The Los Angeles Chargers come to town on Sunday for a matchup against the Vikings that will put one team in a 0-3 hole, while allowing the other team to climb out of a 0-2 hole. In that sense it’s a big game this early in the season for both teams.
It’s an especially big game for Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who’s on the hot seat after a disappointing finish to last season and an 0-2 start this season, despite significant investments by the team in personnel. Staley is currently the odds-on favorite to be the first head coach fired at +350, although Bears head coach Matt Eberflus isn’t far behind at +400. In any case, another loss could put Staley’s job in more serious jeopardy as it would put the Chargers’ chances of making the postseason in serious doubt. This is Staley’s third season as head coach of the Chargers and the Bolts have never had a good defense since Staley took over, despite him being a defensive head coach. The Chargers are currently last in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. The Chargers offense has scored 58 points in two games with zero turnovers, and yet the Chargers are 0-2.
When the Vikings Have the Ball
The Chargers defense ranks last in the league in passing yards allowed (666) and passing yards per attempt allowed (9.0). The Vikings’ offense ranks second in passing yards (674) and fourth in passing yards per attempt (7.4). This should be a major matchup advantage for the Vikings and a chance for them to really light up the scoreboard.
Brandon Staley is a disciple of Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme, but like Ed Donatell with the Vikings last season, he has struggled to make his version of Fangio’s scheme as effective as Fangio’s. The Chargers have big name edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, but Bosa has struggled with injuries- he’s currently dealing with a hamstring- while Mack is well into the back-nine of his career. The Chargers have a couple other bigger names in Derwin James and safety and JC Jackson at cornerback, but James is the highest graded player on the Chargers defense after two weeks with just a 64.3 grade. Everyone else grades lower according to PFF.
It remains to be seen if the Vikings can improve their running game, which has been virtually non-existent over the first two games. The Chargers front is not nearly as stout as either the Eagles or the Bucs, so there is some reason to believe the run game may at least be a little better against the Chargers.
When the Chargers Have the Ball
The Chargers have a big play offense led by quarterback Justin Herbert and explosive receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. However, its been the Chargers ground game that’s had slightly higher rankings in yards and yards per attempt, ranking 5th and 7th respectively. The Chargers passing game isn’t far behind, ranking 11th and 13th respectively. They rank middle of the pack in 3rd down conversion and red zone TD percentage. They’ve also yet to commit a turnover.
Overall, that gives the Chargers a solid and balanced offensive attack that is ranked 4th in yards and 6th in points after two games. The Vikings have done well in limiting opponent passing yards, ranking 8th in passing yards allowed and 13th in passing yards per attempt. But the meltdown in run defense- greatly aided by a self-inflicted scheme mismatch- against the Eagles has sent the Vikings all the way to 29th in rushing yards allowed and 18th in rushing yards per attempt. After the Bucs game, the Vikings were allowing just 2.2 yards per carry in the ground game.
The Chargers may not be with their versatile running back Austin Ekeler, who’s been dealing with an ankle injury and didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday.
But regardless of Ekeler’s availability on Sunday, the Chargers have a top offense led by new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, previously with the Cowboys, and will present a challenge for the Vikings’ defense. It will be interesting to see how the Chargers respond to Brian Flores’ blitz-heavy scheme, and the counters they have for it.
The Chargers have improved their offensive line but are relatively weak on the right side in terms of pressures allowed so far this year. Danielle Hunter will go up against Trey Pipkins, and that could be a matchup advantage for the Vikings.
Justin Herbert had the 5th best quarterback PFF grade when not blitzed last year, but only the 21st best when blitzed. So far this season, Herbert has the 6th lowest PFF grade when blitzed, so there is reason to believe Flores’ scheme could disrupt Herbert’s production on Sunday.
In terms of stopping the Chargers’ ground game, that may depend on the extent to which Brian Flores is willing to come out of his 3-3-5 formation to stop the run. He didn’t do so against the Eagles and that proved to be costly. It sounded like they addressed that this week and have made some adjustments, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Flores revert to more base defense or at least a more traditional nickel package against the Chargers ground game on Sunday.
The Vikings have been as much as a one-point underdog this week, but the line has now moved to the Vikings being a 1.5 point home favorite after both Austin Ekeler and Joey Bosa were in shorts and appeared to not be practicing with the team today. Ekeler has been dealing with an ankle injury, while Bosa has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Former Viking Eric Kendricks is also not practicing with a hamstring injury.
The Vikings are currently 1.5 point favorites against the Chargers. They will:
This poll is closed
Win and beat the spread
Win but not beat the spread