Chargers are back in first place after road win in Philadelphia
November 11, 2021
The Los Angeles Chargers are back to normal, for at least one week. The Chargers had lost their way the past few weeks after consecutive losses to the Ravens and Patriots. Their high-powered air attack had been grounded by their last two opponents. On Sunday at Philadelphia, the Chargers got their rhythm back in their air attack and held on for a tough road win, 27-24 over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Quarterback Justin Herbert, who had thrown for 418 yards and three interceptions in the prior two games, was on fire in this game. Against the Eagles, Herbert completed 32 of 38 passes for 356 and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. Herbert added an eight-yard rushing touchdown to his day's work. For his efforts, Herbert was named the AFC offensive player of the week.
The win moved the Chargers back into first place in the AFC West at 5-3. The Las Vegas Raiders also have a 5-3 record, but lost their head-to-head matchup with the Chargers, so at this point the Chargers own the tiebreaker.
The Chargers offense had become predictable, and the team needed to change things up a bit. The Chargers had struggled in the prior two games with the blitz packages and defensive looks teams were giving them. In this game, they moved Herbert around, he had five carries and they spread the ball around. Nine different receivers caught at least one pass in the game.
The Chargers did an excellent job of utilizing their tight end group in this game, with the tight end group consisting of Jared Cook, Stephen Anderson, and Donald Parham catching all 11 targets for a total of 126 yards and two touchdowns. Anderson caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Herbert at the end of the first quarter and Parham an eight-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
At his press conference on Monday, Charger head coach Brandon Staley explained why the Chargers needed to change their offensive game plan. "I think that, in weighing the return on the investment in terms of changing the launch point and really increasing the variables for their rushers, in terms of what you have to defend, they can't always expect the launch point to be in the same spot every single time, and that they have to definitely commit to the run and the pass."
Which is another way of saying that the Chargers needed to get Herbert out of the pocket, roll him out and give the defense something else to think about. The Chargers even threw in a reverse to wide receiver Andre Roberts, which gained nine yards. This was a game where everyone on offense was utilized.
Staley added that when, "you have multiple types of passes and multiple types of runs, we feel like that is the way that you have to play against a quality front. You really have to force them to play the game, and to read it out and play it straight up. That was a big part of our plan." It certainly helped, because the pass rush was contained and Herbert was back in rhythm as a passer, which is scary for the NFL.
It also helps when you have a 6-foot-6 quarterback who can run well and can throw well on the run. "Very big strength of his," said Staley. "He's a very natural thrower on the move. He can throw it short and intermediate-deep, and right or left. It's an advantage for us, for sure. We want to be able to do that with him because I know, defensively, the amount of pressure that it puts on you from an edge standpoint. Then, from a coverage standpoint, that second level, it really puts a lot of pressure on you to match things up off of the play-action pass."
The Chargers got some good play from their special teams as well. Roberts, a three-time pro bowl returner, returned a kickoff 39 yards to the 39-yard line. That helped set up a fourth quarter touchdown drive. Kicker Dustin Hopkins nailed the game winning field goal of 29 yards with two seconds left, a good sign that he may be the answer at kicker for the Chargers. The kick return coverage was excellent, holding the Eagles to 11.5 yards per return. The Chargers never punted in the game.
The one negative for the Chargers in this game and on the season has been the run defense. The Chargers are last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 161.6 and at the bottom in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 5.0. The Eagles rushed for 176 yards on 39 carries, with 62 yards coming from Eagle quarterback Jalen Hurts.
A running quarterback will not be a concern this week against the Vikings. Viking quarterback Kirk Cousins is a pocket quarterback who does not run much. The Vikings do have one of the best and most explosive running backs in Dalvin Cook. In 2020, Cook rushed for 1,557 yards in 14 games, and had 16 rushing touchdowns.
Cousins has thrown for 267.5 yards per game, with 16 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He has a talented group of receivers to throw to. "They're a very balanced team," said Chargers safety Derwin James. "Dalvin Cook is the main advantage they have, but outside, they have playmakers. They have [Vikings WR Adam] Thielen, they have [Vikings WR Justin] Jefferson."
James added that, "We have to make sure that we know where they are at because Cousins can get the ball down the field to them. They lost a tough one last week, so I know they're going to be locked in and focused this week. We have to come out and be ready."
The Vikings are 3-5 on the season, but the record is deceiving. They have lost all five games by seven points or less and all five losses were to teams with a winning record. This game will likely go down to the wire. The game is scheduled for Sunday, November 14th, with the starting time at 1:05 PM. The game will be televised on Fox. It should be an entertaining aerial battle between two of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.