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Chargers vs. Jaguars Preview: 3 things to watch for in wild card round

Josh Palmer will be looked upon heavily to mitigate the loss of Mike Williams.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In the most ironic of forms, the Chargers were hit with the news that Mike Williams will miss the next two to three weeks with a back fracture that wasn’t found until this morning...on Friday the 13th. The news comes after a very confusing week where the big-play wideout logged zero practice time but still left Thursday with a questionable tag, only to suddenly be knocked out for any possible playoff run.

But that’s dark side of the NFL. The Chargers still have a job to do and the expectation is that it will get done with or without Williams out there with them.

With that said, below are the three biggest things I’ll be watching for when these teams do battle on Saturday night.

1.) Can the Chargers refrain from crashing and burning in the first half?

Until I went back and scanned over the play-by-play summary of the week three matchup, I completely forgot what an absolute dumpster it was for the Chargers in the first 17 minutes of that game. For a quick recap, here’s everything of note that happened through their first four possessions:

  • Three-and-out, gained three yards
  • Three-and-out, gained nine yards
  • First play of drive, Sony Michel let a pass slip through his hands and into the arms of Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd inside the LAC 20-yard line
  • Five plays into drive, Justin Hebert is stripped inside Los Angeles territory and Jaguars recover

This is all on top of the the eventual injuries to Joey Bosa and Rashawn Slater, as well.

Now you have to give the Chargers defense their kudos for keeping the Jaguars to just 13 points after all of those mishaps, but that’s one heck of a momentum deficit to claw your way out of.

The Chargers got as close as 13-7 and 16-10, but then the floodgates opened in the second half with zero relief until the clock ran out.

There were so many negative variables acting against the Chargers in that first matchup and you have to think the chances of anything like that happening again are extremely low (famous last words?), so I like their chances to play a much cleaner game this time around.

2.) Josh Palmer will have to play out of his mind to help mitigate loss of Mike Williams

I actually had to re-write this section of the preview as it was just about completed until the news broke that Mike Williams will miss the rest of the potential postseason run with a fracture they found in his back Friday morning. After being considered questionable for the entire week with a supposed “clean” back contusion, he’ll miss Herbert and Staley’s first post season appearance and what would have been the second of Williams’ career.

In his place, Josh Palmer needs to step up in a big way.

During the team’s contest against the Falcons — the first missed game for Williams this season — Palmer recorded a career-high 106 yards receiving. In the three other games without Williams, he saw receiving totals of 44, 56, and 60 yards, respectively. Now those numbers in the latter three games aren’t as impressive as you’d like them to be, but they could also be a lot worse, as well.

Overall, the Chargers average 3.5 points and 50 yards of offense less per game without Williams on the field. That isn’t great to hear but it does help a bit that they’re facing the 28th-ranked scoring defense. However, that ranking really doesn’t mean much against an offense that struggles to throw the ball forward once they get inside the 20. Now without a commanding presence like Williams, it might be high time that someone like Donald Parham gets utilized a bit more in those crucial moments.

3.) Pass rush must take advantage of Jaguars backup left tackle Walker Little

The pass rush has played a large role in getting the Chargers into the playoffs as they’ve truly come alive over the team’s past five games. Kyle Van Noy has a sack in each of those games and he’ll be looked upon alongside Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack to make the pocket as uncomfortable as possible for Trevor Lawrence.

After losing starting left tackle Cam Robinson in mid-December, the Jaguars have turned to second-year tackle Walker Little with overall decent results. However, most of Little’s game time has come against three teams not necessarily now for rushing the passer at a high level in the Titans, Jets, and Texans. But in his outing against the Cowboys in week 15, he recorded an abysmal 23.6 pass block grade.

Rookie center Luke Fortner has also been a weak point of the Jaguars’ line with an overall 2022 season grade of 49.6. With a 46.4 run block grade on the season, this could also be a place for Sebastian Joseph-Day and Breiden Fehoko to come alive, as well.