The Chargers are a little bit of an enigma. Quarterback Justin Herbert continues to perform well but the rest of the team is inconsistent to the point head coach Brandon Staley may be on the hot seat this year.
APC sat down with Arif Hasan on behalf of our sister site Bolts from the Blue in this week’s 5 Questions with the Enemy.
1. Some Packers fans have called Brandon Staley a “future Packers DC.” What’s your opinion on him as a head coach? Why is he on the hot seat? And if he does somehow end up in Green Bay, what can you say about his defense?
The short version is that Staley is in the hot seat because they have an elite quarterback and aren’t winning games. I’m sure Packers fans can sympathize. The longer version is that he has not adapted his defensive scheme to his personnel or the changing realities of the league, he hasn’t secured an offensive coordinator that maximizes what Justin Herbert does well and he manages games extremely poorly.
The Chargers are famous for getting into late-game scenarios within one score. Importantly, Herbert has been outstanding in those scenarios but they lose because the coaching isn’t there to manage the clock or figure out the right play sequencing. For someone who set the analytics world in fire with his data-friendly statements as a rookie coach, he’s somewhat fallen off in that regard on questions like fourth-down rates and pass frequency.
2. Justin Herbert got a big payday this offseason and he’s arguably playing his best football right now despite the Chargers’ poor record. What makes him so dangerous? How can the Packers stop him?
What can’t he do? He has a fantastic arm, demonstrates excellent accuracy and makes good decisions quickly. He’s hard to take down in the pocket and steps up in high-leverage situations. Herbert, for all his ability to read the field and make good decisions, often doesn’t take as many risks as he needs to. While it’s fair to pin a good chunk of the blame on the low deep ball rates on the offensive coordinators and defensive tendencies around the league, some of it comes from his risk-averse tendencies. I’d like to see him challenge tight windows a bit more or give receivers more of a chance with jump balls.
He also doesn’t create like many quarterbacks with his skillset do. For all the athleticism, arm strength and processing ability he has, he doesn’t go against the grain of the play to create a new, bigger play. He doesn’t scramble as often as would help the team. He doesn’t go off of his progression to hit a guy he knows will be open. In that sense, players like Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray are going to have more available to them when a play breaks down or an unfamiliar look appears.
As for how to stop him — force him into unfamiliar territory. Weird fronts, unusual coverages or changes in technique that weren’t there on film before. He’s one of the few elite quarterbacks who performs worse against the blitz than against standard dropbacks and as a result, he’s been blitz more than all but three other QBs in the NFL. Those give opposing teams the best chance to slow him down.
3. Austin Ekeler’s yards per carry are by far the lowest of his career so far. The Packers have also struggled badly against the run. Is this the week he gets going or are the Packers going to be able to stop him?
Ekeler had an outstanding Week 1 before his ankle injury and it seems like he didn’t have the burst or balance we’re used to seeing out of him when he came back. Against the Jets, it looked like the old Ekeler returned, but that didn’t show up in the statistics — in part because the Jets are a dominant run-stopping team. I actually expect Ekeler to be back in form against the Packers, at least to the extent that we can “expect” anything to happen in a football game. There are some concerns with the run-blokcing up front but for the most part I expect the run game to return to form.
4. Nick Bosa is coming up against a questionable Green Bay offensive line. What’s the key to slowing him down?
Injuries have slowed him down and unlike with Ekeler, it’s tough to tell if he’s completely back. The last two weeks have been very good from a production standpoint, so he may well be at full speed. The issue with stopping him is that the Chargers have added to their pass rush corps. Tuli Tuipulotu is already a big presence despite being a rookie and Khalil Mack still has good pass-rush moves in his repertoire. That said, Bosa is the focus. If the Packers are comfortable losing a player in their progression, it seems like chips have done more to get him off-track this year than in other years, so getting a tight end to delay their release seems to be the best move. Given that Marcedes Lewis is no longer there, I’m not sure there’s going to be a huge blocking presence from that unit but it’s still something that will give Jordan Love more time.
Honestly, the real answer is to exploit the intermediate areas and get rid of the ball quickly. The Chargers have a weak passing defense but it is particularly vulnerable in the short and intermediate zones.
5. What’s the best bet on this week’s DraftKings Sportsbook? And what’s your prediction for this game?
It looks like there’s optimism about Ekeler in the odds, so I’ll stay away from that at the moment. Instead, I’ll double down on my commitment to the weak passing defense of the Chargers and take the over on Jordan Love passing yards (226.5) at -115. Along those lines I think I’d also take Romeo Doubs over 35.5 receiving yards at -115, as he’s been the Packers’ intermediate receiver. The Chargers individual player odds are hard to buy, but I do know they’re much more of a first-half team than a second-half team, so give me the -2.5-point spread at -110 for the first half.