Eyeing Up the Enemy: Los Angeles Chargers
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees began his NFL career as a 2nd round draft choice (32nd overall) out of Purdue by the San Diego Chargers in 1999. After five seasons and a 30-28 record with the Chargers, Brees was allowed to hit the free-agent market. He would eventually sign with New Orleans in 2006, where he would forge a record-breaking Hall of Fame career over the last fourteen years. The Chargers franchise has relocated to Los Angeles, where they enter their fourth season and first in a new stadium. New Orleans will take on Brees' former franchise at home in a Monday Night matchup to cap off Week Five of the 2020 NFL season before heading into a bye week.
The Saints and Chargers will meet for the thirteenth time with L.A./San Diego holding a 7-5 edge in the series and a 4-1 record in New Orleans, site of this showdown. The Saints have won the last three games between the two, however, all with Brees behind center. That includes a 35-34 road victory by the Saints the last time these teams met, on 10/2/16 during the Chargers last year in San Diego.
Los Angeles underwent a complete makeover this offseason, parting ways with several of their longtime stars. Fourth-year HC Anthony Lynn leads a squad that finished last in the AFC West and now has new starters at quarterback, running back, and several other positions. The Chargers did re-sign RB Austin Ekeler, TE Hunter Henry, and LB Denzel Perryman this offseason provided an experienced boost of talent to their rebuilding effort. Los Angeles will still have a much different look than in years past, and today we have a look at how the Saints shape up against their Week Five opponent.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
2019 Record: 5-11 (4th; AFC West)
Head Coach: Anthony Lynn (4th season; 26-22 record)
2019 Offensive Statistics
21.1 points/game (21st in the NFL)
- Total Yards = 10th
- Passing Yards = 6th
- Rushing Yards = 28th
2019 Defensive Statistics
- 21.6 points/game (14th)
- Total Yards = 6th
- Passing Yards = 5th
- Rushing Yards = 18th
Offseason Losses: Philip Rivers (QB), Melvin Gordon (RB), Derek Watt (FB), Travis Benjamin (WR), Russell Okung (T), Michael Schofield (G), Brandon Mebane (DT), Thomas Davis (LB), Adrian Phillips (S)
Offseason Additions: Bryan Bulaga (T), Trai Turner (G), Linval Joseph (DT), Nick Vigil (LB), Chris Harris Jr. (CB), Justin Herbert (QB-Rookie), Kenneth Murray (LB-Rookie), Joshua Kelley (RB-Rookie)
Gone is 14-Yr starter Philip Rivers, who San Diego chose over Brees in 2005. In as the new face of the franchise is 6th overall selection, Justin Herbert, out of Oregon. Veteran signal-caller Tyrod Taylor may start the year while Herbert learns the offense but expect the rookie to take over the role sooner rather than later. Herbert will have some talented offensive weapons around him. Three-time Pro Bowl WR Keenan Allen is one of the better receivers and route runners in the game. Fellow 1,000-Yd WR Mike Williams provides a prominent and athletic target, while fifth-year TE Hunter Henry is one of the league's most underrated players when he can stay healthy.
Losing the talented Gordon in free agency is a blow, but Austin Ekeler has been a valuable and versatile weapon in his three years. The Chargers have an offensive line that allowed 34 sacks and several QB knockdowns last year hopes for improvement from the offseason additions of Bulaga and Turner. The Chargers were able to roll up yardage proficiently but need more consistent balance from their running attack and must better convert their red zone opportunities into points while cutting back on the crippling turnovers that were the fourth most in the league last season.
Statistically, the Los Angeles defense looked solid in 2019 but could not come up with big plays in crucial moments. The Chargers forced just 14 turnovers, the lowest total in the league, and only three teams performed worse than their 45.1% in third-down percentage. Los Angeles has a lethal tandem of edge rushers with Joey Bosa (11.5 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (7 sacks), but the rest of the defense was only able to generate 11.5 sacks outside of them.
Perryman is a solid ILB and will be joined at the position by the 23rd overall draft selection Murray, who will be expected to upgrade the team's run defense immensely. Veteran CB Harris teams with the talented Casey Heyward in hopes of generating more turnovers and solidifying coverage against top receivers in the secondary. S Derwin James returns from a foot injury that forced him to miss all but five games last year to give the Chargers an All-Pro playmaker on the back end.
QB Drew Brees is undefeated against his former team, and the Saints have averaged over 34 points in those three matchups with Brees averaging over 300 yards passing while throwing 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. New Orleans WRs Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will face stiff challenges against Harris and Heyward.
Saints TE Jared Cook and RB Alvin Kamara could enjoy an advantage over an L.A. pass defense that struggled to defend those positions last year. Ingram and Bosa are disruptive along the edge, but Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are the best pair of offensive tackles in the league and have shut down some of the NFL's best pass rushers over the last three years.
Saints CBs Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins will have a marquee battle against L.A. WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Their ability to contain the receivers will allow the defense to design different coverage packages to control the receiving skills of TE Hunter Henry and RB Austin Ekeler. The New Orleans defense must establish control of the line of scrimmage against a questionable Chargers offensive line to eliminate the threat of a running game and pressure Herbert or Taylor to disrupt the offensive flow. Ends Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport, along with a deep rotation of defensive tackles, will be a challenge for the remade Los Angeles line and will be the key to success on that side of the ball.
This contest will be just the second time that Brees will face his former team under the lights of the Superdome and perhaps the last time for the 41-Yr old legend. Brees has always downplayed any extra meaning behind playing the team that gave up on him fifteen years ago. However, his teammates have acknowledged the extra intensity on how he prepares for the Chargers matchups - even during past preseason games. More importantly to both Brees and his team is for them to head into the 2020 bye week with momentum by notching a win against an out of conference foe.