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After finishing 9-8 and coming up just short of the playoffs in 2021, many believe that the Chargers are equipped to make some noise this upcoming season, with Super Bowl LVII being the ceiling.
Los Angeles will again have stiff competition with the Chiefs, who are seeking their seventh-straight divisional crown, but also revamped Broncos and Raiders squads.
However, there are reasons to believe that the Bolts can come out on top of the AFC West and make some noise in the playoffs.
Here are four reasons why the Bolts will make a deep run in 2022:
QB Justin Herbert
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After having one of the best rookie seasons by a quarterback, Herbert continued to set the league on fire and prove that he is worthy of being considered one of the NFL’s top signal-callers in 2021.
Herbert shattered records weekly, with the most notable being the most touchdown passes by a Charger in a single season, dethroning Philip Rivers’ previous record of 34.
Under offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Shane Day, Herbert dazzled with his arm talent and athleticism, and showed continuous growth, especially in reading complex coverages.
In the end, Herbert orchestrated one of the best passing offenses and finished Year 2 with a 65.9 completion percentage, 5,014 passing yards, 38 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions, 302 rushing yards, and three rushing touchdowns.
Herbert currently ranks first among quarterbacks in their first two seasons in NFL history in passing touchdowns (69), passing yards (9,350), and completions (839).
Heading into Year 3, Herbert could be in for an even bigger season, given that he will have all key skill players from last year returning, including Mike Williams, who was re-signed to a long-term deal, along with the additions of Gerald Everett and rookie Isaiah Spiller.
Most importantly, Herbert will have plenty of time to distribute the wealth to those guys, as he will be well-protected by an offensive line that consists of rookie phenom Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, and first-round pick Zion Johnson.
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The Chargers were on the fringe of making the postseason primarily due to the play of Herbert, who had to mitigate a defense that finished 29th in points per game allowed (27.0), 30th in rushing yards per game allowed (138.9) and last in opponents third-down percentage (49.5).
While injuries were a factor, Brandon Staley did not have the personnel to play in his system effectively, which led to the porous results. As a result, Staley prioritized getting better on that side of the ball this offseason by bringing in players that fit his scheme, really good ones, too.
It started with trading for Khalil Mack to complement Joey Bosa and form one of the best pass-rush duos. From there, the free agency haul was highlighted with the addition of J.C. Jackson to strengthen a secondary that features elite Derwin James and the young and talented Asante Samuel Jr.
A big part of Los Angeles’ issues on defense was against the run, and veterans Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and rookie Otitio Ogbonnia were brought in to aid in that department.
In addition, one of the things Staley factored into the players he brought in were those with championship pedigrees, as Jackson, Joseph-Day, Kyle Van Noy and Troy Reeder have held up the Lombardi Trophy at some point in their careers.
With a unit that’s loaded with All-Pro and Pro Bowl talent, not only should the Bolts go from one of the worst to first statistically, but it should be stout enough to slow the high-octane offenses of the AFC West and others that they face.
Special teams solidification
While not viewed as vital as offensive and defensive play, the Packers showed in their loss to the 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round that special teams is just as imperative as a blocked field goal and blocked punt resulting in a San Francisco touchdown was the difference-maker.
The Chargers made the point to strengthen an underwhelming group by hiring Ryan Ficken, who replaces Derius Swinton II. Ficken was the Vikings’ special teams coordinator last year and spent the previous 15 years in Minnesota, previously serving as an assistant special teams coach.
Under Ficken’s oversight on Minnesota in 2021, Greg Joseph led the NFC and ranked fifth in the league with 33 made field goals. Jordan Berry finished the season 13th in net punt average. Further, Minnesota was second in kick return average and first in kick return yards allowed.
While Ficken’s guidance should be beneficial, his personnel is just as essential to have the desired success. Los Angeles brought back Dustin Hopkins, who joined the team halfway through the 2021 campaign, while also signing Pro Bowl long snapper Josh Harris and punter J.K. Scott.
Returner DeAndre Carter was another key addition in free agency. Carter formerly played with the Commanders, where he supplied a huge boost to their special teams’ department in 2021.
Carter finished third in yards averaged per kickoff return and second to former Chargers’ Andre Roberts in total kickoff return yards. He was also one of only eight players who returned a kickoff for a score.
Beyond that, core coverage special teamers return, including Nick Niemann, who finished with 14 special teams tackles, which tied for fourth-most in the NFL. Further, football speed was a priority, with the additions of rookies JT Woods, Ja’Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard.
Deciphering the weaknesses
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You can argue that the AFC West is the best division in the NFL. The Chiefs have won six straight division titles. The Raiders added the star power of Davante Adams. The Broncos finally got who they see as the answer at quarterback in Russell Wilson.
However, with all the points mentioned above, that alone should be enough for the Chargers to take care of Kansas City, Las Vegas and Denver. But each team has weaknesses that could end up being costly during the season.
The Chiefs have one of the league’s best in Patrick Mahomes. But he will be without his former partner-in-crime, All-Pro wideout Tyreek Hill, now with the Dolphins. Key defenders, such as Tyrann Mathieu, Charvarius Ward and Melvin Ingram, are also no longer members of the team.
In addition, Kansas City possesses the fifth-hardest schedule in the league.
The Raiders will be tough on offense, but countering on defense might be difficult. While Chandler Jones was added to complement Maxx Crosby, the team failed to address the secondary, and a big part of the success last season came from Casey Hayward, who is now on the Falcons.
The Broncos are hopeful that Wilson will fix their erratic quarterback play and get them over the hump of the past few seasons. However, there is no guarantee that Wilson will succeed in a brand new system in just one season. Further, Denver lacks depth at crucial positions on defense.