The Los Angeles Chargers were once again the darlings of the NFL offseason.
That’s been the case since Philip Rivers was the quarterback and the team played in San Diego. As they are apt to do, the Chargers disappoint.
How are LA fans feeling heading into the Week 14 game with the Denver Broncos?
DraftKings Sportsbook has more faith in the Chargers than the fans do. The Broncos are slight +2.5-point road underdogs on Sunday. The total sits at 44. The under is safe the play, but both offenses have the potential to put up points.
To preview Sunday’s game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Chargers with Kyle DeDimincantanio from Bolts from the Blue.
MHR: How are Chargers fans feeling heading into Week 14? What are the biggest surprises, good and bad?
Kyle: There’s no way around it - we’re pretty dismayed with how this season has gone thus far, and are less-than-optimistic for how it will end. The Chargers had to clear over $20 million just to get cap-compliant before the start of the 2023 league year, and instead of jettisoning some higher-risk players with large cap hits to achieve compliance without mortgaging the future, they opted to restructure our four largest cap hits to go “all-in” with a roster that underperformed in 2022, with hopes that better injury luck would yield better results. Instead, the team regressed despite relatively better injury luck than the year before.
The good surprise: Two of our oldest players are having career years. Khalil Mack and Keenan Allen are both on pace for career best seasons, from a statistical standpoint.
The bad surprise: If you would have asked any of us in the preseason how many games the Chargers would win if Mack and Allen were to have career years, and Herbert stayed healthy, most of us would have probably guessed between 12-13 wins.
However, Corey Linsley is probably the second-most important player on this roster. Losing him to a non-emergent heart condition was a huge blow that immediately dropped the efficiency of the offense, both in the running and passing game. Vance Joseph’s double a-gap blitzes will be a nightmare for this squad.
MHR: What is the response to Brandon Staley still being the head coach?
Kyle: There is probably a sect of fans in every fanbase that will try and rally positivity until a team is mathematically eliminated, and it’s no different for the Bolts. However, the majority of chatter is centered around who the Chargers should target with their next hire, and the potential of a new general manager.
Most of the fanbase really liked Staley early on, but when you bring a “defensive guru” to lead a team and the defense routinely loses games, the milk starts souring with each additional defensive meltdown. At this point, the milk is definitely curdling and the fanbase has hopped in the station wagon, not-so-patiently waiting for Spanos to hop in the driver’s seat and drive us to the grocery store.
MHR: How do the Chargers win on Sunday? What is the plan of attack offensively and defensively?
Kyle: The Chargers’ offense is struggling to find any production on the ground, and there aren’t many bright spots to look to. Austin Ekeler has seemed like a shell of himself the last few weeks, and the offensive line is struggling to open lanes for him or Kelley to run through. The best hope will be for Kellen Moore to recreate the magic the offense displayed against the Minnesota Vikings. Unable to gain traction in the ground game, Moore replaced the rushing attack with a flurry of quick one-read passes, including a decent amount of screens. Even with Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer on the IR, the Bolts have players with enough YAC ability to make this plan work, but untimely drops have routinely been drive-killers.
As for the defense, Brandon Staley will invite the Broncos to beat the Chargers on the ground, matching up an extra defensive back to the Broncos’ personnel over conventional norms. Lighter boxes inside will be sacrificed for extra defensive backs in an attempt to put a roof over the offense. If Sean Payton has scouted this defense for 30 minutes, I’m sure he’s noticed that Staley believes in this “roof” analogy to the point of sheer arrogance, playing his defensive backs seven-to-nine yards off the line even in third-and-one scenarios. I’d expect Payton to attack these underneath zones before attacking the deeper parts of the field.
MHR: What is your best bet for Sunday’s game at DraftKings Sportsbook? And what do you think of the current spread?
Kyle: DraftKings Sportsbook has a “Weekly Special” offering a +150 payout for Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy to combine for over 125 receiving yards and a touchdown. Don’t overthink this one. As I mentioned previously, the Chargers have been porous in their pass defense. They recently reshuffled their defensive backfield, benching Michael Davis for Deane Leonard and Ja’Sir Taylor for former Bronco Essang Bassey. While they’ve been more disciplined, their collective ceiling is still pretty low, and I think the odds of this bet hitting are way, way better than a coin-flip.
MHR: What are your expectations and predictions for Sunday’s game?
Kyle: The Broncos lost their last game, and the Chargers won theirs. However, there’s no denying that the Broncos’ have been on a stellar up-swing over the last six weeks, and the Chargers offense is struggling to show signs of life. The Broncos run defense has been their weak-link, but the Chargers can’t run the ball. Vance Joseph likes to mix up exotic blitzes, but without Linsley the Chargers have struggled to pick up blitzes and stunts.
The only matchup I like in this game is Khalil Mack or Tuli Tuipoluto facing off against Mike McGlinchey. Russell Wilson is at his weakest when the pass rush comes heavy, and that has been the one strength the Chargers have been able to lean on. The Chargers’ greatest hope is a heavy-pressure game leads to a mistake-heavy game for Wilson.
But personally, I’d put my chips on the Broncos, and I’d consider an alternative line for a higher payout. The Chargers have too many exploitable weaknesses on defense, and an offense stripped of too many key members to pull out the win.