The Chargers and their fan base entered Saturday night with zero expectations in a lost season. Knowing one more loss over their final three games would mean they’d be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and that essentially allows them to trot out on to the field each week with nothing to lose. What we got this week was an entertaining performance in which the defense looked a bit more together and competitive as they nearly upset the Bills due to a strong outing against Josh Allen and that talented offense.
Even in a loss, there was plenty to love with plenty of areas to want more from. Let’s go ahead and dive in to this week’s winners and losers.
DC Derrick Ansley
Ansley got his first crack at calling the defensive plays in the NFL this weekend against the Bills and he nearly stifled their high-powered offense enough to allow Easton Stick and the offense to squeak out an upset. Unfortunately they fell short in the end, but that didn’t completely hide the fact Ansley had his side of the ball firing on a number of cylinders.
The biggest difference between Saturday night’s game compared to every other game this season was Derwin James’ usage. Instead of being the chess piece we’ve come to know and watch, Ansley and head coach Giff Smith chose to reduce his role in an attempt to clean up his laundry list of responsibilities. James ended up playing all but two snaps in the slot and just over 40 snaps altogether. In the end, the team kept it close against an annual playoff contender and that’s as good of an improvement as we’ve see this year. Ansley definitely passed his first test as an NFL play-caller in my eyes.
S Alohi GIlman
Gilman may have made the play of the game for the Chargers with his leaping interception in front of wideout Stefon Diggs on what looked like a sure-fire touchdown. That pick was his first of the season and that now gives him at least one interception in each of the past three seasons.
This year has been a bit of a breakout for Gilman who has done nothing but produce at an impressive rate for a first-year full-time starter. Along with his pick, Gilman has forced three fumbles, recovered two of them, on top of a career-high 68 tackles, six pass breakups, and two tackles for loss.
S Derwin James
It’s hard not to place James here for the simple fact alone that he saw his usage reduced to a career-low when healthy. James played just 41 snaps against the Bills while mainly playing in the slot. The idea was to reduce his duties so he could play free without being bogged down mentally.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop him from having one of the worst game grades for the Chargers defense, per Pro Football Focus. His overall grade of 43.4 was his fourth-worst mark of the season and his third consecutive contest with a grade below 45.0. Again, a 60.0 is considered “average” for PFF and James hasn’t finished above that since Week 12.
This week, James’ grade was held down by another dismal coverage grade where he finished with a 37.8, his second-lowest of the season and still one of the lowest of his career.
OG Jamaree Salyer
Salyer allowed a team-high four pressures against the Bills, including one of the three sacks let up by the Chargers on Easton Stick. His overall PFF grade of 43.5 was the third-worst on the team and low marks in both run blocking (47.1) and pass protection (34.3) did him no favors this week.
After earning a lot of respect in the locker room for his efforts as an emergency blindside protector as a rookie last season, Salyer has struggled to put forth a consistent effort at right guard in 2023, despite that being the position he was projected to coming out of Georgia. Should Salyer get an opportunity back out at tackle, possibly replacing Pipkins in 2024? I don’t think they’d end up making that move, but it does warrant some consideration.