Fresh off of their bye week, the Buffalo Bills will play host to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers meanwhile are coming off a victory over the New York Jets. Since head coach Sean McDermott became the coach for Buffalo, the team has been undefeated coming out of the bye—but the Chargers have had the Bills’ number, winning the last four meetings. To preview this matchup we talked to Michael Peterson from Bolts From The Blue for a scouting report on the Chargers.
1) What has been the overall impression of Justin Herbert this season?
He’s amazing. Seriously. It’s nothing like I could have ever expected. I wasn’t his biggest fan during the pre-draft process and I’ll happily take the “L” on that one, but I couldn’t be happier about it.
Herbert has been everything that a team could want in a quarterback of the future. He’s got the arm strength, poise, and decision-making skills that allow a young quarterback to have a leg up on the rest of the competition. That poise I mentioned may seriously be the biggest surprise. This kid is unflappable. As of right now, I believe he’s either No. 1 or No. 2 in terms of yards thrown for against pressure. He has no fear and will stare down pass rushers before firing darts into tight windows 15-20 yards downfield. He’s got just enough mobility to surprise pursuers and the arm talent to place balls right where he wants them despite being on the run and throwing off platform.
He’s the read deal. As real as it gets. This guy needs to be in a Chargers uniform just as long as Patrick Mahomes remains with the Chiefs. It’s the team’s best way of matching Andy Reid and company going forward.
2) Why hasn’t the team been able to get over the hump in one-score games this season?
If I, or anyone knew the answer, we’d call up Anthony Lynn ASAP. But we don’t, and the team continues their search for a tangible answer to their prolonged problem. You can call it a lack of a killer instinct, the lack of proper coaching, etc., but the only truth is that some players and teams have what it takes and some don’t. Through Anthony Lynn’s four seasons, his team had that instinct in both 2017 and 2018, but then they lost it in 2019 and have yet to find it this season.
In all fairness, injuries have obviously played a part. They had almost no injuries in their 12-4 season. But the past two seasons have been especially harsh. No Derwin James, no Mike Pouncey. Plenty of leaders on this team have barely seen the field over the past two seasons. At the same time, despite the injuries, the Chargers have been able to build big, double-digit leads on teams like the Chiefs, Bucs, and Saints. They just couldn’t hang on in the end. So how much have the injuries really affected the team? There’s just so many things to consider that pointing your finger in one place isn’t good enough.
3) Where would you like this team to improve most the rest of the season?
I’d like to see their secondary play up to their potential and the run game find their groove. This team has had numerous chances to pick off passes and they’ve continuously failed to capitalize. In the Miami game alone, they dropped 3-4 of them. Casey Hayward is having one of the worst seasons of his career and it’s showing no signs of being turned around anytime soon. When Joe Flacco and Derek Carr are picking on you, that’s when you know things need to change fast.
As far as the run game, the offensive line has been as healthy as it’s been all season the last two games and the Bolts’ rushing attack has been horrendous. I know Austin Ekeler has been out for awhile, but even I don’t think he’d change much in that area. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen likes to run in between the tackles too often and this team thrives outside the tackles where their lineman are better suited. They don’t have maulers, they have athletic movers who can get out into space and open lanes.
4) How has the loss of Austin Ekeler impacted the offense since he has been out?
There’s been almost no run game without him. It’s not so much the yardage output as it’s been the efficiency. The Bolts don’t need to run it for 130 yards per game, but averaging better than 4.0 yards per carry could go a long way in making the entire offense hum a little bit smoother.
Another thing that I’ve come to consider is whether or not Ekeler’s presence could affect Herbert’s numbers in the passing game. Without Ekeler, checking the ball down hasn’t been nearly as appealing. That has forced Herbert to take shots down field more often than he did in his first few starts, but at the same time, Ekeler is much more dynamic with the ball in his hands and he offers real YAC potential whenever the ball is dumped off to him underneath. Overall, Ekeler’s presence will be huge for the team as a whole, not just the offense.
5) The past couple weeks, special teams has been a concern for this team, how can they look to clean it up?
Well, they just reassigned George Stewart, the special teams coordinator, to a new role as an offensive analyst and promoted the assistant ST coach into the lead role. I’m not sure if that fixes anything right away, but it’s a start to have Anthony Lynn finally make a change there. As far as other specifics, I think special teams is more about effort and the little things being done right. The Bolts just need to find the right guys to make those things happen. They did it before, I know they can do it again.
Bonus question: Do you like Herbert’s haircut?
Not at all. He’s never going to have that flow again, more than likely. You gotta keep that a bit longer. Plus, it’s not like he switched to another sweet haircut. Just a bummer.