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Chargers vs. Rams Preview: 3 things to watch for in Week 17

How well can Justin Herbert maneuver through a defense that employs Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Indianapolis Colts Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since both teams moved to Los Angeles, the Chargers will finish with a better regular season record than the Rams. After a handful of years of being in the team’s shadow every step of the way, could this be the actual start of power shift? Only time will tell, but this is a good start.

The Chargers will be the home team as they host their cross-town rival on Sunday afternoon. The Ram have struggled through a myriad of injuries just like the Chargers, but they haven’t been nearly as lucky, stumbling to a 5-10 record with two games to go.

They’ve recently received some offensive juice from the signing of Baker Mayfield, but will it be enough to overcome a hot Chargers defense? I can’t wait to find out.

With that said, below are the three biggest things I’ll be watching for when these teams take the field on Sunday.

1.) Chargers defense MUST continue their streak of dominant play

The Chargers’ defense began their much-improved play three weeks ago against the vaunted Dolphins passing attack when they limited Tua Tagovailoa to just 145 yards on 10-of-28 passing. They followed that with two more dominant performances against lackluster offenses in the Titans and Colts, but it’s not like those two teams are devoid of talent entirely, either.

This week, the Chargers get the 5-10 Rams whose offense ranks 31st entering week 17, even after putting up an astonishing 51 points against the Broncos this past Sunday. They’re averaging 281.5 yards of offense, making them one of just three teams to average less than 300 yards per game in 2022, joining the Texans (278.9, 32nd) and the Titans (294.4, 30th)

Like the Chargers, the Rams have been horrendous at running the football (89.9, 29th) but the biggest difference is that they don’t have the elite passing game to help offset that shortcoming. Entering week 17, they’re averaging just 191.6 yards through the air, good for 25th in the league.

Mayfield has given the Rams offense a bit of a spark, but it’ll be up to the Chargers defense to stomp that out quickly before it grows into something bigger.

2.) Can the Chargers move the ball while playing keep away from Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey?

By his incredible standards, it’s been a down year for Donald. He has just five sacks (has missed four games), which has him on pace to finish with the lowest mark he’s ever had in that category. Donald had a career-low eight in 16 games back in 2016, so he’ll need to bring down Herbert three times on Sunday to match that number in the same amount of contests.

The same thing goes for his tackles for loss. He has “just” 10 through 11 games, which is three less than his career low of 14 he recorded in 2020. However, he still won DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR that season. Talk about incredible.

As for Ramsey, he’s enjoying another stellar individual season with a career-high 80 tackles, two interceptions, 14 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and four tackles for loss. It’s likely he’ll be shadowing Mike Williams on the outside, which means we could be in for a repeat performance this Sunday where Keenan Allen out-targets the entire team by at least 10.

The Chargers’ offensive performance against the Rams could go a long way in showing that Staley/Lombardi can buckle down and make the necessary adjustments before the playoffs get here and what better time to pull out those changes than against a team full of players Staley coached just two years. If there’s anyone in the league who knows how to exploit any ounce of weakness within Donald and Ramsey, it’s Staley.

3.) How cautious will Brandon Staley be with the playoffs already secured?

With a trip to the playoffs already in hand, it’d be understandable to see the Chargers attempt to rest some of their starters over the next few weeks in an attempt to be as healthy as possible. However, in his comments to the media earlier this week, Staley said that the best way to prepare for the playoffs is to continue competing, which tells us maybe he isn’t planning on being all that cautious.

However, this would come as quite the surprise coming from one of the few head coaches who played just about zero starters during the team’s preseason schedule.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Chargers play this game against the Rams keeping business as usual. Everyone who is healthy will play, compete, and then they’ll start having conversations surrounding resting players next week before traveling to Denver. After all, I’m sure it would mean a lot to the players to make sure they improve upon their 9-8 record from a season ago.