The Chargers dropped to 2-4 on the year as they are now roughly one third of the way through the 2023 season. Things look bleak, but they’ve got more than enough time to turn it around.
After another roller-coaster game against their divisional rival, here are our winners and losers from this week’s game against the Chiefs.
WR Joshua Palmer
Palmer stepped up for the Chargers offense on Sunday afternoon as he led the team with a career-high 133 receiving yards on eight receptions. His night was highlighted by an excellent catch-and-run for 60 yards. On a night where Keenan Allen was fairly quiet, Palmer came through to give the Bolts a huge boost on offense.
If Quentin Johnston is going to continue being brought along slowly, Palmer will have to continue playing a strong second fiddle to Allen on nights where he’s the focal point of the defense. It’s obvious how strong the connection is between Justin Herbert and Palmer is now partway into year three of their time together.
If you take Palmer’s production through the past four games (roughly the time since Mike Williams went down with his ACL injury) and extrapolated it across a 17 games, he’d finish with over 1,400 yards. That’s not a bad pace for a guy who some thought would enter the regular season as the Chargers’ WR4.
Justin Herbert SOLTANDO O BRAÇO para o Josh Palmer!— NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) October 22, 2023
60 jardas de avanço Chargers! pic.twitter.com/M3eMrIHBYW
RB Joshua Kelley
Kelley led the Chargers in rushing with 75 yards on just seven carries. His production was aided by a 49-yard scoring jaunt in the second quarter that helped the Chargers tie the game.
Since Austin Ekeler returned to the lineup, Kelley has received only eight total carries to the former’s 28. Kelley has been lightyears more efficient with his touches. The unfortunate part is that Kelley wasn’t anywhere near as good when he takes over as the lead back. Regardless, this was an encouraging out for at least one running back against a run defense ranked within the top half of the league.
P JK Scott
Scott may have had his best game of his Chargers career on Sunday. On three separate occasions, the veteran punter pinned the Chiefs at their three, four, and eight-yard line to help keep the Chiefs from capitalizing on neutral drive change situations. Mahomes and Co. ca score quickly from almost anywhere, so it was necessary for the Chargers to essentially try and make them drive every yard possible.
Scott is pretty up-and-down for the most part, but Sunday was as good as he’s ever looked in a Chargers uniform.
QB Justin Herbert
He looked off against the Cowboys but still managed to mitigate the pass rush with his pocket movement and only got sacked once. His two overthrows to Allen were painful but every quarterback has bad games and this was just one of those outings for Herbert.
Against the Chiefs, Herbert was pressured quite a bit but this time was sacked five times. The pressure led to several errant passes but not on his third overthrow of Allen in the past two weeks. This one would have went for a touchdown and would look a whole lot worse had he not hit Gerald Everett for a touchdown two plays later.
My biggest issue with Herbert this week was his inability to adjust to shifting throwing windows in the pocket. He had two passes deflected at or near the line of scrimmage with the first of the two being picked off inside the red zone. Until Sunday, Herbert had yet to give it away inside the enemy’s 20-yard line.
On the second deflection, Herbert attempted to hit Allen over the middle on a slant route. Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay was standing flat-footed in the passing window the whole way until Herbert tried to rifle one past his ear. Gay soared up and knocked it down with his right hand. While it looked like a great defensive play on the face, the end zone angle made it look as if Herbert could have waited a hair longer to allow Allen to cross further behind Gay and get into a clearer passing lane.
Herbert seemed to have a lot of passes batted down near the line of scrimmage a season ago, especially for a quarterback with his stature. A lot of that was blamed on Joe Lombardi’s offense that centered around short passes so opposing defensive linemen could essentially time his passes to get a limb in the passing window.
Over the last three games, the Chargers offense has scored just 10 points in the second half, all of which came against the Cowboys. In those three second halves, Herbert has thrown one touchdown to four interceptions. With another pick in the fourth quarter, Herbert increased his league-leading total of fourth-quarter interceptions to 14.
All of this is to say that I am by no means in the minority that Herbert is all of a sudden a bad quarterback or not one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. But I’m willing to put it out there that he’s going through a bit of a rough stretch and the difference between the “fine” passers in the NFL and the elite ones are that the elites find a way to come out of these stretches.
The Chargers Defense
It’s hard to pin down the individual “Losers” on the defensive side of the ball until the All-22 comes out. What we do know is the following players had arguably their best games of the season:
- Patrick Mahomes had his highest completion percentage, passing yard total, passing touchdown total, and QBR on the season. In fact, if you want to find the last time Mahomes threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, you’d have to go all the way back to November 14th, 2021 against the Raiders when he threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns.
- Travis Kelce’s most productive game before Sunday was the week prior against Denver, when he caught nine passes for 124 yards, but no touchdowns, Against the Chargers, he added an extra three receptions, 55 more yards, and a trip to the endzone.
- Rashee Rice tied his season-high reception mark of five, scored one of his three touchdowns on the season, but did fall short of his season-high yardage mark by 12 yards. However, since he didn’t score a touchdown in that game, it could be argued this was his most productive game so far.
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling almost doubled his season yardage yesterday, entering the game with 116 yards across six games, or an average of 19.3 yards per game. He posted a three catch, 84 yard, one touchdown line.
Ultimately, the biggest reflection of this performance is likely...
Two different assessments were given of the defensive play calling yesterday, one by Brandon Staley and one by his players. Daniel Popper reported that Brandon Staley claimed they played plenty of man coverage in the first half, however, the players lamented that they played too much zone in the first half.
#Chargers played more man in 2H vs. KC. Asked why he didn't play that way the whole game, Brandon Staley said: "We played plenty of man in the first half, too."— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) October 23, 2023
Players told a different story.
“We played a little bit too much zone in the first half."https://t.co/EwyvWohI86
Regardless, the defense grossly underperformed yet again. It should be acknowledged that Staley took accountability and ownership for the team’s disappointing start to the season, but the pitchforks and torches are out and fans are ready for a change. A midseason change is unlikely to come under the Spanos leadership, but Staley’s seat is getting very, very warm.