Every week, we like to gather some intel from the Minnesota Vikings’ opponent courtesy of the SB Nation site that is centered around covering that team. We’ve reached that point in the proceedings for this week, as we’ve exchanged questions with SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the Los Angeles Chargers, Bolts from the Blue.
Yours truly has exchanged questions with Kyle DeDiminicantanio, one of the staff writers over at Bolts from the Blue. Once he’s posted my answers to the questions he posed to me, I’ll be sure to put them up on the main page and link them here. In the meantime, here are the questions I sent to him and his answers.
1) Perhaps the biggest question for the Chargers this week is the status of Austin Ekeler, who had a big Week 1 before missing last week’s game with an ankle injury. How drastically does the Chargers’ offense change if he’s not in there? (Note: Ekeler was officially declared out between the time I sent Kyle these questions and today.)
The Chargers lose a player with the ability to turn a checkdown into a touchdown. Herbert basically uses Ekeler as his safety net in the passing game; anytime the throwing lanes are clogged downfield, he goes right to Austin, who’s usually able to turn it into a positive play. No backs on the roster can make up for his ability as a receiver, but Joshua Kelley has shown flashes of being a very capable rusher. It might sound surprising, but it’s actually the passing attack that suffers the most when Ekeler is out.
2) The Chargers have a lot of talent on defense, yet so far have given up the most points and yards in the league. What has been the cause of the issues on that side of the ball to this point?
It’s still too early to pinpoint specific problems this year, but the consistent theme since Staley’s arrival is a potentially over-complicated defensive scheme. He uses unique coverages that are different on the strong and weak sides of the ball, and the defensive backs have often suffered from multiple missed assignments on a given play. It gets especially confusing for players when offenses go into motion and flip the strong/weak sides pre-snap. Staley also fields an extra defensive back when matching up against an offense, which lightens the box and compromises the run defense. It’s frustrating when teams run all over the Chargers because of this philosophy, but it’s even more maddening when teams like the Dolphins in Week 1 still beat us through the air.
3) Brandon Staley is now in his third season as the Chargers’ head coach and has been quite the controversial figure. Do you think he’s on the hot seat?
If he’s not, he should be. The Chargers leveraged over $40 million in restructured contracts to push approximately $33 million in cap to next year’s budget, and $7 million to the following year’s, to keep the current core together. At best, we’re due for a soft reload, almost guaranteeing that we’ll part ways with at least two of the four players we restructured: Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams. If Staley can’t win with this roster, he shouldn’t be counted on to succeed when the Chargers have less financial resources to deploy. It’s a conference championship or bust situation, but if Staley goes it’s unlikely they’ll let Tom Telesco select yet another head coach... so there may be a front office shake-up if things don’t turn around.
4) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball that you think will play a significant role in the Chargers’ success.
The closer Derwin James Jr. is to the line of scrimmage, the better he plays. Since Brandon Staley likes to operate out of a Cover-2 shell, he really needs JT Woods and Alohi Gilman to show they can be a solid safety tandem to allow Staley to deploy Derwin all over the field. Alohi Gilman was quietly solid for the Chargers late last season, and JT Woods has shown remarkable improvement after essentially redshirting last year. On defense, I would say these two have a huge role in the Chargers turning a corner.
On offense, this might be a little hopeful, but Chargers fans are really hoping Darius Davis gets more opportunities to produce. He’s the fastest receiver they have, and had 103 receiving yards for TCU in last year’s National Championship when Georgia managed to hold Quentin Johnston to only three yards. Since the Chargers starting receivers lack that top-end speed, we’d love to see Davis stretch the field and let Herbert try to overthrow him.
5) Our friends from the DraftKings Sportsbook have put this game down as their highest-scoring game of the week, setting the over/under at a whopping 54 points. Since the game is basically a pick ‘em, do you think the offenses will light things up in this one?
I haven’t seen the offense “click” enough this season to believe they’ll best the Vikings if it’s a true shootout. But, the Chargers defense is loaded with talented players and Staley does have games where he suddenly looks like a genius (take the Week 14 Dolphins game last year as an example). The two scenarios I see unfolding are either the Chargers defense finally puts a complete game together for the first time this season for a Chargers win that doesn’t hit the over, or the Vikings outscore the Chargers in a shootout and end the game with the ball and a one possession lead.
Thanks again to Kyle for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions!