How next three games, injury returns affect Chargers’ playoff chances
They had won three in a row before serving up an uninspired performance for their second ugly home loss — after falling 38-10 to Jacksonville in Week 3 — of the season.
At 4-3, the Chargers visit first-place Atlanta on Sunday before traveling to play at San Francisco and then meeting Kansas City at SoFi Stadium.
These next three games could dramatically impact where the 2022 season goes for a team that was expected to contend for a playoff berth.
The Chargers to date haven’t proven themselves capable of anything more notable than inconsistency. Their victories have come against teams that are a combined 8-20-1, while they’ve lost to teams that are a combined 12-11.
Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson suffered a ruptured patellar tendon during Sunday’s loss to Seattle and medical experts say it might take a while for his return.
Hit hard by injuries, the Chargers are counting on the return of several key contributors in the coming weeks, including wide receivers Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer; edge rushers Joey Bosa and Chris Rumph II; running back Joshua Kelley; tight end Donald Parham Jr.; and kicker Dustin Hopkins.
A look at the roster and how the position groups are performing:
Quarterbacks: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick — A month into the season, Herbert was leading the NFL in passing yards despite suffering fractured rib cartilage in Week 2. But three of his poorest performances in terms of yards and quarterback rating have come over the last four games as the offense has failed to keep pace with its 2021 showing. Herbert has looked healthier of late, and the week off only can have helped him in that regard.
Running backs: Austin Ekeler, Sony Michel, Isaiah Spiller — No area of this team has underachieved more than the running game, where the Chargers have produced one big effort and little else. They rushed for 238 yards against Cleveland in Week 5 and have averaged 64 yards on the ground in their other six games. Ekeler has been productive reaching the end zone, his eight touchdowns tied for the league lead.
Wide receivers: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer, DeAndre Carter, Michael Bandy, Jason Moore Jr. — The absence of Allen has been significant, particularly for an offense that has struggled to sustain drives. Since his first career start, Herbert regularly has counted on the veteran receiver on third down. But a hamstring injury has limited Allen to 45 snaps to date and he didn’t practice Monday. Williams (ankle) is expected to miss at least four weeks, while the return of Palmer (concussion) remains uncertain.
Tight ends: Gerald Everett, Tre’ McKitty, Donald Parham Jr., Richard Rodgers — Everett and Herbert have struggled at times syncing up, something that goes back to training camp. But the sixth-year tight end is on his way to what easily would be his most productive season. Everett has 27 receptions for 305 yards and two touchdowns. The rest of the Chargers’ tight ends have caught only seven passes. Parham has been limited to two games and 37 snaps because of a hamstring injury and a concussion.
Offensive linemen: Jamaree Salyer, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Zion Johnson, Trey Pipkins III, Will Clapp, Brenden Jaimes, Storm Norton — The Chargers lost Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater in Week 3 because of a torn biceps. He is expected to miss the rest of the season but could potentially return for the playoffs, if the Chargers get there. Salyer has filled in admirably, especially for a rookie. Linsley has dealt with a knee problem and food poisoning, his availability vital in keeping this offense moving forward. Pipkins has been playing through a knee strain and really needed the week off to heal.
Defensive linemen: Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Morgan Fox, Jerry Tillery, Otito Ogbonnia, Christian Covington — Only 1-6 Detroit has surrendered more points on average than the Chargers, who enter Week 9 giving up 27 per game. So, the defense — from front to back — hasn’t been nearly good enough. After a more promising start, the Chargers have fallen to 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed, continuing an issue that plagued them last year.
Edge rushers: Khalil Mack, Chris Rumph II, Kyle Van Noy, Derrek Tuszka, Jeremiah Attaochu — When the Chargers traded for Mack, he was coming off a season-ending foot injury that cost him the final 10 games of 2021. The six-time Pro Bowl player has proven to be effective with his new team, leading the Chargers with six sacks and eight quarterback hits. The loss of Joey Bosa because of a groin injury has greatly impacted the performance on the side opposite Mack. Now Rumph is dealing with hip and knee injuries too.
The Rams know they need to fix their running game, but knowing and fixing are different as the 49ers continue their dominance of their NFC West rival.
Insider linebackers: Drue Tranquill, Kenneth Murray Jr., Troy Reeder, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Nick Niemann — Tranquill and Murray have emerged as steady contributors in the middle of this defense. They are second and third, respectively, on the team in tackles and both have their first career interceptions this season. Murray has bounced back well after having ankle surgery in April and missing the offseason program and much of training camp/preseason.
Cornerbacks: Asante Samuel Jr., Michael Davis, Bryce Callahan, Deane Leonard, Ja’Sir Taylor — Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson was lost for the remainder of the season when he ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee against Seattle. He’ll be replaced by Davis, a former starter. Samuel has played well at times in his second year in this defense but also has had lapses, including a touchdown pass surrendered against the Seahawks. Callahan has been reliable and then some defending the slot.
Safeties: Derwin James Jr., Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman, JT Woods — James signed a four-year extension worth up to $76 million in training camp and hasn’t disappointed. Although his overall grade is slightly down from a year ago, according to Pro Football Focus, his run defense and pass-rush performance both are notably improved. Adderley responded well after being benched in Week 5. He had his best game of the season against Seattle, according to PFF.
Specialists: Kickers Dustin Hopkins and Taylor Bertolet, punter JK Scott, long snapper Josh Harris — Hopkins gave a genuinely courageous effort in kicking the Chargers past Denver despite a hamstring injury in Week 6. Bertolet has made all nine of his kicks while filling in for Hopkins for two games. Scott has been a clear upgrade over recent seasons, particularly given his hang-time abilities. The opposition has returned 12 of his punts for an average of three yards, best in the NFL.
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