The 2019 NFL season is just weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Los Angeles Chargers, who finished 12-4 and second in the AFC West last year.
The offense hums along. Even though its lineup is not without concerns. Veteran left tackle Russell Okung could miss significant time early on after a pulmonary embolism June 1. Guards Dan Feeney and Michael Schofield are vulnerable when forced to move laterally. And at receiver, the top of the pecking order is strong with first-class star Keenan Allen, budding star Mike Williams and multi-tooled tight end Hunter Henry, but there is almost no proven depth behind them. However, as long as Philip Rivers is at the helm, L.A. is dangerous. The 37-year-old doesn’t have the playoff wins of revered veterans like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, but he is very much in their class. Rivers controls games at the line of scrimmage, and he throws with tremendous accuracy and anticipation. He has mastered an offense that features perhaps football’s strongest array of intertwined route releases.
Melvin Gordon is not missed. The fifth-year tailback is good but replaceable. The Chargers have a well-constructed ground game built largely (but not exclusively) on the man-to-man blocking designs that head coach Anthony Lynn knows inside and out, plus they generate receiving yards from the backfield because Rivers so deftly understands when to quickly check down.
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram go off. Aside from Denver’s Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, they comprise the NFL’s best defensive end tandem. Bosa’s unique blend of quickness and strength is amplified by clever mechanics. Ingram is uncannily twitchy moving in any direction. Either man can slide inside, allowing the Chargers to align them side by side, where they’re explosive on stunts and twists. With the development of last year’s Day 2 picks, second-round edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu and third-round defensive tackle Justin Jones, plus this year’s first-rounder, erratic-but-talented Golden Domer Jerry Tillery, the Chargers have a strong enough supporting cast to get their crucial four-man rush past the inconsistencies that have hindered this D the past few winters.
Gus Bradley keeps rushing four. The defensive coordinator began to venture outside his hallmark Cover 3 zone scheme last season, incorporating more tactical variety on third down. But he still blitzed less than any defensive play-caller, and that reliance on a traditional four-man rush remains after All-Pro safety Derwin James’s foot injury leaves the Chargers with no stud to build blitzes around.
BOTTOM LINE: There are enough improvements on defense to offset the mild concerns on offense, putting the Chargers at the front of the AFC’s second wave of contenders.
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