Every year, it seems, through minicamp and training camp the Los Angeles Chargers are one of the teams that all the talking heads and twitter experts describe as a “playoff team” and a “superbowl dark horse.” We are told they “have all the pieces” and “this is the year” they get it done.
Well for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m starting to allow myself to believe it.
To start, the Chargers showed some things last season that were different from those previous years. They weren’t giving away games in the 4th quarter as often as they seemed to in years past. In 2020 the Chargers had 3 of their top 10 biggest blown leads all time. In 2021, they didn’t have a blown lead that made it in the top 50 of that category. In fact, the Chargers only had 2 games last season where they carried a lead into the 4th quarter and lost the game, contrasted with 4 wins in games where they entered the 4th quarter behind on the scoreboard.
The team improved their red zone touchdown efficiency from 57% in 2020 to 64% in 2021 playing with more confidence in the goal to go run game, shown by Austin Ekeler’s 12 rushing touchdowns, which are more than his first 4 seasons combined.
Los Angeles also had a vastly improved offensive line play from the Center out to Left Tackle. The right side still had it’s struggles, but for the first time in recent memory, there was some play on the OL to be actually confident in.
Now when you take those improvements, combined with an offense that was 4th in yards per game and 5th in points per game, and make some improvements to the deficient areas, you start to see why there is some real hope.
That offense didn’t lose any key contributors at the skill positions, but are adding first round pick Zion Johnson to the right side of the offensive line which, on paper, is a very big upgrade over the few players they had there last season including a 30 year old Michael Schofield. The offense also adds a younger TE in Gerald Everett, and is reportedly giving a bigger role to 2nd year WR Josh Palmer, who had an outstanding finish to his rookie season.
But what could potentially be the biggest bump for this Chargers offense, is the fact that star QB Justin Herbert will be getting to run the same offense for the 2nd year in a row. Something that he hasn’t been able to do since High School. Getting to take a scheme that he was extremely successful in, and now building on it with added nuance and wrinkles could be a huge upgrade.
Then you look at the defense, the biggest weakness for the Chargers in 2021, and you add players like Kahlil Mack, JC Jackson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, and Kyle Van-Noy. Some of them are getting a bit long in the tooth, but all of them are massive upgrades over the players they will be on the field in place of from last season. This defensive line and defensive backfield will be night and day improvements over last season, especially versus the run, which was the achilles heel of this Chargers team last year.
All in all, as the Chargers kick off training camp today, if you hear someone hyping up this team like they seem to do every year, this year, I think it might be okay to let yourself believe it, just a little.