Chargers face a must-win scenario against the Jaguars

The Los Angeles Chargers will return to action this weekend after a much-needed bye week. They return to the field with a 1-4 record and a four-game losing streak to greet the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are taking a cross-country flight to Southern California to try and snap their own losing streak. The Jaguars are 1-5 and have lost five in a row. Both teams won their opening game of the season and have not seen a victory since.

The season has reached a critical point for both teams where another loss will make it extremely difficult to make the playoffs. The good news for the Charger is that they should be getting some of their injured starters back on both offense and defense. Defensive end Melvin Ingram is expected to return this week against the Jaguars, as well as defensive tackle Justin Jones.

The offensive line hopes to get right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Bryan Bulaga on the field at the same time. Turner has only played in one game this season, the loss in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs at home. Bulaga left the Chiefs game after eight offensive snaps with a knee injury. He left the Panthers game after 34 offensive snaps with a back injury. He missed the past two games at Tampa Bay and at New Orleans.

Turner and Bulaga have only played on the field together for eight offensive snaps this season. They have spent a lot of time on the injured list together. Center Mike Pouncey was lost before the season started to a hip injury. Dan Feeney was moved over from left guard to center, Forrest Lamp was moved into the starting left guard position and Sam Tevi is the starter at left tackle.

Feeney, Lamp, and Tevi, all came in the 2017 NFL draft. Feeney was a 3rd round draft pick, Lamp was a 2nd round draft pick and Tevi was a 6th round draft pick. They have been solid, but not spectacular. Because all three were drafted in 2017, all three players signed a standard four-year rookie contract. The value of these contracts obviously varies, but the length does not.

All three will be free agents in 2021 and all three should be retained. Given the injuries that the Chargers are dealing with on the offensive line and the lack of depth on the offensive line, the Chargers have a lot of work to do in the offseason to protect their prized rookie quarterback. Speaking of Charger quarterback Justin Herbert, at the end of Week five Herbert had 482 passing yards when pressured, which put him in a tie for 2nd with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen among all NFL quarterbacks. This information comes from Pro Football Focus.

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks leads the NFL in that stat at 495 passing yards when pressured. What makes this stat all the more amazing is that Herbert has only played in four games. The other quarterbacks had all played in five games. That stat also illustrates that the offensive line play needs to improve.

Given the state of the Chargers' line, Herbert's play has been remarkable. Herbert has been sacked nine times in four games and hit 33 times, including 12 times in the Saints game. Herbert has thrown for 1,195 yards, with nine touchdowns and three interceptions, in four starts for the Chargers, averaging 298 passing yards per game, which ranks 4th in the NFL. It is one of the best four-game stretches for a rookie quarterback in NFL history, right up there with Cam Newton (2011) and Andrew Luck (2012).

The Jaguars have lost five in a row and have struggled on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Jaguars are ranked 23rd in total offensive yardage per game and 28th in defense in total yardage allowed. Within those numbers, the Jaguars have struggled to stop the run and run the ball. The Jaguars are 29th in the NFL in rushing yardage per game at 89.3 yards per and 28th in rushing yardage allowed per game at 143.8 yards per game.

On defense, the Jaguars are last in sacks with five sacks in six games. They are last in completion percentage allowed at 73.4%. If the Chargers can get Bulaga back at right tackle and Turner back at right guard, this is the kind of matchup that could get the Chargers back to running the ball. If they are running the ball, play action passes should work well against a defense that lacks a pass rush and is suspect in pass coverage.

On offense, the one way the Jaguars could win this game is to hit some big plays in their passing attack. The Chargers have recently been getting beat in pass coverage, with Tom Brady and Drew Brees combining the past two weeks for six touchdowns and 694 passing yards against the Chargers. The Chargers defensive injuries and a lack of a consistent pass rush should give Jaguar quarterback Gardner Minshew some opportunities with his talented group of receivers to make some big plays.

Minshew and Herbert have met before. In 2018, Minshew was the starting quarterback for the Washington State Cougars and Herbert was the starting for the Oregon Ducks. The Cougars won the home game, 34-20, behind four touchdown passes from Minshew.

The game with the Jaguars will be played at SoFi Stadium, with a 1:25 scheduled start on CBS television. The Chargers are 0-2 at home this season and desperately need this win to keep up in the race for the playoffs. With the expansion to seven playoff slots in each conference, the Chargers could get in with a 9-7 record as a wild-card entry. But they must win on Sunday. Herbert would like to get his first win as an NFL quarterback, and it would be nice to beat Minshew and get a little revenge for the loss in college.


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