The Chargers got their first win of the season in Minnesota on Sunday. In a back-and-forth contest, Los Angeles’ offense powered them over the top with huge days from Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen. On defense, the pass rush got after Kirk Cousins consistently.
It cannot be understated how much the Chargers needed that game. From a win-loss standpoint, the need was obvious. But the Bolts needed to finally close out a game for the first time since before last year’s postseason. Let’s get to the first massive positive.
Stud: WR Keenan Allen
Year 11 and he’s aged like a fine wine. Allen is up to 402 yards on the season after a 215-yard effort on Sunday. It was a record-shattering performance for the Chargers receiver as he broke his single-game receiving record by 32 yards. His previous high was set against Houston four years ago.
Allen took advantage of Byron Murphy and whichever poor corner had the responsibility of covering him. His route running was as smooth as it’s looked since the pre-2022 hamstring injury days. Throw in a trick play where he shows off his Julian Edelman arm on a trick play for a passing touchdown. He was just unstoppable.
With the unfortunate injury to Mike Williams, Herbert and Los Angeles will need Allen to continue playing at his Pro Bowl pace this season.
Dud: Kellen Moore’s 4th and 1 play call
Brandon Staley’s decision to attempt a 4th down conversion with the lead sparked intense debate on Sunday. As far as that debate, I’ll say that I agree with the decision to go for it. I’ll phrase that another way: I trusted the offense to gain one yard to end the game more than I trusted the defense to get a stop.
Most analytical models agreed with Staley, for what it’s worth:
From the morning after…
Brandon Staley said after the game yesterday that the math behind his decision to go for it on 4th down was convincing. The numbers from Ben Baldwin and ESPN analytics agreed with him. From a data perspective it was the right decision. pic.twitter.com/ZqphLMkWqO
— Guilty As Charged Podcast (@GACPodcast17) September 25, 2023
My issue was exclusive to the play call. A fourth-down fullback dive with Joshua Kelley never made sense. Kelley had rushed for 11 yards on 10 carries prior to that point in the game. The run blocking from the line was not at its best partially because of the bodies Minnesota was consistently sending with heavy blitz packages.
To me, there were two choices: Keep the ball in the air with Herbert and Allen’s connection or QB sneak it. In that situation with a 6’6″ quarterback, I don’t see why a Kelley run was preferred over doing some variation of the Eagles’ tush push.
The decision by Staley was fine, but there were so many other play-call options Moore should’ve gone to.
Stud: QB Justin Herbert
Herbert had the first 400-yard passing game of his career. He had come close a few times like Cleveland in 2021 and Miami in 2022, but 40-of-47 passing and 405 yards was otherworldly from him yesterday.
Herbert had played well in his first two games of the season, but there was a different level of decisiveness and efficiency from him on display in this one. The pocket awareness was on an elite level. Herbert also read the looks that Brian Flores’ defense was giving him at the line of scrimmage very well. The drive before the end of the first half that resulted in a Donald Parham touchdown was a prime example of Herbert dialed in and responding to everything an opposing defense was throwing at him.
It’s not an overreaction to say that was the best game of Herbert’s four-year career.
Dud: RB Joshua Kelley
Kelley had a great Week 1 performance that worked incredibly well in complement with Austin Ekeler. But the last two weeks of him as the starter have been unsuccessful. Kelley has put up 51 yards on 24 carries as the lead Chargers’ back. Against Minnesota, specifically, it was 11 carries for 12 yards.
Getting past the statistics, it really felt like this was a game where the Chargers missed what Ekeler could offer as both a runner and his gravity as a pass catcher. Defenses never have to consistently account for Kelley in the receiving game and it tends to show in the gameplan.
Kelley will have better games once Ekeler gets back, but the last two weeks have shown why he’s more of an RB2 than an RB1.
Stud: EDGE Tuli Tuipulotu
What a start to the season from Tuipulotu in these last two weeks. Against Minnesota, the rookie defensive lineman had nine pressures, four quarterback hits and a sack.
Frankly, if you told me that Tuipulotu had 12 or 13+ pressures in this game instead of the unofficial nine, I’d have believed it. He was that impactful on every rep.
To some extent, he took advantage of a Minnesota offensive line that’s going through a lot of turmoil right now. But his speed to power was just unprecedented to see in this game. There were plays where Tuipulotu just shifted Vikings tackle Brian O’Neil backward five yards seemingly at the line.
It cannot be understated how huge his performances have been with the impact of Joey Bosa’s nagging hamstring injury making him more limited in these last two games.
Dud: Let’s talk about the secondary
Cornerback J.C. Jackson was a healthy scratch in this game. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract just two years ago. The Chargers allowed 149 yards to Justin Jefferson and allowed a number of Vikings to convert more explosive plays on them.
Compared to previous weeks, I’m not sure I’d say that Asante Samuel Jr. or Michael Davis were as bad. But the miscommunications in the secondary were as rough as they previously had been. On Justin Jefferson’s touchdown, for example, Ja’Sir Taylor and the other corners were unsure as to who was supposed to follow him as he crossed inside.
If the pass rush pressure hadn’t been as good as it was for the Chargers, Kirk Cousins probably would have had a much better passing day than he ended up having. A lot of Samuel and and Davis’ best plays were pass breakups because Cousins was a second late.