As we come out of the bye and head cross-country to face the Chargers, so too do the game preview articles emerge from their week's hibernation as a new man; smarter, sleeker and less wordy. Instead of the big essays you have become accustomed to from these articles, I aim to make these more of a bite-size read for you.
So far this season, the Chargers have leaned into 11 and 12 personnel on offence, using these on 62% and 28% of these offensive snaps respectively. Despite using 12 personnel on only 39% of their first down snaps, the Chargers still rank third in the league in percentage usage of 12 personnel on first down. The Chargers offence also ranks 23rd in the league in time of possession (28:38), 12th in no-huddle usage rate (11.2%), 14th in going for it on 4th down rate (19.6%) and 23rd in going for 2 rate (4.3%).
Herbert is having a decent season, completing 67% of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt. His 13:4 tuddy-to-pick ratio is fairly respectable, but his 3.4% turnover-worthy play rate suggests that he perhaps has been lucky not to have thrown more picks. According to nfelo, Herbert is the tenth-best QB in the league this year and is offering 1.3 points more against the spread compared to the average starter.
He is completing 1.9% more of his passes than expected (13th best CPOE of the 27 QBs to have attempted more than 200 passes) and has a 47.1% success rate on his passes (14th best). Herbert's 7.8-yard ADOT is 13th best of the aforementioned QBs and his -1.1 against the sticks throw depth is 11th. Herbert has also added 1.4 win probability added is 9th best in this group of QBs.
Herbert gets worse when pressured and when blitzed according to PFF grades. Likewise, he is worse at throwing screens than he is on traditional passing plays. For a quarterback possessing the arm strength that Herbert does, you would expect him to be better passing downfield than he has been this season. In fact, he has been better in the short-to-intermediate game than he has been past 20 yards this season according to PFF. Despite this, I would still try to limit the explosive plays on the backend and trust our corners and safeties to limit yards after the catch. Of course, we also must get pressure on Herbert to speed up his processing and have him make mistakes for us to exploit, and not just from Hutch. We need our pass rush to marry with the coverage to stop this from becoming a shootout.
As for his receivers, the man we have to focus on is the veteran savvy route technician Keenan Allen. He leads the team in PFF receiving grade, targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns (tied to Donald Parham Jr.). Luckily for our Lions, he has lined up in the slot on 62% of his routes, meaning he will be facing Branch for most of the game. On the outside, the rookie Johnston could be a threat, especially as the Chargers have begun to implement the kind of plays that made him the beast he was at TCU in their offence to get him going after the loss of Mike Williams. However, I believe that Sutton and Jerry should be able to sniff out these quick plays designed to get him in open space with the ball in his hands to get yards after the catch and minimise the damage.
According to PFF, Ekeler hasn't been the receiving weapon out of the backfield he has been in previous seasons, meaning that Anzalone should be able to cover him, leaving our other linebackers to key in on runs or be used on blitzes. If a player is going to threaten our safeties and linebackers, it would be the tight ends Parham Jr. and former Goff target Gerald Everett. Given our historic weakness against this position and their 18% target share in this offence, they are the non-traditional receivers I would be keying in on if I were AG.
Ekeler has also been disappointing on the ground, only gaining 3.6 yards per carry and 2.52 yards after contact per carry. In fact, Joshua Kelley has been the better of the Chargers' running backs, earning 4.4 yards a carry (3.08 after contact). However, it is Herbert who has been the best toting the ball according to PFF, with him owning the only 70+ rushing grade. As a team, the Chargers are best when running up the B-gaps and are at their worst up the A-gaps, suggesting we shouldn't pinch the defensive line, keeping our tackles over the B-gaps and letting the LBs cover the A-gaps if the Chargers attempt any runs there.
When it comes to protecting Herbert, Rashawn Slater has been the standout (though not as good as Sewell has been...), posting a 96.2% pass-block efficiency, allowing 24 pressures for an 81.1 pass-blocking grade from PFF. Whoever lines up against him tomorrow is going to have a rough day. On the other hand, Hutch will have some joy against Trey Pipkins III, who has a 60.2 grade on a 95.2% efficiency by allowing 25 pressures. On the interior, Will Clapp has been horrific according to PFF, allowing 11 pressures for a 97.1 efficiency and a 47.4 grade. Alim should be able to work him and get past him like a thunder-Clapp.
Overall, if Herbert is able to get into a groove, he could cause us real problems. However, with how poor their run game is, we should be able to get the Chargers into third-and-longs at some frequency, allowing our line to pin their ears back and get to work on making Justin's day a long and painful one.
Despite being listed traditionally as a 3-4 team, when the Chargers run a base formation, it lines up more as a 5-2 with the edges putting their hand in the dirt as wide ends rather than standing up as traditional 3-4 edge backers. When it comes to running nickel packages, LA favours 4-2-5, but they also run 2-4-5 and 5-1-5 with some regularity.
In run defence, it is the edges who lead the way according to PFF. Both Tuli Tuipulotu and Khalil Mack have posted 80+ run defence grades so far this season. TT has made a run stop on more than 10% of his run defence snaps while also only missing one tackle so far this season. On the other end, Mack has made a run stop on roughly 7.5% of his snaps against the run but has missed more than 10% of his tackle attempts so far this season. This does not bode well for any outside runs we might want to try.
On the interior, Otito Ogbonnia has led the way with a 74.1 grade, earned by not missing a tackle so far this season with a 7.7% run stop rate. The weakness on the Chargers' defensive line is Austin Johnson who has not missed a tackle so far this season but has only made a run stop on less than 2.5% of his run defence snaps for a 38.4 grade from PFF. Kenneth Murray has taken the most run defence snaps for the Chargers but has been meh against the run at best. He has missed nearly 10% of his tackles this season but also has made a run stop at nearly the same regularity, leading to a below-average 52.7 run defence grade. With Monty back healthy, we could be able to exploit their relative weakness on the interior, but this isn't the Chargers' defence of old which was like a welcome mat against the run. We might have to rely on the line to create some yardage to get our backs up to speed.
When it comes to rushing the passer, Mack has played the most snaps and created the most pressure. He has won nearly 20% of his pass-rushing reps for 39 pressures. However, it is worth bearing in mind that as an outside linebacker, he also has to perform in coverage, meaning we could chip him and then force him to cover LaPorta to take him out of the play. However, Bosa has been the highest-graded Charger in pass rush with his 23 pressures and 16% win rate. With Sewell playing at an elite level in pass pro, and with Decker having the bye to rest up his ankle, I have faith in them keeping Goff as clear as possible.
On their interior, it is Morgan Fox who is the biggest threat with 21 pressures and a 14% win rate on the season, though Sebastian Joseph-Day has also been productive on the season with an 11.5% win rate and 17 pressures so far, albeit on nearly 15% more snaps. Just as is the case with run defence, Johnson is the Chargers' worst pass rusher from the interior. He has played the second-most pass rush snaps on the line but only has 2 pressures and a 0.6% win rate to show for it. With a healthy interior line (Big V aside), we should be able to handle the interior rush without getting Goff flustered, which might be the key when the Chargers' edges are real good.
Of course it is the former Nole Asante Samuel Jr. who is the Chargers' best corner. He has allowed a 70% completion rate in coverage, but he has a 13% forced incompletion rate, breaking up 5 passes, intercepting 2 and dropping another potential interception, while also only allowing 1 touchdown in his zone so far this season. However, as he is only 5' 10", we could force some mismatches with Reynolds, DPJ and/or Antoine Green against him. This, added to the fact that the Chargers are a Fangio-scheme team and that our offence is built to beat this coverage scheme, means that while we should respect ASJ, we should not fear him.
On the other side of the field, Michael Davis has not been as great according to PFF. He has allowed catches on 63% of passes his way for fewer yards per reception, but hasn't been forcing turnovers at the same rate as his counterpart and has allowed 5 touchdowns by his assignment, meaning PFF is lower on him. He is taller (6' 2") so he could be targeted in a different way to ASJ. Instead of using size, we should use route running. Davis ran a 4.34 so while it might seem counter-intuitive to line Kalif Raymond up against him, Leaf's ability to separate by combining his speed with route running means he could be the perfect matchup against Davis.
In the slot, Ja'Sir Taylor has also been seemingly harshly graded by PFF. Despite only allowing a 60% catch rate, breaking up 6 passes that have been thrown his way (including 1 interception), and not allowing a touchdown so far this season, Taylor has a below-average coverage grade. This doesn't matter though. Even if Taylor had a 99.9 coverage grade from PFF, I would still believe the Sun God could burn his way to yet another great game on his return to California.
At free safety, Alohi Gilman has been the better of the two starters, which hurts my garnet-and-gold heart. He has allowed a 62% completion rate but hasn't allowed a touchdown so far this season while also breaking up 2 passes. At strong safety, Derwin James Jr. has conceded six penalties so far this season, along with allowing an 80% catch rate in coverage. He has pulled in an interception though, so it's not all bad. While they try to limit explosive passes, as is the design of their defence, they fail at this as they allow the 5th most yards per completion in the league, and since our offence is designed specifically to beat the kinds of coverages that are the Charger's bread-and-butter, this could be ugly for their secondary.
Overall, while the Gibbs breakout might slow slightly due to the return of Monty and the strengths of this defence against outside runs, we should have joy running between the tackles and through the air. So long as our tackles can limit the impact Bosa, Mack and TT can have on the game, we should be able to move the ball against their Chargers defence.
Dicker is a really good kicker, having only missed one kick so far this season which was from beyond 50 yards. Less than 10% of his kickoffs are returned by the opposing team, with these kicks averaging 4.15 seconds of hangtime.
JK Scott is a passable punter, with his kicks averaging 4.7 seconds of hangtime for 43.5 gross yardage. However, nearly 30% of his punts are returned, suggesting some weakness in his coverage team that we could exploit.
Davis is their returner, and while he has been really good at taking punts, he has been average at best returning kicks. Davis' numbers against punts might have been skewed by his 87-yard return to the endzone, however, especially as he has also muffed two punts. Fipp could be licking his lips at the possibility of forcing a turnover.
Keys to Victory:
Stop the run- Yes, the Chargers aren't great at running the ball. But I see this game like how I saw the Raiders game, albeit with a better quarterback under centre for the opposition. They will try to establish the run. Don't let them; force them into long third downs and get after Herbie.
Get pressure from the interior- Alim has a great matchup against Clapp. Him exploiting this to force Herbert on the move and potentially into the rush lanes of Hutch and co. could lead to good things. Getting through the middle to flush Herbert out of the pocket could do us wonders.
Play the matchup game- Their corners have different skill sets and play a lot of zone while not travelling. Use this game plan against them by putting receivers on them who they don't match up well against. This could lead to a lot of big plays.
Hot Take: Sewell shuts down the Chargers' edges, continuing his streak of not allowing a sack this season.
Score Prediction: This game could easily be a shootout if circumstances go a certain way. It would make for some great viewing. But, and this might be a Brazilian butt-lift-sized but, I can see our corners shutting down the Chargers receivers better than they can shut down ours, leading to an away victory that could lead to the Lions ending the employment of another AFC West coach.
Los Angeles Chargers 24, Detroit Lions 34
How do you think the game will go? Will our Lions go cross-country to take another dub, or will the Chargers outduel us to take the win? Who do you think will be the stat leaders, and what will the final score be?
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