The Chargers finally came through with big plays in the fourth quarter to earn their first win, 28-24, over the Minnesota Vikings. The Rams struggled on offense in a 19-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, and NFL columnist Sam Farmer what happened and upcoming prospects:
With Mike Williams out of the lineup, how do you think the Chargers might adjust the receiving corps?
Klein: The biggest adjustment: Give Keenan Allen even more touches. Yes, that will be a physical challenge for the 31-year-old Allen after he was targeted 20 times and had 18 catches. And passed for a touchdown! Put the ball in that guy’s hands.
Farmer: Yup, just like we saw Sunday, the Chargers are going to go to Keenan Allen early and often, and it’s clear that he’s up to the job. With Williams out, Justin Herbert repeatedly turned to Allen, who can turn 50/50 balls into 90/10 balls. Joshua Palmer is another sure-handed option. The Chargers have played without Williams before, and Herbert is plenty skilled when it comes to distributing to his weapons.
Miller: The Chargers used the 21st pick in the draft in April on wide receiver Quentin Johnston. This would be an ideal time for the rookie to emerge. Unfortunately for the team and Johnston, he has struggled to earn the necessary trust from Justin Herbert and the coaching staff. He played only 16 offensive snaps Sunday, catching two passes for 10 yards. With Williams out, though, more opportunities figure to come Johnston’s way.
Recall back in the day Don Shula being asked — “Don’t you think you should run more?” — when he had Dan Marino at quarterback. His answer was something like: “I know the opposition would rather us run.” Is that the case for the Chargers because they have Justin Herbert at quarterback? Why run when you have that arm on your side?
Miller: Trust me, the Chargers want to run the ball. Don’t forget that they rushed for 233 yards against Miami in their opener. And Herbert throwing 47 times — even when he completes 40 of them —- is not a recipe for sustained NFL success. Then again, neither is gaining 19 yards in 13 carries, which is what the Chargers’ running backs just did at Minnesota. This team’s inability to consistently run has been an issue for going on five years now. Austin Ekeler’s return from an ankle injury will help, but this feels like something that will continue to be a problem.
Klein: The Chargers need to have a facsimile of a rushing attack when Austin Ekeler is out of the lineup. Maybe they should have traded for Cam Akers? Of course, they could also give the ball to Keenan Allen on fly sweeps and reverses.
Farmer: While it’s true that the offense runs through Herbert’s right arm, it would help keep the defense honest and set up the play-action passing game by establishing a ground attack. Teams need that balance.
Before you saw the result, did you agree with Brandon Staley’s decision to go for it on fourth down late in the game, considering a first down would have sealed a Chargers victory?
Miller: I’m guessing every analytics model had that decision Sunday as a no-brainer “go for it.” So I have no issues with the decision. I’m not a fan of the play call, the Chargers again trying to run and taking the ball out of Herbert’s hands. The play was a twist on something they did in a similar situation in Week 2 against Tennessee but, even still, the Vikings were not even close to fooled. Everyone talks about Kellen Moore’s creativity. Let’s see more of it, especially on the next fourth and Staley.
Klein: Going for it on fourth down when you’re that deep in your own territory — against an opponent that features star receiver Justin Jefferson — does not seem like a wise decision.
Farmer: I understand the rationale that it was only a half-yard, and the Chargers could secure the win with a first down … I don’t agree with that decision. I think you’ve got to trust your defense, one that played much better Sunday, especially because the Vikings were out of timeouts. Make the Vikings, who were trailing by four, go the length of the field, or close to it.
After a wild three weeks to open the season for the Chargers, what issues do you think the Raiders present at SoFi Stadium next week?
Miller: The main issue has a name and it’s Davante Adams. The Chargers are just not a good defense against the pass right now. Way too much open space in this secondary. Since joining the Raiders, Adams has 18 receptions for 318 yards in two games against the Chargers. I fully expect him to produce a 10-for-150 type of performance on Sunday.
Klein: The Chargers’ other main concern is keeping Justin Herbert upright and physically sound. He was sacked only once against the Vikings. So the overriding issue will be to continue that trend and prevent Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby from zeroing in on Herbert.
Farmer: The NFL is so unpredictable lately that no team can rest easy. The Raiders have beaten the Chargers in five of their last eight meetings. What’s more, this isn’t likely to feel like a true home game for the Chargers. The Raiders have a robust fan base in Los Angeles, and the Chargers likely will have to go with a silent count at home. Raider Nation will show up in force.
Were you surprised that the Monday night game between the Rams and Bengals was a defensive struggle for most of the way?
Klein: No surprise to me. The Rams are still without Cooper Kupp and have not exactly been a juggernaut on offense. The Bengals were desperate for a victory, their defensive front plays very aggressive and quarterback Joe Burrow was limited because of his calf injury.
Farmer: I wasn’t so surprised about the Rams’ defense, which has played well this season. The Rams blew multiple opportunities to gather momentum, and it didn’t help to have that Tutu Atwell touchdown taken away. No doubt the league’s officiating department will get an earful about that call. It was surprising the see the Cincinnati defense step up like that. The Bengals, who had a combined three sacks in the first two games, dragged down Matthew Stafford six times. And the Rams were horrendous on third down.
Before the season, many predicted the Rams’ defense might be one of the worst in the NFL. That has not been the case. What has worked better than expected?
Klein: The secondary has played better than expected. Remember, before training camp Pro Football Focus ranked it the worst in the league. Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase had a big night but there have not been any consistent breakdowns that have resulted in long touchdown plays. The Rams still need more pressure on quarterbacks.
Farmer: Really, predictions haven’t meant much this year. It’s so hard to forecast how good a team or unit might be based on the preseason, when starters don’t even see the field. What’s more, three games is too small a sample size to truly determine how good a defense is. But Aaron Donald is disruptive enough to cause any opponents to change what they do, even when he doesn’t put up big numbers in a game.
The Rams offensive line seemed promising the first two weeks, but allowed six sacks to the Bengals and had a couple of injuries. Did the Bengals expose L.A.’s line or are they that good?
Farmer: Oh, the line was exposed, no question. Those injuries are hugely impactful. Stafford was under pressure all night, and he doesn’t have the receiving corps to toss up a bunch of 50/50 balls. This offensive line was in a constant state of churn last season, and it looks as if the Rams might be headed that way again. Little depth, and lots of banged-up players.
Klein: It’s still difficult to make a definitive assessment. We’re only three games in and this was the first time the Rams could not hold off the pass rush. The line gave up only one sack in the first two games. That’s pretty impressive. Against the Bengals, the Rams lost left tackle Alaric Jackson and right guard Joe Noteboom. So the result was not a surprise.
The Rams now hit the road to play the Indianapolis Colts, a second consecutive trip East. What would the Rams scouting report look like for that matchup?
Klein: Pretty solid defense. Pretty solid special teams. The Rams offense struggling to run the ball effectively and protect Stafford with an injured offensive line will be factors.
Farmer: Gardner Minshew is nothing special at quarterback for the Colts, but at this point, the offense runs a little smoother with him at the helm instead of rookie Anthony Richardson. Receiver Michael Pittman is dangerous, as is running back Zack Moss, who is coming off a strong game against Baltimore as a runner and receiver. The Colts have won two in a row on the road and are coming home with some confidence. The Rams have lost two in a row, and their offensive line is already a patchwork problem. That’s not good news for them.