The Los Angeles Chargers host the Buffalo Bills this week in a game that was expected to be a marquee matchup between two of the league’s top young quarterbacks. Instead, Chargers starting quarterback Justin Herbert is out for the year, leaving 28-year-old Easton Stick as the opposing quarterback for Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
As if that wasn’t enough upheaval, the Chargers are coming off of a 63-21 drubbing at the hands of the Las Vegas Raiders. That game was the last straw for ownership, as the Chargers fired both head coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco after the loss. Giff Smith and JoJo Wooden take the respective places of those two men for this week’s contest.
What should we expect this weekend? Well, the Bills need to ignore the Chargers’ situation and take care of business in order to remain relevant in a crowded AFC postseason field. Here are five Chargers players we’re watching this week.
RB Austin Ekeler
Statistically, Ekeler may be half the man he used to be, but he has the chance to do some damage before the dawn fades to grey. Ekeler seems to have hit the age-28 running back wall, as he is in the midst of his worst professional season. He’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry — well below his career average of 4.6 yards per rush entering the season. After catching 107 passes for 722 yards and five touchdowns last year, he has just 40 catches for 373 yards and a score this year. Sure, that’s good for a higher yards per catch number (9.3 as opposed to 6.7 last year), but the writing is on the wall. Buffalo can’t let Ekeler party like it’s 2019 on Saturday, and given that star wideout Keenan Allen is trending towards not playing this week thanks to a heel injury, chances are good that much of the game plan will flow through the veteran running back. Buffalo needs to keep the clamps on him and force Easton Stick to beat them by throwing the ball downfield.
TE Gerald Everett
With Allen looking unlikely to play, Everett is the man who looks like the most dangerous matchup for the Bills. A highly athletic tight end, Everett has the size and speed to make a mess of Buffalo’s matchups. Whether it’s nickel corner Taron Johnson, linebackers Terrel Bernard or Tyrel Dodson, or an outside corner like Christian Benford or Rasul Douglas, the Bills will need to treat Everett with the same respect they treated Jake Ferguson last week. Buffalo has only allowed three touchdowns to tight ends, and they haven’t allowed one since they let both Irv Smith and Drew Sample score against them when they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9. Buffalo needs to continue their run of strong play against tight ends this week.
WR Quentin Johnston
Someone has to catch the ball on the outside if the Chargers are going to pull off the upset, and their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft would be a perfect person to do it from a Los Angeles perspective. However, Johnston hasn’t had a very good rookie year, showing some iffy hands and a limited ability to separate in his first season in the league. Johnston has just 31 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns so far this year. He has seven catches for 64 yards in the Chargers’ last six games. Whether it’s Rasul Douglas or Christian Benford covering him, this is a matchup Buffalo needs to win.
EDGE Khalil Mack
Speaking of matchups the Bills need to win, they need to find a way to limit Khalil Mack like they did Micah Parsons last week. The University of Buffalo product has 15.5 sacks, and he’s been one of the few bright spots in a dismal year overall in Los Angeles. The Bills used a variety of traps to fool Parsons last week, and they moved the pocket for quarterback Josh Allen at times to limit his effectiveness as a pass rusher. Doing something similar this week could help to mitigate the destruction Mack can create. Left tackle Dion Dawkins and right tackle Spencer Brown have their work cut out for them. But after playing one of the better games from a Bills’ offensive line last week, at least that I can remember, the team should be up for the challenge. If they aren’t, it could be a long day for Allen and company on offense.
CB Michael Davis
Davis was absolutely abused last week, as Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Aidan O’Connell completed seven of 11 passes thrown Davis’ way for a total of 112 yards and two touchdowns. According to Pro Football Reference, Davis has allowed 50-of-78 passes thrown his direction to be completed (64.1%) for 708 yards and eight touchdowns. That... is not good. If the Chargers use Davis to cover wide receiver Stefon Diggs, well... good luck to them. If they instead use cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. on Diggs, then it’s imperative that wide receiver Gabe Davis wins his routes. This is a matchup the Bills can certainly exploit.