Here are three of the defining matchups, one in each phase, as we continue our lookahead to Sunday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Chargers.
Packers offense vs. Chargers defense
The Chargers’ best defensive player is Joey Bosa, the reigning AFC Player of the Week following a two-sack performance in last week’s win at Chicago that bumped his season total to seven. According to Pro Football Focus, he rushes 57.6 percent of the time from the defense’s left side vs. 42.4 percent from the defense’s right. He’s been far better from the left. According to Pro Football Focus, which has credited Bosa with eight sacks, he’s got seven sacks and 26 total pressures from the left. Of the 56 edge defenders who have rushed on at least 50 percent of passing plays, he ranks second in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, a formula that measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. From the right side, Bosa has one sack and 11 total pressures and ranks 30th in PFF’s PRP.
“He plays hard all the time,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said in a conference call on Wednesday. “Regardless of the stats, his effort is always consistent. Those numbers, that will come over the course of a season. But I just love the way he’s playing against the run, and then when he gets an opportunity to get after the passer, he can. He’s naturally a pass rusher, but he’s very unselfish. He’s playing a lot of techniques that most pass rushers don't desire to play. But Joey’s doing it for the sake of the team.”
That means, once again, the biggest challenge will fall upon right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga didn’t allow a sack in the first seven games until being charged for 1.5 last week at Kansas City, according to STATS. Bulaga suffered a finger injury in that game and didn’t play the final two series. Expect him to play with some sort of protective contraption on the finger. Stopping Bosa at full strength is a big challenge. Stopping Bosa with an injured finger is an even bigger challenge.
Chargers offense vs. Packers defense
The Chargers have all sorts of weapons on offense, starting with quarterback Philip Rivers, continuing with running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, and continuing with receiving threats Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry. The biggest challenge, however, belongs to Mike Pettine.
Lynn fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt this week. It was a logical decision. For all that offensive firepower, Los Angeles enters this week ranked just 23rd with 19.6 points per game.
“I’d like to see a little more energy, a little more juice,” Lynn said. “I’d like our offense to flow and just get into a rhythm. I just feel like we needed to make a change to make that happen right now.”
Lynn said he “will assist” quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen in calling plays. It will be difficult for Steichen to change too many things in the span of a week but he’s certain to put his own stamp on things. Thus, when Pettine is watching the film this week, how many of the Chargers’ season-long tendencies will show up on Sunday?
The kicking game
While Green Bay continues its hunt for a returner, the Chargers have one of the best in the NFL with Desmond King. King was a second-team All-Pro returner last year, when he averaged 13.8 yards per punt return with one touchdown. This season, he’s averaged 8.4 yards with one touchdown. King also is averaging 22.4 yards per kickoff return with a long of 44.
The Packers’ punt unit, which started strong, has stumbled a bit. While JK Scott still ranks fifth in the league with a net average of 43.2 yards, his net was 39.7 vs. Oakland and a woeful 29.3 vs. Kansas City. The Packers had given up one punt return of 15-plus in yards in the first six games but three the past two.