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NFL West Preview: Can the Chargers Take the Next Step?

Los Angeles needs to get past Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to compete for a title

Posted on August 29, 2023


  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

To put the current status of the Chargers into perspective, allow me to borrow a pair of analogies from another sport…

• Michael Jordan and his Bulls had to find a way past the Pistons in their own division before they could take an NBA crown.

• Reggie Miller and his Pacers never quite could get past the Bulls in the Central.

Los Angeles needs to get past Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to compete for a title. Which analogy holds the key to their future?

The Chargers have established themselves as a solid team with high expectations that continue to grow each season.

The question is: When they will take the next step?


2022 in Review
In 2022 the AFC West was hyped as one of the best divisions, top-to-bottom, the NFL may have ever seen.

Moore

Well, things did not quite pan out as expected for all of them, but the Chargers made the playoffs.

But once again, things ended in disappointment for this team.

L.A. was outscored 24-3 after halftime in a 31-30 loss at Jacksonville in the playoff opener, a contest that saw the Chargers race to a 27-0 lead.

The biggest change this offseason was who would be calling the plays for their high-powered offense. Kellen Moore was brought in to be the offensive coordinator.


Offense
Justin Herbert, christened with a new contract, will have some more tools at his disposal in 2023.

The former Oregon signal-caller has established himself as one of the best players in the league, and not just at QB.

And drafting a WR in the First Round is always a good way to keep your star happy.

Quentin Johnson used his electric final season at TCU to become L.A.’s First-Round selection. The rookie will team up with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to form a really solid WR group.

Depth at the receiver spot could be a slight issue, however.

Derius Davis was added with a Fourth-Round pick to hopefully address that a bit. Gerald Everett gives Herbert another solid option at TE.

So Herbert will once again have plenty of targets to get the ball to.

Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen | Los Angeles Chargers

Over the first three seasons of his career, he has put up some of the best numbers the NFL has seen in that time span.

That includes 14,089 yards with 94 touchdowns in his opening 64 games. But a little more balance from the offense could help him even more.

Austin Ekeler gives the Chargers another star in the backfield. His big strength throughout his career has been his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

In 2022 he ran for a career-high 915 yards on the ground, but LA still ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing offense.

This is the big offensive challenge that Kellen Moore has been tasked with solving. In his prior OC stop in Dallas, he was in charge of a Cowboys offense that was a Top 10 rushing team in the last two seasons.

The line play will have to get better in the run game than it was, but the concepts and schemes Moore used in Dallas worked.

If he can get that ground production again, the Chargers could find themselves on the verge of taking the next step.


Defense
On the defensive side of the ball, the roster remains mostly unchanged. Again, the biggest move may be among the staff with Derrick Ansley taking over as the defensive coordinator.

L.A. addressed depth on the defensive side of things in the draft as well. Edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu was taken in the Second Round while playmaking LB Daiyan Henley was their Fourth-Round pick.

Those two will join a group of pass rushers and LBs that is already loaded with stars in Khalil Mack, Eric Kendricks, and Joey Bosa.

The Chargers are building a defense that can get them to the next level. Ansley had been in charge of the DBs prior to his elevation to DC.

Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

And even will all that talent in the middle of the field on defense it might be the back end that is truly the strongest. Asante Samuel and Derwin James are two of the best.

Samuel has collected four interceptions in his first two seasons and could be ready to fully break out in 2023. The Chargers secondary could be dominant.

With the pressure generated upfront, this could be a unit that creates a lot of takeaways this season.


2023 Outlook
Another playoff appearance certainly seems to be in the mix for this team.

Winning the division and securing a home game in the opening round of the playoffs will still be a challenge and is the next step in this build.

The trenches on both sides of the ball could be key.

Is this the season that the jump is made? I think the team they are chasing still might be too good to supplant them in the division race.

But until they make it happen, or time runs out, the question prompts another analogy.

Will this group ever get there and be Jordan-Pippen-like or will they be remembered as Rik Smits and Reggie Miller?




—More from Stephen Vilardo—