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Brown will suit up against the Bolts.
If that does end up being the case, the Chargers will not only have to face Hopkins, but they’ll also have to corral one of the fastest wideouts in the league who was truly having a breakout season before landing on IR earlier in the season. In six games before getting injured, Brown had caught 43 passes for 485 yards and three touchdowns. His three scores are still second best on the team despite missing the past five games.
3.) How will the Chargers defense limit Kyler Murray as a runner?
The last time the Chargers played the Cardinals was back in 2018 when Josh Rosen was the starting quarterback and Philip Rivers was in his second-to-last season with the franchise. The Bolts crushed the Cards 45-10 in a game that saw both Mike Williams and Melvin Gordon score multiple touchdowns.
This time around, the Cardinals have a very different quarterback archetype behind the wheel in Murray. The former first-overall pick currently leads his team in rushing with 359 yards on top of finding the end zone twice.
The Chargers have often struggled with mobile quarterbacks and they don’t get much more elusive than this one. Chris Rumph II returning last week was a huge boost to the edge rusher group by providing an additional body in the rotation and it helps he’s athletic and twitchy enough to help keep Murray in the pocket.
While the defensive front may be down several bodies, the ones still healthy are the one’s better suited to achieve this task. The team’s rangy linebackers are intact along with Morgan Fox, the team’s best pass-rusher along the interior. I like their chances — should they play up to their own standards — to help keep Murray from doing too much damage and extending too many drives