Chargers need a win this weekend against the Broncos
January 6, 2022
The Los Angeles Chargers, coming off a tough overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, arrived in Houston last weekend to play the Houston Texans, a team that has struggled to win games and stay competitive in games. The Chargers needed a win to get closer to a playoff berth. For the Texans, a loss would clinch a top five position in the 2022 NFL draft. One team wanted to extend the season; the other team just wanted it over with.
The Chargers, the team that wanted to extend the season, was soundly defeated at NRG Stadium in Houston by the Texans, 41-29, in a stunning loss that left the Chargers on the outside looking in at a postseason playoff berth. In a game that should have meant everything to the Chargers, they could not match the effort of the team that was just trying to get through a long season. The loss dropped the Chargers to 8-7 for the season and improved the Texans to 4-11.
It is difficult to come up with an excuse for the Chargers performance in Houston on Sunday. This was a Texan team that was missing 21 players due to Covid-19, including ten starters. The Texans elevated 11 practice squad players and signed a new kicker during the week in order to field a team for Sunday's game. The Chargers were missing 14 active-roster players because of COVID-19, including five starters. The Chargers were also missing star safety Derwin James with a hamstring pull.
The Texans were ranked last offensively at 265.4 yards per game. The Texans were also ranked last in offensive rushing yardage per game at 77.4 yards per game and 31st in passing yardage per game at 188.0 yards per game. They average 14.8 points per game, which ranked 31st in the NFL. The Texans had the worst offensive unit in the NFL and were playing an NFL game with a bunch of practice players.
Yet they were able to carve up the Charger defense. The Chargers had ten days to prepare for this game yet allowed the Texans to rush for 189 yards on the ground and average 5.3 yards per carry. Running back Rex Burkhead, at 31 years of age, had the best day of his nine-year NFL career, rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills, a third-round pick from Stanford, shredded the Charger defense for 254 yards and two touchdowns, completing 21 of 27 passes.
"I just didn't coach well enough today," Charger head coach Brandon Staley said in his postgame press conference. "I didn't coach well enough, I didn't put our guys in good enough positions to be consistent in the game, and that's why we lost. This was a challenging week, and I loved the way that our guys prepared this week. We didn't play well enough today."
Staley did not coach well enough, and the team did not play well enough. He has often called the Chargers defense a "work in-progress." Because of injuries and Covid, the Chargers have had different players and different combinations on defense, which has impeded the implementation of Staley's complex defensive system. But the Chargers did not match the energy that the Texans brought. At his Monday press conference, Staley confirmed what Charger fans witnessed.
"I just don't think that we had our edge at the game yesterday," said Staley. "It comes down to technique, attitude and playing together, playing with that intensity, that energy that the game requires, that it demands, regardless of who you're playing. The NFL demands your full respect. I feel like we didn't have enough energy and intensity at the game yesterday. That's why we performed the way we did."
The Texans also won the turnover battle, 3-0. A key fourth quarter fumble by running back Justin Jackson and two interceptions of quarterback Justin Herbert, one returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, turned a close game into a blowout loss. As Staley said, "Any time you lose the takeaway margin three-nothing, you're going to have trouble winning a game."
Herbert is having a terrific season and he made the Pro Bowl as the AFC starting quarterback. Herbert is second in passing yardage in the NFL at 4,394 yards or 292.9 yards per game. He is also tied for the league lead in interceptions with 14. The Chargers need to win the turnover battle in each game if they are going to have any success the rest of the season.
Because of the defensive issues with this current Charger team, they have a tight margin for error in games. The Chargers are ranked 31st in points allowed in the NFL at 27.4 points per game, ahead of only the New York Jets. The Chargers are last in third down defense in the NFL, allowing teams to convert on third down 51.06% of the time.
When the Chargers win games, they win because they don't lose the turnover battle and because they outscore the other team behind the Herbert aerial assault. The Chargers are 8th in scoring at 27.2 points per game. If their offense is good, they can win. If their offense struggles, they will lose. The defense has struggled to get off the field all season and the defense has struggled to stop the run. That is not going to change significantly in the last few games.
The Chargers can still make the playoffs, but they will need help. The Chargers take on the Broncos next Sunday, January 2nd, in a game that will be played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The game will start at 1:05 PM PST and will be televised on CBS. The Chargers need a win over Denver and then a win over the Raiders in Las Vegas the next Sunday plus at least one Miami Dolphin loss and one Baltimore Raven loss.
The Dolphins and the Ravens both have a record of 8-7 for the season. The Raiders are also 8-7 and have a tough game coming up at Indianapolis against the Colts. The Dolphins will take on the Tennessee Titans in Nashville and the New England Patriots at home. The Ravens get the Los Angeles Rams at home and Pittsburgh Steelers at home.
The Broncos are 7-8 and easily defeated the Chargers in Denver in late November, 28-13. Since that game, the Broncos have lost three of four games. The Broncos match up well with the Chargers, with their running attack versus the porous Chargers run defense and their pass rush that can put pressure on Herbert. The Chargers are going to need to win the turnover battle and get a good game from Herbert to beat the Broncos this Sunday. It is a must-win scenario for the Chargers.