Los Angeles has scored 58 points through two games, but the story of the year has been a porous defense and the inability to finish games on offense. The heat is firmly on the Bolts to get better results in the win-loss column. That hopefully will begin on Sunday if they manage to execute on these five points vs. the Vikings.
Take what Brian Flores’ defense gives them.
The M.O. of Brian Flores’ defense is pretty simple to figure out through two games. While the Vikings’ defensive coordinator will surely throw new tricks and look at the Chargers’ offense, the goal for Minnesota is to limit explosive plays:
Through two weeks, Minnesota has allowed the fourth fewest explosive plays in the NFL. Against Philadelphia, they allowed two pass plays over 20 yards and just two runs over 10.
Perhaps the common rebuttal to that would be bringing up that Minnesota’s defense allowed the Eagles to rush for 259 yards on a five-yard per-carry clip. That’s a suboptimal performance.
Still, consider it from a Vikings’ perspective against the Chargers this week. As defensive coordinator, would you rather risk Justin Herbert bombs in the air or Joshua Kelley carries on the ground? On paper, the answer is the latter if Minnesota has an even slightly better run defense performance than they did last week.
If the Chargers aren’t finding the big plays early in this one, they shouldn’t panic. Take what Minnesota gives up in the intermediate ranges and take the shots when it’s time to pounce. Wear Flores’ defense down if they must, much like Philadelphia last week.
Figure out the secondary rotation and communication
This is a bad matchup for a Chargers’ secondary that has been giving up explosive passing plays left and right. Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison may go off against this secondary if Kirk Cousins continues to play like he has this season.
I could write the standard key to the game about “limiting” Jefferson or X teams’ best offensive player. But the truth is that this secondary has a profound identity crisis. This game must be about taking small steps forward rather than expecting a dominant lockdown performance.
First, the Chargers must decide who their two boundary corners will be for most of the game. Ja’Sir Taylor will reportedly be in the slot. That leaves two of Michael Davis, J.C. Jackson, and Asante Samuel Jr. on the outside in most situations. Of course, the Chargers will rotate all three in at some point, but someone must be drawing the short end of the stick.
And once the Chargers decide who’s playing outside, they have to live with it to some degree. Brandon Staley’s mid-game benchings of Davis and Jackson have had a negative impact on a secondary that is already struggling. The Chargers, through two weeks, have the fifth-highest Shannon Entropy on the defensive side of the ball. They’re mixing up their coverages at an increased level and allowing too many explosive plays.
Point blank, this has to be a get-right game for the secondary despite the uphill battle against the Vikings’ receivers. The goal shouldn’t be crazy, like holding Jefferson under 100 yards. But from drive to drive, all the corners have to look more consistent in their play and communication. And the decision-makers at the top have to learn to live with their decisions to avoid making bad situations worse.
Move Justin Herbert around
The Chargers took too many sacks on critical third-down plays last week. Some of that was on the offensive line for allowing critical pressure at the wrong time. Some of the blame should also be on the playcalling. There should be a more concerted effort from Kellen Moore on money-downs to roll Justin Herbert out of the pocket. At the very least, that option should be provided more often.
Last year, Herbert’s rib injury prevented the Chargers from using the complete offensive skillset he showed off in 2021. Herbert rushed for 300+ yards that season and used several play-action rollout concepts to his advantage.
This year, Herbert, having primarily been a statue in the pocket through two weeks, shouldn’t be the case. If the Vikings’ pass rush starts to have some success early, the Chargers should make a decisive effort to get Herbert on the move.
Consistent pressure on Kirk Cousins
The Chargers’ primary objective on defense has to be getting home on Kirk Cousins. In recent seasons, Cousins has shed the label of being mistake-prone under pressure. Last year, he was one of the most efficient quarterbacks from both a clean pocket and under duress.
Getting consistent pressure on Cousins as a goal has more to do with the secondary’s current struggles than the Minnesota quarterback himself. Los Angeles is currently seventh in pass rush win rate after a good effort from the defensive line against Tennessee.
Against a banged-up offensive line, Joey Bosa, Tuli Tuipulotu, and Morgan Fox should be able to eat as they did in Week 2. From a pass rush standpoint, EDGE Khalil Mack has to be able to get more pressure consistently as well.
The best way to keep the ball out of Jefferson and Addison’s hands might be an above-average effort in forcing bad plays near the line of scrimmage.
Joshua Kelley returns to his Week 1 form
Austin Ekeler has not practiced this week, and it seems the Chargers will likely hold him out with an ankle injury. Joshua Kelley will be called on as the team’s No. 1 running back again.
In Week 1, Kelley dominated with 90+ yards and incredible production, particularly after contact. But against a tough Titans’ defensive front in Week 2, Kelley had just 39 yards on 13 carries. None of the Chargers’ backs made much of an impact on the game.
With the amount that Flores tends to invite four to five-yard run plays over the big shots downfield, Kelley has to find his Week 1 form. It should be doable against this Vikings’ defensive line with how dominant the Chargers’ run blocking has been. Through two weeks, LA ranks third in the league in run block win rate.