Chargers vs. Lions: How the teams matchup for Sunday’s game

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler gains 13 yards during the game against the Cardinals.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

How the Los Angeles Chargers and Detroit Lions match up:

Chargers (1-0) at Detroit (0-0-1)

When Chargers have the ball

The loss of tight end Hunter Henry (knee) will clearly affect the Chargers’ passing game. In a season-opening 30-24 overtime victory over Indianapolis, he had four catches — all after halftime. But Henry’s absence will affect the running game too, as he has been recognized as a more than capable blocker going back to his days at Arkansas. Minus holdout Melvin Gordon, the Chargers still amassed 125 yards rushing against the Colts on only 21 attempts. Austin Ekeler starred with his three touchdowns, but Justin Jackson averaged 9.5 yards in six carries. Detroit could end up being one of the NFL’s toughest teams to run on this season. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn called the Lions’ defensive front “salty” and also praised standout tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, the combination of salty and Snacks a delicious pairing for Detroit fans. In the offseason, the Lions added free-agent defensive end Trey Flowers, who hounded the Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers in New England’s 41-28 AFC divisional round playoff victory in January. “If you watch our playoff game against the Patriots, he did a really good job of getting after Phil,” center Mike Pouncey said. “We kind of expect the same thing out of this defense.”


When Lions have the ball

Detroit had only one rush that gained more than 10 yards in its season-opening tie with Arizona … and it came from Matthew Stafford. As much as ever, the Lions appear ready to lean heavily on their 11th-year quarterback, and why not? Against the Cardinals, he threw for 385 yards and three touchdowns and had no interceptions. “He’s a franchise guy, no doubt about it,” Lynn said. “He’ll have Hall of Fame numbers when all is said and done.” Stafford also has a new weapon in rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was the eighth overall pick in 2019 draft. At 6-foot-5, 247 pounds, Hockenson can be a nightmare of a matchup. “There will be some different things,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said of combating Hockenson. “I think it’s more, just with our defense, building awareness to where he is and his location.” He burned the Cardinals for 131 yards and a touchdown in six receptions. The Lions had an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter last week and couldn’t hold on. This will be their home opener, so they figure to be fired up to make amends.

When they kick

The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since the 1991 season, when they were coached by Wayne Fontes and quarterbacked by Erik Kramer. But this franchise does have some positive history — with kickers. The job currently belongs to Matt Prater, who opened the season by making a 55-yard field goal. He has hit at least 85% of his kicks in each of the last four seasons. Chargers’ kicker Michael Badgley (groin) missed the opener. If Badgley can’t play, Ty Long will again handle the punting and kicking. One thing to note: Chargers return man Desmond King, going back to last season, has muffed punts in consecutive games.

Jeff Miller’s prediction

This is the sort of spot — facing an ornery opponent in a fired-up atmosphere on the road — where the 2018 Chargers excelled. Even with all their injuries, they figure to have more talent than the Lions, who are coming off a 6-10 season. They could be building toward something better under second-year coach Matt Patricia but remain a ways off. This one, like so many Chargers games over the last year, likely will be decided late.