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Chargers vs. Washington matchups: Rashawn Slater meets Chase Young in debut

Chargers tackle Rashawn Slater before a preseason game against the the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 22, 2021, at SoFi Stadium.
Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, above, will make his NFL debut Sunday and face a familiar foe in Chase Young, Washington’s standout defensive end.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Breaking down how the Chargers (7-9 last season) and the Washington Football Team (7-9) match up heading into their season-opening game at 10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The game will be carried on CBS (Channel 2).

When Chargers have the ball: In his final season at Northwestern, Rashawn Slater allowed zero sacks, one quarterback hit and four hurries during his 355 pass-blocking and 787 total snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. One of his most notable performances of that 2019 year came against Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. In a game the Wildcats would lose 52-3, Young finished with two tackles and one sack, which came against Northwestern’s other tackle. On Sunday, Slater and Young will meet again as the rookie makes his NFL debut at left tackle for the Chargers. A year ago in his first pro season, Young won the league’s defensive rookie of the year award after being drafted No. 2 overall by Washington. “I kind of look at it as that’s the past,” Slater said. “This is a totally different environment. He’s taken steps since then. I’ve taken steps since then. I really don’t even think about that past matchup as having any sort of factor in it.” Slater opted out of last season at Northwestern because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then was drafted at No. 13 overall in April. He returns on a rebuilt offensive line in front of quarterback Justin Herbert, the NFL’s reigning offensive rookie of the year. The Chargers have a new coaching staff and a new scheme, one designed to take advantage of Herbert’s big right arm and lofty football IQ.

Chargers might have a rising star in quarterback Justin Herbert, but it won’t make a difference if the revamped offensive line doesn’t hold up its end.

When Washington has the ball: As a franchise, the Chargers have faced 38-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick once. The 2011 Chargers crushed Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills 37-10 at Qualcomm Stadium. Fitzpatrick finished that day 13 for 34 for 176 yards and two interceptions. A decade later, he’s still going, with Washington being his ninth team. “The thing about defending Ryan is there’s not a look that you’re going to give him that he hasn’t seen,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. As with the offense, the Chargers will be unveiling a new defense devised by Staley, who will call the signals to safety Derwin James. Fitzpatrick has an elite target in Terry McLaurin, who is coming off a 1,118-yard season. Staley called him “one of the top up-and-coming receivers in the NFL.” Washington’s top returning running back is Antonio Gibson, who rushed for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. But the man who will make it all go is Fitzpatrick, he of the magnificent beard and “Fitzmagic” persona. “He’s a guy that everyone feels confident in,” Staley said. “I think he has that nickname for a reason, because people believe in him.”

When they kick: The Chargers have a new kicker in Tristan Vizcaino, whose only NFL appearance came in Week 17 last season. He was perfect that day, making three field goals — from 47, 36 and 33 yards — and two extra points for San Francisco. Dustin Hopkins is third on Washington’s all-time points list with 622. He scored 111 of those in 2020 by making 27 of 34 field goals and 30 of 32 extra points.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: No one can be certain what to expect as the Chargers begin this new era under Staley. Given recent history of playing close, gut-churning games, let’s at least count on that continuing.

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WASHINGTON 24, CHARGERS 21


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