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5 Questions with Bolts From The Blue: Will Justin Herbert be limited?

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By: Ryan O’Bleness

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

LA Chargers quarterback was injured last week against the Chiefs.

The Jacksonville Jaguars travel out west to take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. The game is scheduled for a 4:05 p.m. Eastern Time kickoff and will be broadcast on CBS in certain markets.

The West Coast has not been kind to the Jaguars, historically. Jacksonville is 0-5 all-time against the Chargers in San Diego/Los Angeles, and just 3-15 out west overall. The Chargers are 9-3 all-time against the Jaguars.

To get more information on what the Chargers look like in 2022 thus far, we reached out to Michael Peterson, website producer for Bolts From the Blue — SB Nation’s high-quality Los Angeles Chargers community.

Is quarterback Justin Herbert in danger of missing Sunday’s game against the Jaguars? Why has running back Austin Ekeler struggled in terms of production so far? How do you Chargers fans view head coach Brandon Staley? Michael fills us in on these topics and more.

1. How has quarterback Justin Herbert looked so far this season? Do you expect Herbert’s rib cartilage injury to keep him out against the Jaguars? Or if he does play, do you expect him to be slowed down at all?

Michael: Justin Herbert has looked just fine through two games. He is still making highlight-reel plays with his arm and consistently finding his playmakers to march methodically down the field. Unfortunately, the offense hasn’t been able to go deep all that often through two weeks, so Herbert’s average depth of target is a bit underwhelming thus far.

As it stands, I do not believe the injury will keep Herbert from playing against the Jaguars. The team got good news when it was confirmed to be a rib cartilage fracture as opposed to an actual rib. The “day-to-day” status is so much better than it could have been, so the fan base is feeling positive about his prognosis. Should he play against the Jaguars, I don’t think the injury will affect him all that much. If it were all that bothersome, the coaching staff likely wouldn’t put him out there in the first place. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi call a game that minimizes the opportunity for Herbert to end up in harm’s way. I’d expect some quick-hitting throws and designed sprint outs to be sprinkled into the game plan.

2. Running back Austin Ekeler has not been especially productive so far this season, especially in the running game (averaging 2.7 yards per carry). Do you attribute his struggles to Ekeler himself, the offensive line, game plan or something else?

Michael: Ekeler is understandably frustrated with both his lack of production and touches in the red zone. He has 28 total carries through two weeks, but just 75 yards to his name. Zero touchdowns will also add a little more salt to the wound, especially after he scored a whopping 20 a year ago.

I can’t attribute much of the blame to Ekeler. The run blocking hasn’t been stellar and injuries to both Corey Linsley and Trey Pipkins against the Chiefs really did a number on the offense’s chance to gain yards on the ground. But even against a middling Raiders interior defense, the Chargers still couldn’t find a ton of room. However, backup Joshua Kelley has been quite efficient with his limited snaps as he’s gained 43 yards on eight carries, good for 5.4 yards per tote. While that makes it seem like Kelley needs more touches — which he may very well deserve — Ekeler is just too versatile and dynamic to keep him off the field.

The biggest problem I have with the offense is when they sub Kelley or Sony Michel in once they reach the red zone. Yes, Ekeler may not be the biggest back to bag it in within the 10-yard-line, but he had no problem scoring last season in the same situation, so I don’t understand the sudden need for a heavy rotation. At least with Ekeler, you get to threaten the ground or the air on any given play.

3. Outside of the usual suspects such as Derwin James, Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, who are the players on the Chargers’ defensive unit to watch out for on Sunday?

Michael: Second-year cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. has been stellar to begin his sophomore season. He has one interception and should’ve had at least one more if he held on to one of his two near-interceptions against the Chiefs. Samuel has truly got that dog in him and he’s been completely fearless through the first two games of 2022. He’ll shadow your best receiver, regardless if that’s Davante Adams or anybody else.

Another player is backup defensive tackle Morgan Fox. The former Ram has been impactful as a rotational piece up front that has given the Chargers a real pass-rush threat up the middle, which is something they haven’t had in some time.

4. What are reasonable expectations for the Chargers in 2022? Can this team win the AFC West or get a Wild Card spot in the playoffs? If so, how far would you expect Los Angeles to go in the playoffs?

Michael: I think it’s reasonable to expect the Chargers to not only make the playoffs this year, but to also win a playoff game. They were incredibly close to being a playoff team a year ago and after all the improvements they’ve made over the offseason, making the postseason is about the lowest the bar can be for this club. The ceiling is most certainly a trip to the AFC Championship Game.

When it comes to playoff seeding, I see this team being a No. 5 seed with the Chiefs winning the division. The AFC West will remain the Chiefs’ division until another team finally takes it from them.

5. How do Chargers fans generally feel about head coach Brandon Staley and his coaching staff? Is this the right staff to lead the Chargers to success?

Michael: Fans have been in love with Brandon Staley since the day he was hired. He’s been everything this franchise needed in terms of taking a step in the present and washing away any lingering effects of the old guard. As for the coordinators, defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill isn’t talked about much since it’s Staley truly calling the defense. He’s been just fine.

As for offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, I believe the fan base is rather split on him. While the offense seems to be moving the ball well through these first two weeks, the Chargers are doing it methodically with short passes and an inconsistent ground game. On the surface, it simply does not look like the offense you’d expect to see when Herbert is your quarterback. Unfortunately, the Chargers’ top pass catchers in Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are not speed guys. If they want to throw it deep, the offensive line has to hold up. That just didn’t happen much against both the Raiders and the Chiefs.

Overall I believe in this coaching staff, but Lombardi leaves too much on the bone at times when calling games and I feel like that can’t happen as often as it’s come up through these first two games if the Chargers want to go as far as this team should in year two under Staley.

Bonus: The Jaguars have historically struggled on the West Coast. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Chargers (-7) are currently favored by a touchdown (and extra point), and the game has an over/under of 47. What is your final score prediction, will the Chargers cover and are you taking the over or the under?

Michael: My final score prediction for this one is 27-16 Chargers. If the Bolts play to their standard, they should win this comfortably, especially if their offensive line is healthy and Keenan Allen returns to the field. That means they’ll cover and I’m going with the under in this game.

A big thank you to Michael for his thoughtful and insightful responses. For more on the Chargers, be sure to follow Michael and Bolts From The Blue on Twitter.

Originally posted on Big Cat Country – All Posts