The Chargers got back in the win column with a 30-13 win over the Bears. The team certainly needed a complete three phases of the game type of win to right the ship after two losses to Dallas and Kansas City. On one hand, it is the Bears. One has to wonder how much of this win is transferable to some of the more difficult opponents they’re going to play.
But there were some positive steps taken by a few key players that could be important in their next games. Before Jets week, let’s talk about the studs and duds from the win against Chicago.
Stud: WR Quentin Johnston
The lack of Quentin Johnston integration felt like a sore spot in the Chargers’ offense throughout the first two months of the season. With the loss of Mike Williams for the rest of the season and now the Joshua Palmer knee injury causing problems, LA had no other option but to get their first-round pick going.
And get going, he did. Johnston had five receptions for 50 yards and drew a defensive pass interference penalty. With the penalty, the former TCU star picked up five first downs on the night. He was a pivotal part of the scoring drive before the half that ended in a Donald Parham touchdown.
Johnston also had his highest yards per route run figure of the season at 1.85. His passer rating, when targeted, was also the highest this year at 101.4.
Perhaps it wasn’t the big 100-yard, multiple-touchdown breakout game that some fans have been looking for in comparing Johnston to his draft classmates at the position. But this game was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for the Chargers’ first-round pick, and it comes at a pivotal time considering Palmer’s knee injury.
Dud: The running game
Part of the story on offense for the Chargers in the last few years has been the inability to protect a big lead due to lack of a potent running game. Against Chicago, that was evident. The Chargers averaged just 2.2 yards per carry against Chicago on 25 attempts.
LA’s last three offensive possessions of the game all ended on unsuccessful runs. Austin Ekeler was stuffed on 4th and 1 and fumbled on the next drive. The final offensive drive of the night ended with a three-yard Isaiah Spiler run and punt on a quick 3 & out.
The numbers indicate that this has been a season-long issue for the Chargers. Since the BYE week, the Chargers have averaged 3.32 yards on 74 carries. Removing the one outlier, Joshua Kelley’s run against the Chiefs would drop that figure to 2.7 yards on 73 carries.
There are a lot of factors at play. Austin Ekeler missed a month of the season with an ankle injury. Will Clapp hasn’t been as steadying of a force in the middle as a healthy Corey Linsley would’ve been. Kellen Moore not performing as expected in scheming the run game is part of this as well.
Whatever the diagnosis is, the Chargers need to get their run game going in a better direction if they want any shot at January football.
Stud: EDGE Joey Bosa
After dealing with an injured hamstring and toe fracture for over a month, Joey Bosa looked more like his usual self against Chicago. This was the first week Bosa was not on the injury report in any capacity.
Bosa finished with five pressures, one sack, three hurries, and four stops in the backfield. If the Chargers can reliably get this kind of production from him in the future, they’ll be in a lovely spot with their EDGE room.
Again, it’s the Bears’ offensive line. It’s probably best not to overreact to one game. But Bosa looked much quicker and more effective off the line than in a while. If he’s less encumbered by his previous toe fracture now, that’s a massive win for LA’s defensive front in the future in both pass rush and run defense.
Dud: Tre’ McKitty, Stone Smartt + TE blocking
As mentioned earlier, the run game has not been good enough recently. A large part of that has been the tight end blocking, in addition to other factors. I didn’t even need to look at the PFF offensive numbers on Monday morning to be able to tell you that two of the lowest-graded players once again would be Tre’ McKitty and Stone Smartt.
Gerald Everett being out for the Chargers is a massive loss because he is essentially the lone competent blocker in the tight end room. They tend not to ask Donald Parham to do much blocking, especially in this game, where he was primarily asked to be a receiver. McKitty and Smartt have been doing the dirty work since Week 1, and it just hasn’t been good enough in the blocking department.
On Wednesday, the Chargers waived McKitty. That leaves a tight end room of Everett, Parham, and Smartt, assuming Everett returns from injury this week. The Chargers have Nick Vannett on the practice squad. Frankly, it’s a surprise he’s never been promoted to the active roster this season with their blocking struggles.
Maybe the Chargers will scour the free-agent market to see what they can find post-trade deadline. But the lack of good blockers in the tight end room is a huge reason why this offense has struggled as hard as it has in the last month.
Stud: QB Justin Herbert
Justin Herbert bounced back in a big way against the Bears. While the broken finger is still clearly bothering him, this felt like the first game where he was used to playing with it. It also helped that he didn’t absorb as much defensive pressure as he had in the last few games. It was the first time since Week 2 that the Chargers didn’t allow double-digit quarterback pressures.
Herbert finished with 299 yards, 77.5% completion, and no turnovers. He was electric in the first two quarters, with quite the completion streak before it broke near halftime.
This felt like the first game in a while where Herbert was taking what the defense was willing to give him and making sound decisions as a result at the line. Keying in on his initial read a little too early was also a problem against Kansas City and Dallas. That didn’t happen as much on Sunday night.
Dud: Second half offense
The Chargers certainly have a bit of a post-halftime points crisis. In their last three contests, the Chargers have scored just 16 points in the second halves against Dallas, Kansas City, and Chicago.
The running game, as mentioned earlier, is undoubtedly a big part of the problem. The lack of quality tight end blocking and some questionable play calling when the lack of a run game is a known quantity issue as well.
Luckily, the Chargers were playing against a Tyson Bagent-led offense that struggled to move the ball most of the night. If the Chargers were up against a better offense, though, I’m not sure they would’ve protected a 17-point halftime lead with two field goals, two 3 & outs, a turnover on downs, and a fumble.