The Chargers fell short against the Broncos 24-7 on what should have been a grand day filled with celebrations for one of the franchise’s best players. Former tight end Antonio Gates was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in front of family with a wealth of his former teammates in attendance, including Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Oh how I wish we could be talking about an awesome win over a divisional opponent. That unfortunately did not end up being the case.
There was still somehow so much good that came out of Sunday’s events, I just wish it all could have been capitalized with a win.
But alas. Nonetheless, here are this week’s winners and losers from Week 14.
WR Quentin Johnston
It unfortunately happened in a bummer of an outing, but Johnston finally did the thing we’ve all been waiting for. In second half against the Broncos, Easton Stick launched a moonshot to Johnston who gained two full steps on Denver cornerback Fabian Moreau before hauling in a 57-yard gain on a perfect post route. On the very next play, Johnston caught a shallow post for 22 more yards. In all, he finished the game with 91 yards on three receptions. His yardage was a career-high and it just happened to come while the team’s backup quarterback was throwing to him.
Through 13 games this season, Johnston now has 29 receptions for 333 yards and one touchdown.
Quentin Johnston has arrived pic.twitter.com/gVtsChRPEq— Chargers Country (@ChargersCountry) December 11, 2023
WR Keenan Allen
It wasn’t an amazing game for Allen by any means. It started ugly and slow for the veteran who is still so close to setting multiple personal records this season. He eventually got rolling in the second half and succeeded in setting a new personal and franchise record by eclipsing Austin Ekeler’s single-season mark of 107 receptions from a year ago with his 108th reception. By the end of the game, he had finished with six receptions for 68 yards.
The day could have been a bit different for Allen — and maybe the whole offense — had him and Herbert managed to connect on a deep crosser on the first drive of the game. Opinions will be split on whose fault it was, but the replay showed me a high pass from Herbert that sailed through the fingertips of Allen who tried to catch the pass over his shoulder instead of contorting around to make a better hands catch. I put blame on both of them as that’s a pass those two have continued to miss on, with most of the misses however being overthrows by Herbert earlier in the year.
Fewest Games to Reach 900 Receptions— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) December 11, 2023
LAC Keenan Allen 139
NFL Antonio Brown 143
HOF Marvin Harrison 149
HOU Andre Johnson 150
The Pass Protection
This was a disaster from the first whistle until the last.
The loss of Corey Linsley hasn’t been ideal for the Chargers and their offensive line. But one body — no matter how important — should not derail a unit that was finally expected to be a strength this season.
Of course, this was based on several expectations. Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer were both supposed to take steps forward in their progression from year one to year two. That hasn’t been the case. Salyer has at least been a decent pass protector, comparatively. His 64.5 pass block grade is second on the team only to Rashawn Slater. Johnson’s run block and pass block grades are both below average 56.0 and 54.9, respectively.
Trey Pipkins was also supposed to finally be the player that Tom Telesco hoped he’d be after being selected in the third round back in 2019. He played well in 2022 and I believed his contract extension was deserved. However, he currently leads the team in pressures allowed (38) and penalties (six). After allowing just 28 pressures all of last season, this regression has been rough to watch and when you add in how bad Herbert’s been beat up this year, it starts to inch closer to aggravating.
In all, Herbert was sacked four times, all by non-defensive linemen. On the face, this tells us the offensive line had no answers for any of the Broncos’ pressure blitzes and it got Herbert knocked out of the game before halftime. The unfortunate part is that it did not stop there. Stick was hit three times as he was throwing the ball which ended in two forced fumbles, one of which was recovered by Denver.
Slater is still the top dog on this unit, but despite reports that he’s been fighting an ankle injury most of this season, it’s tough to see him having allowed the second most pressures on the team (32). That’s already six more than he allowed in his All-Pro rookie season and there’s still four more games to go. Another surprising area where Slater has seemingly regressed drastically is as a run blocker. Per PFF, his run block grade currently stands at a 57.5. That’s a huge drop from the 80.2 he posted as a rookie and 88.0 he had before his biceps injury last season.
I truly cannot tell you what exactly is going wrong here, but it has to go farther than just the loss of Corey Linsley. Something isn’t clicking. What the team is doing, week-in and week-out, is not getting the job done and it’s going to keep getting their star quarterback — or whomever lines up under center — hurt unless they start changing fast.