The Chargers return to the field after their bye week, as they’re on the road set to take on the Falcons.
Here are five storylines to watch for Sunday’s matchup.
Doing with what they got
The storyline leading to the trade deadline was if the Chargers were going to trade for a receiver, given that their top three at the position had been dealing with their perspective injuries and lacked speed. They did not.
Keenan Allen is out after he reaggravated his hamstring during the bye week. Mike Williams is out for the next few weeks with a high ankle sprain. Josh Palmer, who was out in Week 7 with a concussion, will play.
That leaves Palmer as the No. 1 wideout. DeAndre Carter is questionable. Behind them, it’s Michael Bandy, Jason Moore, and Keelan Doss, who was promoted from the practice squad.
While they are limited at the position, the Bolts could possibly get by, considering the Falcons are 30th in pass defense DVOA. They will be without starting cornerbacks Casey Hayward and A.J. Terrell.
How is Herbert?
Justin Herbert has not been the same since he injured his ribs against the Chiefs, and he will be dealing with this injury in some capacity for the remainder of the season. But when he takes the field on Sunday, it will be nearly two months since he fractured his ribs.
Therefore, it’s worth monitoring if Herbert can finally establish some comfortability in how he’s playing, whether it be taking hits, moving around inside and outside the pocket, and trusting his receivers to make throws down the field more often than not.
Can the run game come to life?
The Chargers have been inconsistent on the ground and are 28th in rushing offense DVOA. But, again, injuries have been a significant factor.
They have been without Rashawn Slater, who ruptured his biceps. Corey Linsley has been healthy for only three games. Trey Pipkins has been playing with a sprained MCL. The tight ends have been inconsistent as blockers. Further, they’re missing their most productive rusher in Joshua Kelley.
But something will eventually have to give if they want to avoid their offense from being so inefficient.
Austin Ekeler has been good, but he’s been more active in the passing game. Sony Michel has been effective as a short-yardage specialist but nothing more. Rookie Isaiah Spiller deserves more looks at this point, even if it means sacrificing his snaps as a pass blocker.
Finding the EDGE
Another position that the Chargers are very thin is edge defender. Joey Bosa has been out with a groin injury. But they will also be without Chris Rumph II, who has a sprained MCL.
Los Angeles will turn to Kyle Van Noy to start opposite Khalil Mack, with Derek Tuszka and recently acquired Jeremiah Attaochu serving as the rotational edge defenders.
After moving across the field, Van Noy will be a mainstay off the edge for at least the next couple of weeks. He is coming off his best pass-rushing performance so far, as he had four pressures against the Seahawks.
Eliminate the explosive plays
The Chargers have given up the sixth-most explosive plays of any defense in the NFL with 55 — 18 rushes and 37 passes. The big carries have come from not being gap-sound up front and defenders taking bad angles and missing tackles in open space. And there have been far too many busted coverages.
The Falcons have one of the better offensive units, ranking No. 10 in rushing offense DVOA. Further, they run a lot of play-action off the running game, where wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts each have six explosive receptions.