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By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

Chargers fall to the Broncos and Herbert is done for the season

 

December 14, 2023

George Laase

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is sacked by Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell. Herbert was under constant pressure before he got hurt.

The 2023 season for the Los Angeles Chargers has been a disappointment, and over the weekend it just got worse. Besides losing to the Denver Broncos, 24-7, the Chargers lost quarterback Justin Herbert for the season with a fractured finger on his right hand. The injury occurred late in the second quarter last Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

Herbert had successful surgery last Tuesday and was put on the Injured Reserve list, which means he is out for the next four games, or the rest of the regular season. Backup quarterback Easton Stick will become the starter for the rest of the season and rookie quarterback Max Duggan, a 7th round pick of the Chargers in the 2023 NFL draft out of TCU, will become the backup.

The loss to the Broncos dropped the Chargers to 5-8 for the season, while the Broncos improved their record to 7-6 for the season. The Broncos started the season 1-5 but have turned it around winning 6 of their last 7 games and are tied with five other AFC teams for the final two playoff slots. The Chargers need to win their final four games to have a chance at a playoff slot, and that does not seem realistic.

The offensive execution and defensive execution has been inconsistent all season long. Herbert produced two field goals or six points in his last 19 offensive possessions before his injury. The Chargers have scored 23 points in their last three games, and 23 points would not have been enough to beat the Broncos on Sunday.

The Chargers offense has been wildly inconsistent. In Week 10 against the 9-4 Detroit Lions, the Chargers scored touchdowns on five consecutive offensive drives, losing 41-38. Herbert threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He was not sacked. The Chargers defensive unit lost that game, allowing 41 points and 533 yards.

Against the Broncos, the Chargers were 0 for 12 on 3rd down conversions and 1 for 6 on the 4th down conversions. That is about as bad as it can get for any offense. As a comparison, the Broncos were 8 of 17 on 3rd down conversions and did not attempt a 4th down conversion. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley attempted to explain the struggles of the offense after the game last Sunday.

"We didn't execute well enough today, and it was in all phases," Staley said. "It's not just one thing. When you have numbers like that, it's everything. We didn't have a good enough plan today." Charger quarterbacks were sacked six times in the game against the Broncos, with four coming from blitzes. Staley was asked about the struggles with the Bronco blitzes.

"It was a combination of things," Staley said. "There was a combination of some identification things, then some technique errors, and then we just lost some matchups. It was a combination. It wasn't good enough today. Most of those are accounted for. Like I said, sometimes a guy loses fundamentally, sometimes it's just a one-on-one matchup. There was a free runner there, which goes back to the plan. It was a combination of things today, and it wasn't good enough today."

With the Chargers, it always seems to come down to execution. The little things. Pro Bowl safety Derwin James missing a routine tackle on Broncos tight end Adam Trautman, which resulted in a key 3rd down conversion for a first down in the fourth quarter. Failure to execute. That has been the story of the 2023 season for the Chargers.

The Broncos got a good performance from quarterback Russell Wilson, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Courtland Sutton in the third quarter, a pass that according to Next Gen Stats, traveled 60.8 yards in the air, the longest touchdown by air distance this season.

Sutton made a terrific one-hand catch in the back of the end zone, his 10th touchdown reception of the season, with Chargers cornerback Michael Davis draped all over him. Davis was called for pass interference. Wilson had at least six seconds in the pocket to throw the pass, which puts a lot of pressure on the secondary.

The 5-8 Chargers will take on the 5-8 Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday Night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. The game will start at 5:15 pm PST and will be available on Amazon Prime and locally on FOX Channel 11. Both teams need to win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Raiders are coming off a 3-0 loss at home to the Minnesota Vikings and are struggling on offense as well.

The Raiders are last in turnover ratio in the NFL with a -10 and second to last in turnovers at 24. The Raiders have gotten poor play from their quarterbacks this season and can be beaten on the road. The Raiders are last in rushing yardage per game at 80.6 per game, despite the presence of All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs in their backfield.

Charger quarterback Stick played well on Sunday against the Chargers in limited time, completing 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards, and leading the Chargers to a fourth quarter touchdown and he looked good in the pocket. He will need to play well, because wide receiver Keenan Allen has been ruled out for the Thursday Night game against the Raiders with a heel injury.

Allen leads the NFL in receptions with 108 and is fourth in receiving yardage with 1,243 yards. Wide receiver Joshua Palmer will come off injured reserve for the Raiders game. That will help with the loss of Allen. Both Stick and Duggan run well, and some designed quarterback runs might not be a bad idea. Anything to get the Chargers offense going and get a win this week.

 

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