As we do most weeks, we reached out to a writer who covers the Raiders next opponent to get you the kind of information we can’t provide from an outside perspective. This week we spoke with Jamie Sewell of SB Nation Chargers blog Bolts From The Blue.
1. I know Joey Bosa is irreplaceable, but who are the Chargers using to try and replace him? And how is that working out?
It’s working out really, really badly, to be honest. It’s been a mixture of Isaac Rochell, Chris Landrum and Uchenna Nwosu - Rochell was a 7th round pick last season, Landrum is an UDFA who’s spent most of his career on IR (classic Chargers), and Nwosu is a talented but raw second round pick this year. It’s been mostly Landrum and Rochell, and they’ve both been pretty much anonymous so far this season, with Nwosu faring slightly better in his limited snaps.
It’s had a major impact on the rest of the defense, with Melvin Ingram struggling to get free much of the time, and the secondary struggling to cover people for the extra time. I don’t think most Chargers fans realised just how important Bosa was to the defense - I certainly didn’t.
2. What kind of threat does Derwin James pose? Or is asking what he doesn’t do well a better question?
A really big one! He’s going to be an incredible player for a long time in this league. His athleticism pops the moment you watch him on screen. He can cover TEs, he’s comfortable playing FS and covering the deep centre of the field with his excellent range, but he’s also great as a pass rusher and in the box against the run.
Some journalists persist on calling him Sean Taylor, which is incredibly disrespectful to Taylor - Derwin has only played four games, for crying out loud - but you can get a sense of why there’s so much intrigue around him. Without Derwin James, the Chargers are definitely 1-3, and the Bills game would have been a lot closer, too. They’re lucky to have him.
3. What’s the most glaring weak area for the Chargers on each side of the ball?
Can I say their weakness on offense is their Special Teams? This Chargers team is incredibly unbalanced right now. They’re 4th in offensive DVOA, but 21st in defensive DVOA and 31st in Special Teams DVOA. The Chargers have been having real problems with their kicking game, so they’ve decided to fix that by firing the punter. Yeah... I don’t know, either. The only solution to the kicking game was to pull a retired 38 year old Donnie Jones off his couch, I guess. At a guess, that will help not at all, so expect to see some bad punts and worse kicks on Sunday.
As for the defense? They just look lost without Bosa. The pass rush is struggling outside of Melvin Ingram and Derwin James, and that’s making the CBs cover for longer than they’re used to, which is starting to expose them a bit. Weirdly, the Chargers usual weakness (defending the run) hasn’t shown up as much this year, but Corey Liuget returns from suspension this week, so it probably will.
4. It can be tough to get a bead on how talented the Chargers really are considering their two wins are against bad teams and their two losses are against the only undefeated teams in the league. Are the Charger better or worse than their 2-2 record suggests?
Your guess is as good as mine. The Chargers are always impossible to work out, but even more so this year. Can the offense keep playing at the same rate? And at the same time, the defense is too talented to not step it up soon, right? Realistically, it’s going to be another year where an excellent roster is held back by Special Teams, stupid mistakes and bad coaching.
5. Give us one under the radar Chargers player who could have a major impact in this game?
Austin Ekeler is the best RB on the Chargers, and the second best skill position player outside of Keenan Allen. Every time he touches the ball, magical things happen. He’s explosive, he’s elusive, and he’s excellent as a receiver, too. He’s the #1 back on PFF by a long way, and it’s not undeserved. He’s my answer to this question every week, but I won’t be able to call him under the radar much longer.