The Chargers (4-3) are on the road this week to face the NFC South-leading Falcons (4-4). Both teams have managed to get to where they are this season by leaning into what they do best.
When it comes to the Chargers, they run through Justin Herbert and the passing game. For the Falcons, they’ve leaned heavily on the ground game, regardless of whether it’s Cordarrelle Patterson or another running back leading the backfield.
Coincidentally, the opposing defense for either team is weak to the other’s strength. The Chargers can’ stop the run and the Falcons cannot stop the pass, so it sounds like this matchup could come down to which side manages to break the mold.
Let’s go ahead and dive into this week’s three things I’ll be watching for the closest when these teams take the field on Sunday.
1.) How will Justin Herbert handle throwing to a bunch of practice squad receivers?
At the start of Wednesday practice, the Chargers receivers who were taking part in practice were Joshua Palmer, Michael Bandy, Jason Moore, John Hightower, and Keelan Doss. Only Palmer was on the roster to begin the regular season and the lattermost two weren’t with the Chargers in any fashion.
During the blowout loss to the Seahawks, the offense was far too stagnant at times and that was with Williams plus guys like Bandy and Moore playing most of the game. This time around, Herbert will have Palmer as his WR1, as well as Donald Parham returning from the concussion protocol.
If the offensive staff is smart, you have to think they rely on a bigger target share for Gerald Everett against the league’s worst passing defense. But even if this matchup sounds ideal, the Chargers couldn’t find a way to run against the Seahawks who had one of the worst run defenses in the NFL so it’s not out of the question that the same could happen here.
We’ve seen Herbert have success with low-tier pass-catchers. He’s done it on several occasions throughout his first two seasons. Only time will tell if the bye week did what it needed to do for this offense.
2.) Will Chargers pass rush have enough juice to keep Marcus Mariota in the pocket?
Entering week nine, the healthy pass rushers currently on the Chargers roster/practice squad are Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, Derek Tuszka, Jeremiah Attaochu, and Carlo Kemp.
One is a bonafide star in this league, one is a part-time edge with little upside in a large snap count, and the others are practice squad players or a new guy signed off the street. I don’t know about you, but this is quite worrisome with a very mobile quarterback on tap this week in Mariota.
The former second-overall pick has rushed for 280 yards, three touchdowns (tied for team lead), and is averaging 5.1 yards per scramble/carry. The Chargers are already bad at stopping the run without also worrying about a running quarterback.
The Bolts will need big days from some new guys or else this could get ugly quickly.
3.) Will we see a bigger role from Isaiah Spiller this week?
With Joshua Kelley sustaining a recent injury that will sideline him for the foreseeable future, fourth-rounder Isaiah Spiller was active in week seven for the first time since the season opener against the Raiders. Unfortunately, due to the negative early game script, Spiller mustered just one opportunity to carry the football which ended up going backwards for a loss.
With two weeks of preparation, Spiller should see a larger role, albeit it could still be on the smaller side with Sony Michel still in the fold. If the offensive staff is smart, they’ll attempt to give Spiller a bit more run before the season potentially gets out of hand. At some point, you need to see what you have in him before hitting the eject button on the ground game. Herbert’s arm cannot continue to throw 50+ times, including a third-straight game should that happen this weekend against Atlanta.