A stultifying 27-6 win by the Los Angeles Chargers over the New York Jets threatened to be good at moments, but couldn’t follow through on anything it promised. That’s not to say there wasn’t anything exciting in the game, but those pinpricks of light in the darkness ultimately felt pointless.
Luckily, the point of any individual play doesn’t matter – the W in the win column does. There are points of optimism in there for the Chargers, but for the moment it’s worth thinking of them as signs of a potential future rather than something concrete. After all, building one’s confidence against that Jets team carries a ceiling.
Chargers Defense Comes Through
Chargers fans should be happy that the pass rush arrived in force, even if it happened to be against a severely shorthanded offensive line. Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and Tuli Tuipulotu combined for 6.5 sacks. Morgan Fox added another half sack to round it out and Dean Marlowe got a cheap sack at the end of the game to bring the total to eight.
Even after acknowledging the boost in production one should expect against an injured offensive line, this is a refreshing change. A team featuring that kind of investment at pass rusher needs more production than the middle-of-the-road sack and pressure rates that they’ve produced. And Bosa might have had one of the best sacks of the season with his one-handed corralling of Wilson through Laken Tomlinson.
The Chargers demonstrated that they can once again clamp down on mediocre quarterbacks – adding Wilson to a list that also includes Tyson Bagent and Aidain O’Connell – but now will need to carry that with them going forward against much more threatening quarterbacks.
That didn’t come at the cost of run defense. Though they gave up some big plays in the air to Garrett Wilson and Xavier Gipson – and technically, Tyler Conklin – they never gave up a big run to the big-run offense the Jets hope to be.
Breece Hall, one of the most exciting but inconsistent running backs in the leaguem was held to 50 yards on 16 carries – 3.1 yards per attempt, with a long gain of ten yards.
Kenneth Murray played a surprisingly good game in run defense to that effect, but much of it came from the safety support of Alohi Gilman and Derwin James. The pass rush was electric and deserves to be the focus of the Chargers defensive showing, but none of it would have been possible without that safety play.
All in all, the Jets were held to 3.5 yards per play, six total points and an 18 percent conversion rate on third down. A great day at the office for the Chargers defense.
Given the defensive design of the Chargers, their promising safety play will be critical as they attempt to march themselves out of .500 and into playoff contention and against much better teams. As Troy Aikman pointed out after the game, the Chargers still don’t have a signature win against a top-tier opponent.
This defensive performance won’t prove that they can keep up, but it’s a nice stepping stone in that direction.
Chargers Offense Stumbles When It Matters Least
The more important battle happened with the Chargers offense on the field, where both teams exercised the strengths of their teams. Justin Herbert was held to his lowest passing efficiency of the season, throwing for just 5.4 yards per attempt.
But the Jets defense is demonic. They haven’t allowed a team to throw for over 7.0 yards per attempt this year. For context, that’s Sam Howell and Russell Wilson’s average. Herbert exacerbated things with unusual reads and bad matchups – throwing the seam into quarters nearly created a Jordan Whitehead pick while Austin Ekeler was going to lose the zone matchup against Sauce Gardner – but the havoc the Jets created, even with the lowest blitz rate in the league, can’t be ignored.
On top of that, it was clear that Keenan Allen performs best in a complementary role alongside dominant targets like Mike Williams, or at least capable targets like Joshua Palmer. Ekeler briefly looked like his pre-injury self, too. Though bottled up for most of the game, what he was able to do in space was as critical as anything else in the offense and his contact balance was sublime.
Those restrictions all provide good reasons for why the offense struggled and might be reason not to ring the alarm bells. There is room to get better.
The Chargers point total was primarily a product of the occasional big play – a nifty Ekeler run or an incredible Allen catch – but mostly remarkable special teams and defensive performance. There wasn’t too much on Herbert’s plate, for once, and the Chargers cruised in one of their few boring games.
For the Chargers the day was won because of Bosa, Gilman, James and Derius Davis – a speedster on special teams and offense that Kellen Moore will have to seriously consider giving a regular role to.
Ultimately, Jets head coach Robert Saleh was right. They embarrass quarterbacks. Those quarterbacks just also happen to play for the Jets.
If the Chargers are smart, they’ll figure out how they can improve their offense while building on that remarkable defensive performance.