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Five Good Questions with Bolts from the Blue

Checking in on the Chargers before Sunday’s game.

Before the Vikings take on the Chargers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, we checked in with Michael Peterson from SB Nation’s Chargers site, Bolts From the Blue. What’s with LA’s run defense? How can you stop the Chargers’ high-powered offense? Which players should Vikings fans watch for on Sunday? Is “Chargering” still a thing? We talked about all that in more in our Five Good Questions segment below.

If you want to see my Q&A with Michael about the Vikings, you can check it out here.

1. Much has been made about the Chargers’ weak run defense, which has allowed the most yards and yards per attempt in the league this year. They’re also last in rush defense DVOA and 29th in PFF rush defense grade. They certainly aren’t devoid of talent on that side of the ball, so why has the run defense been so porous thus far this year? Do you think that the Chargers can make any adjustments to slow down Dalvin Cook on Sunday?

The way I like to think about the defensive front is it’s just Joey Bosa, Linval Joseph, and then three other guys who are just trying their best. Joseph is playing much better than he did a year ago and Bosa is doing his usual thing. However, a guy like Jerry Tillery just isn’t built to stop the run. He’s a true 6’7” and doesn’t have the necessary girth and/or strength to hold double-teams at the point of attack. He’s consistently blown off the ball far too often. With the return of Justin Jones at the other defensive tackle spot, he’s provided a little juice but he’s just not a run-stopping tackle. He’s more of a penetrating three-technique, which is similar to Tillery’s case.

As for the linebackers behind them, they’re job is just made so much harder when the linemen ahead of them aren’t able to fulfill their responsibilities. It’s tough to sift through the trash in the box when one of your teammates is getting pushed into your lap before you have a chance to read and react. I like what Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill have done this year, but the whole defensive front seven just needs to amp things up to another level if they want to escape the basement of the NFL’s run defense.

If there’s one adjustment I could see the team making to stop Dalvin Cook, it would be moving Joey Bosa around the interior to exploit mismatches. Against the Ravens, Bosa lined up inside the tackle a little over a dozen times in an attempt to maximize the amount of speed and athleticism on the field. I don’t think it worked as well as they would have liked it to, but that’s the only real notable adjustment I’ve seen them make this season to stop heavy-rushing attacks.

2. While the defense has had its share of struggles, the Chargers offense has been very impressive this year. Justin Herbert has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, Keenan Allen has shown no signs of slowing down, and Austin Ekeler remains a dual-threat nightmare for defensive coordinators. Plus they actually have a solid offensive line to support them this time! Rashawn Slater seems like an absolute home run at left tackle and Corey Linsley has quietly been one of the best acquisitions of the past offseason. Does this offense have any significant weaknesses? Because I’m having trouble finding any.

All you need to do to find a weakness for this offense is to check out the games against the Ravens and Patriots where those two defenses really got after the Chargers early and often. In the press conference following the loss to Baltimore, Justin Herbert said they threw a lot of looks at them on defense that they hadn’t seen before. Once they got Herbert a little rattled in the pocket, he just never seemed to find safe footing the rest of the way. Similarly, the Patriots and Bill Belichick just did what they do against every young quarterback: Play all the games. Every stunt and twist imaginable was thrown at the Chargers and while they responded better that week compared to the Ravens game, it still wasn’t enough to eek that one out. Specifically, attacking the right side of the offensive line is a pretty good place to start. That side is being held down by a pair of backups in Michael Schofield and Storm Norton. Neither have done much to instill confidence in Chargers fans up to this point so that’s where I’d attempt to exploit a mismatch first.

3. Over the years, the Vikings and Chargers have both shown an incredible penchant for grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. While the Vikings continue to be their own worst enemy in 2021, the Chargers appear to finally be turning a corner and winning some close games. Is “Chargering” starting to become a thing of the past under Brandon Staley and Herbert, or does the end of games still give you PTSD like it does for us?

While I do believe the Chargers are turning a corner under the Staley regime, I’d say it’s going to take at least a few years before fans stop breaking out in cold sweats during every game that the team builds a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter or misses an extra point. It’s just so natural at this point, ya know? When you’ve been hurt before so many times, it’s hard to break out of that learned helplessness. But overall, couldn’t be happier with the way this team has shown they can fight and claw to the finish to pull out some of these close wins. They’ve done it a handful of times already this year and they’ll need to continue that if they hope to keep pace in the wide open AFC West.

4. Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that Vikings fans may not be familiar with, but could have a big impact on the outcome of Sunday’s game.

On offense, I’ll point Vikings fans to tight end Donald Parham. He’s a true 6’8” with immense athletic ability and he’s already made quite a few head-turning plays in his first two seasons with the Chargers. At times, it looks like he’s just playing basketball out there with the way he’s able to sky over defenders for catches like he’s boxing out for the rebound.

On defense, I can’t help but point at linebacker Kyzir White. After shining as a rookie in 2018, he dealt with some lingering injuries over the past two seasons. Now, in Brandon Staley’s system, he looks like a whole new player. He’s shown quite the nose for the football while playing with an aggressiveness we haven’t ever seen from him. Don’t be surprised when he makes a play in the backfield on Sunday as he currently leads the team in TFLs.

5. Prediction time! Two-parter here. First, what’s your score prediction for Sunday? Second, which team is going to win the extremely muddled AFC West?

For my final score prediction, I’m going to go with 27-24 Chargers. Between these two teams, this game just has to be close. I’m predicting it’ll be close in the second half, one of the team’s will build a two-score lead, proceed to lose it, and then the outcome will be decided by a field goal. Whether it’s missed or made, a field goal will have the final say.

As for who will win the AFC West, I believe it’s the Chargers’ to lose. They have the easiest strength of schedule out of all the teams in the division. So it’s as simple as that. If they can take care of business each and every week like they’re supposed to, they should be able to walk away at the end of the season as AFC West champs.