I sent five Qs to Jamie Sewell at Bolts from the Blue and in kind he sent me five corresponding As. Here they are:
Q: Who has been starting in place of Joey Bosa and how’ve you felt about pass rush productivity in the seven games sans Bosa? How much of an immediate impact do you expect Bosa to have and is there any thought that he’s playing while injured or is he 100%? (At the time of sending the question, Bosa was being talked about as someone who might return this week, but that’s not going to happen.)
A: Originally, the team had 2017 6th round pick Isaac Rochell and Chris Landrum, an UDFA out of Jacksonville State in 2016, playing opposite Melvin Ingram on the EDGE. They were both basically anonymous, and the pass rush was non-existent as a result. With Landrum and Rochell such non-factors, Melvin Ingram found it hard to free himself from the extra attention teams could afford to pay him.
Recently, the team moved Damion Square from DT to DE - where his size and skillset suggested he’d be better suited to - and Square has been playing really well, so far. He’s obviously no Joey Bosa, but he’s playing well both against the run and as a pass rusher, and the pass rush has started to pick up. His play definitely wouldn’t indicate a 29-year-old undrafted career backup, which Square is. He’s been with the Chargers since 2014 and has improved every year, and it’s nice to see him make the most of his extended playing time this year.
This year’s 2nd round pick, Uchenna Nwosu, has also seen some action as a pass rusher with mixed success. Does that mean the pass rush has been particularly good? No - the Chargers still rank just 22nd in terms of sacks - but it’s a marked improvement from the first few games and they’ll hopefully find some more success come Sunday.
I expect a big improvement when Bosa returns, because... well, he’s pretty good! I don’t expect him back before Week 15 or 16, though. The Chargers originally said in August that Bosa would be ready to play tomorrow if there was a regular season game. That changed into maybe missing a couple weeks, and then to expect him back for this game, but that’s changed once again into him ‘being nowhere near ready to return.’ The Chargers have a terrible track record with injuries, and are pretty awful at actually being accurate with their timelines. Just today, they placed rookie Kyzir White (a starting LB) on IR despite not once giving an indication that his injury was anything even moderately serious. Sigh...
Q: The Chargers employ the first draft pick ever made by Pete Carroll and John Schneider with the Seahawks: left tackle Russell Okung. How’s he been for LA this season? And overall, how’s the pass protection been on Philip Rivers? I see only nine sacks, but is there any additional pressure or is Rivers just too quick with the throws to get to most of the time anyway?
A: A Pro Bowler last year, Okung’s played pretty well this year, but he hasn’t quite hit the same standards that he set last year, or that his contract would perhaps suggest. He really struggled against Jerry Hughes for the Bills in Week 2, who just seems to be one of those weird pass rushers who rarely puts together a complete game, but is a real handful when he does. He got hit by a groin injury in Week 4 against the 49ers and came back in Week 6, and has looked comfortable since he’s been back.
To give you an idea of the Chargers OL, I’ll split the starting 5 into tiers:
Great/Bordering on Elite: C Mike Pouncey. Pouncey was cut by the Dolphins this offseason and joined the Chargers, who really need to send the Dolphins a nice fruit basket for that decision. Pouncey is good in pass coverage but excels as a run blocker, due to his frankly absurd athleticism. He’s superb out in space, and he’s definitely the most fun center to watch that I’ve ever seen.
Then there comes a big gap, and you have Okung at LT and Michael Schofield at RG:
Schofield was meant to be a depth G/T piece, but Forrest Lamp seems to have disappeared into the abyss and is yet to play any meaningful action, so Schofield’s kept the RG spot, and he’s deserved to. He’s not been spectacular, but he’s a solid, reliable veteran.
Then there’s another gap, and RT Sam Tevi. Joe Barksdale (the ex-Ram) was the Week 1 starter but went down in that game, and while he made his return in Week 7 against the Titans in London, Tevi held onto his starting spot. Tevi is a great run blocker but raw in pass protection, being a 6th round pick in 2017. He’s visibly improving game by game though, so it’d be unfair to group him with Dan Feeney, in a tier all on his own at LG.
The Chargers had high hopes for Feeney when they took him in the 3rd round in 2017, but it hasn’t panned out thus far. Feeney has improved after a rough start to the year, but PFF have him as the #75 OG in the league, which probably isn’t too far wrong.
As a whole. the line is just about okay in pass protection. It’s far from the toughest test the Seahawks pass rush will face this year, but Philip Rivers is an absolute maestro at getting the ball out quick. Rivers always knows where his hot read is, and he loves to dump it off to his RBs when a blitz is coming through. Behind a pretty terrible OL last year, Rivers managed to be sacked just 18 times all season - the fewest times in the entire NFL. It must be pretty frustrating as a fan of a team playing the Chargers, because numerous times a game, it looks like Rivers is about to go down, only for him to stand strong in the pocket and fire a perfectly accurate sidearm to his receiver downfield.
The real strength of the line is in the run blocking. This is the first time since a late push in 2013 (to get the Chargers into the playoffs) that the Chargers have really opened holes for their RBs on a consistent basis - and it was largely down to D.J. Fluker in 2013! It’s been great fun to watch.
Q: Who do you get more excited to see with the ball when it gets to them: Melvin Gordon or Austin Ekeler? How do the two backs differ and how would you expect them to be used on Sunday?
A: Hahahahaha, oh man, you’re going to get me killed on Twitter!
The Melvin Gordon vs Austin Ekeler debate between Chargers fans has gotten pretty heated this year, as both have been playing exceptionally. Personally, I absolutely love Austin Ekeler. He’s incredibly explosive, he makes people miss as well as running through them, and he’s excellent out the backfield, too. He deserves so many more touches than the Chargers sometimes give him. Melvin Gordon is undoubtedly having the best season of his career, and is a great RB, but here’s why a lot of the BFTB writers are considered to be Gordon ‘haters.’:
Gordon is, to an extent, a volume back - he’s given a heavy workload every week, and because he’s putting up yards and TDs, the general consensus from the media and fans (and fantasy players especially!) is that Gordon is an elite RB, and that’s not the case - at least not in my opinion. Gordon still struggles to beat people in the open field, and his vision can still let him down at times. I’m not here to bash Melvin Gordon, though. He’s proven his stripes this year in a big way. Do I think he’s a top 5 back in the league? No, but he’s definitely put himself in the conversation to be considered a top 10 RB this season.
I still want to see more Austin Ekeler, though. That might be the case this Sunday - Gordon is questionable after missing the London game vs the Titans, and while he’s almost certain to play, the Chargers might take a cautious approach and limit Gordon’s workload. If I was the Head Coach, that would be the way I’d run things, anyway. Ekeler is too good not to use, and his presence means that you can keep both RBs fresh for a potential playoff push down the line.
Did I mention I think Austin Ekeler is really good?
Q: For Seattle to win, they need to exploit some weakness on the Chargers’ defense. Do you see any glaring weaknesses when it comes to run defense or in the secondary? Any players on that side of the ball that make you nervous?
A: Well, the weakness of this Chargers team (apart from Special Teams...) is definitely the defense. Chargers fans had high hopes for a defense that was coming into the season looking like an elite unit, but it seems the absence of Bosa has hit them hard everywhere. The secondary is struggling to cover quite as well as they did last year, and it’s allowing teams to have some success going after a CB group that was amongst the best in the league last season. The run defense is pretty unspectacular, but an improvement from prior seasons. Dion Lewis gashed them on the ground in London, as poor tackling plagued the Chargers, much as it has done for what seems like eternity.
The real weakness of this Chargers defense is when the linebackers drop into coverage, in my opinion. Denzel Perryman and Kyle Emanuel in particular (the starting MIKE and SAM) are excellent against the run (or pretty good, in Emanuel’s case) but a liability against the pass. Play Action passes almost always get the LBs to bite and vacate their zones, and if I was calling the game for the Seahawks, I’d be dialing up a heavy amount of Play Action passes and really going after the Chargers in the middle of the field. With Kyzir White injured, the Chargers have begun to use S Adrian Phillips as a LB on passing downs, which is a development I am absolutely in favour of. Phillips was a pretty easy scapegoat in his first few years with the Chargers, but they continued to show faith in him, and he’s responded with a heck of a season, so far. If they don’t use him as a LB, he deserves more snaps at FS, because that’s the other real weakness on this defense.
Jahleel Addae had an excellent year at SS last year for the Chargers, but the addition of Derwin James has pushed Addae back into the deep coverage role, and he just isn’t cut out for it. He’s poor in coverage and even worse at being the last line of defense - take a look at this George Kittle touchdown, for example...
I don’t need to tell you which one Addae is. You’ll be able to work it out pretty quickly.
Q: Have you heard of Michael Dickson?
A: Dude, really? I’m a big fan of this format, but you have only five questions to find out anything you want to know about the Chargers, and you waste one of them by asking me if I’ve heard of the best punter of our generation?
In all seriousness - yes, I’ve heard of him. He made a lot of waves in preseason (for a punter, at least) with his seemingly perfect punts, and the fake punt that wasn’t actually meant to be a fake punt that he ran last week stole my heart. I’m incredibly jealous of the Seahawks for having Dickson, because the Chargers have probably the worst punting situation in the league.
Drew Kaser was one of the best punters in the league on his day, but did have a habit of shanking some punts. Still, he was a good, young option. However, Caleb Sturgis at kicker was playing terribly, missing an XP pretty much every game (and missing make-able FGs just as regularly), so the Chargers decided to remedy the situation by cutting Drew Kaser. They blamed his holding, and called the 38 year old Donnie Jones out of retirement, who’s main attribute seemed to be that he was the holder on the Eagles when Caleb Sturgis didn’t suck. Because keeping the good punter and changing the holder would be too much work, right?
Donnie Jones is bad, and continually hurts the Chargers in terms of field position. However, Sturgis went down with an injury and so the Chargers signed Mike Badgley to kick - but kept Sturgis on the roster, presumably hoping for a kicking battle when Sturgis was healthy. Badgley went 3/3 on FGs and 7/7 on XPs, compared to Sturgis’ 75% FG rate (9/12) and abysmal 66% XP rate (8/12).
So the Chargers cut Mike Badgley.
Honestly, the Chargers seem weirdly committed to a bad kicker, and it’s dragging down their whole Special Teams unit. It’ll be a miracle if they don’t have a Special Teams gaffe on Sunday, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it costs them the game.