The numbers are not eye-popping by Marshawn Lynch standards. The burly Oakland Raiders running back, whom the Chargers must corral Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive, has rushed 188 times for 790 yards and seven touchdowns in his return from a year off, leaving him a long shot to reach 1,000 yards as he’s done six times in his 10-year career.
It’s the return of “Beast Mode,” the nickname that reflects Lynch’s powerful running style and approach to life, that jumps out at the Chargers, who held Lynch to 63 yards on 13 carries in a 17-16 win at Oakland on Oct. 15.
“Marshawn Lynch looks better now than he did earlier in the season,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “He’s really shown up. He’s running hard, physical, with that anger that I know I’m accustomed to seeing. He’s playing really well for them, as well as their offensive line.”
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch has rushed 65 times for 333 yards, an average of 5.1 yards a carry, and two touchdowns in his past four games, including a 25-carry, 95-yard effort in last week’s loss at Philadelphia.
“They’re gonna try to pound the ball,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “They’ve got one of the best power backs in the game.”
Lynch won’t exactly be running into the teeth of the Chargers’ defense. As good as the unit has been — the Chargers rank third in scoring defense (17.5 points per game) and passing defense (195 yards per game) and are tied for fifth in takeaways (25) — they rank dead last in rushing defense, allowing an average of 132.9 yards.
According to Inside Edge, the Chargers have allowed 997 yards after contact, most in the NFL. Their linebackers have missed 55 tackles on 247 opportunities (22.0%), and their defensive backs have missed 65 tackles on 329 opportunities (20.0%). Both are the worst marks in the league.
New York Jets running back Bilal Powell burned them for 145 yards in 19 carries last week, including a 57-yard touchdown in the third quarter and runs of 41 yards in the second and 21 yards in the fourth.
The week before, Kareem Hunt rolled up 155 yards on 24 carries and scored twice to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a 30-13 win.
The expected return of middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, one of the Chargers’ best tacklers, from a hamstring injury should help against the Raiders, but Lynch can be a handful. According to Inside Edge, he’s broken 22 tackles this season, third most among running backs.
“Marshawn is a heck of a running back, one of the top two or three in the league, and he’d be a problem for anybody,” Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget said. “When you meet him in the hole, you’ve got to bring him down. Grab a limb and wait for your brothers to come. Whatever it is, you have to tackle him.”
The Chargers also expect to face a better version of quarterback Derek Carr, who had just returned from a back injury and looked a little tentative while completing 21 of 30 passes for 171 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Chargers in Week 6.
Carr has completed 304 of 487 passes for 3,253 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the season and looked nimble on a 32-yard run against Dallas two weeks ago.
“That was one of his longest runs of the season,” Bradley said. “We had a conversation about how he’ll extend plays, use his feet to gain yardage for first downs in third-down situations. He’s not afraid to do that. He’s not skittish or anything.”
Mobile quarterbacks such as Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz and Kansas City’s Alex Smith have given the Chargers problems. Jets quarterback Bryce Petty scrambled for 24 yards on a play after being flushed out of the pocket last week.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Liuget said. “Those guys, when the pocket collapses, they find a way. You squeeze anybody into a corner, and their back is against it, they’re gonna come out swinging. If a quarterback feels pressure, he’s gonna figure out the best way to get out.”