The Los Angeles Chargers finished 5-11 last season, which warranted the changing of the guard at quarterback. Gone is franchise stalwart Philip Rivers while the new blood has arrived in Tinseltown.
The running game looks rather bleak behind featured back Austin Ekeler, who is more of a pass catcher than a traditional or complete back.
That said, the Chargers appear to be a far cry from their 7.5 over-under win projection making the under a great choice at the best NFL betting sites. Starting with the new quarterbacks and ending with the turnover battle, the team lacks traits of a winning group.
Below are 4 factors that will prevent the Chargers from reaching their over-under in 2020 explained further.
1. New Quarterbacks
One reason is because the incumbent starter is always looking over his shoulder at the most popular man in town and fan favorite, the backup quarterback.
They realize they are a mistake or two away from the crowd chanting the backup’s name, and it’s a matter of time before they commit enough errors during the game that the coach yanks them for the fan’s choice.
The good news rests in the fact one competitor for the starting job in Los Angeles is a rookie in Justin Herbert.
Another positive here remains that both Tyrod Taylor and Herbert possess mobility and unique skill-sets.
Something Philip Rivers lacked, and it wore out his welcome perhaps a year or so too late.
So, here comes the quarterback quagmire and while if done right this will help the Chargers given the duo’s skills and outstanding surrounding talent, it can also hurt them in the mental game.
Something Taylor is used to after he lasted just 10 quarters as the incumbent starter in Cleveland back in 2018 before Baker Mayfield took over and played a stellar rookie season. Taylor knows what’s coming if he botches his second opportunity to start over a rookie in 3 seasons.
Meanwhile, Herbert, if called upon, will get his first game action when they count. Not a good formula for a rookie who is still an unfinished project. His crash course could start in Week 1, or it could start after the team’s bye in Week 11 when they head to the Mile-High City to play the Denver Broncos.
But, you can’t help but wonder if 2020 will become a quarterback carousel where coaches yank the incumbent and insert the backup. Then, after a few games, the new incumbent gets pulled and the former starter comes in to save the day and the cycle repeats itself.
Often, this mentality doesn’t just hurt a team’s ability to win; it divides locker rooms with one side pulling for the new talent and another hoping to play with the experienced vet.
2. Rush Hour Drop Off
While he’s a draft bust in the eyes of many, losing running back Melvin Gordon hurt because he was a fantastic short yardage and goal line back. He also ran well between the tackles. And while he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2019, no one on the depth chart can replace him as a featured back.
Austin Ekeler opens the season as the starter.
But unless he proves he can carry a full workload, he looks like an exclusive pass-catching specialist out of the backfield.
The backs behind him are Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley, who have a combined 7 games of NFL experience.
Some teams and some quarterbacks can go one-dimensional and succeed in today’s pass happy league.
They are talented players who can manage the game and, given the surrounding talent, will overachieve in this offense in 2020 despite looming struggles. But quarterbacks like Taylor and Herbert need a running game to keep the pressure off of them.
Neither quarterback is equipped to carry the team in 2020.
Jackson and Kelley both look serviceable, as Jackson averaged a solid 6.8 yards per carry in 2019 on just 29 attempts. If Ekeler proves to be more of the pass catcher that he is, can Jackson become consistent in helping the ground game?
Then there’s Kelley, who gained 2,000 rushing yards in 2 seasons at UCLA. He has the size you look for in a featured back and can at least spell Ekeler as a rookie here in 2020.
To maximize Taylor’s and Herbert’s game, the running backs must step up. And for 2020, it is asking a lot considering the lack of off-season workouts and preseason games.
3. Oh, the Turnovers
The Chargers were abysmal in 2 areas in 2019: Ball security and takeaways. One reason they finished 5-11 had nothing to do with hard luck or the ball not rolling their way. It had everything to do with finishing minus 17 in turnovers, which tied for 31st in the league.
As mentioned earlier, the running game must step up to keep Taylor and Herbert from turning the ball over as often as Philip Rivers did in 2019. They can avoid the sack better than the sack prone Rivers.
But if they don’t have help in the running game. If they can’t manage the game and play solid ball control, look for a repeat of last season.
If not, expect a one-dimensional offense that may translate into forced throws from Taylor and Herbert. Even if the former is good at taking care of the ball.
But you can’t just blame the ball security issues on the offense as the defense scored just 11 picks in 2019, which tied for 22nd in the NFL. Much of this had to do with the team lacking solid starters in the defensive backfield.
Safety Derwin James missed 11 games because of a hamstring injury. The third-year player had an All-Pro rookie season before injuries hit him hard in 2019. James must return to full force without the benefit of the preseason.
They also signed Chris Harris, one of the better corners in football from their rival, the Denver Broncos.
Harris will lock down one position at the corner.
The Chargers also have a two-time Pro Bowler in Casey Hayward starting at the opposite end.
It gives the Chargers a star-studded defensive backfield. There is zero excuse for the team not to create turnovers in 2020. Even without Harris and James, their pass defense ranked fifth in 2019. But they provided zero help in handing the ball back to the offense and creating chances to score.
As a result, the Chargers had a tough time putting enough points up to win and opposing offenses put up just enough points to win. The Chargers averaged 21.1 points per game as opposed to allowing 21.6 per game.
The pass rush must force opposing quarterbacks to throw before they’re ready, and the front seven needs to force some fumbles. If you’re betting on the Chargers to clinch the over, pray they create more turnovers and turn the ball over less.
If you see a repeat of last year and it can happen given the lack of running game combined with new quarterbacks, you will see a repeat in the win-loss column.
4. Divisional Shutout
The Chargers proved in 2019 they have a tough time winning in the division. Worse yet, they lost 5 of their 6 divisional games by a touchdown or less and they lost their season finale to the Chiefs by 10 points. Winning just 3 of these games would put the team at 8-8.
But with new quarterbacks in place, the Chargers will find it tough to beat the Chiefs or even come close to them. In fact, you can tally 2 losses to their division rival, barring something unforeseen.
The Raiders and Broncos are toss ups and the Broncos games look favorable.
However, the Raiders boast an offense more powerful than their 2019 points per game average. And it figures to strengthen in 2020 if they can figure out their red zone woes. While the Chargers still look good on defense, the question remains if they can contribute to the turnover battle.
If they cannot, expect the Raiders to win 2 nail biters. Especially now since they have a decent trio of receivers to pair with a dangerous tight end in Darren Waller. And you can’t forget about the fierce offensive line and emerging running back in Josh Jacobs.
As for the Broncos, they are young all over the field on offense and they too possess a stellar defense. A defense that grew stronger now that they signed A. J. Bouye, traded for Jurrell Casey, and now have a returning Bradley Chubb to add to their arsenal.
That’s a tough defense and with new quarterbacks in Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert, will create problems if the duo cannot develop.
Look for the team to progress in this category, but not so much that it will lift them over the 7.5 over-under in 2020.
The Chargers can charge through their 7.5 over-under in 2020, but they must create turnovers and possess greater ball security. Something they failed at in 2019.
The divisional record is abysmal, even if all 6 division games came within 10 points, 5 of which within a single possession.
Justin Herbert and Tyrod Taylor aren’t the quarterbacks you want to become one-dimensional players. Taylor is a game manager, and expect the same role from Herbert in 2020 as he adjusts to the game’s speed.
What are your thoughts?