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Three keys to a Seahawks upset over the Chargers

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Chargers are on a three-game winning streak, and yet fan confidence is reportedly on the decline. Why? While there are likely numerous factors at play, here are three that jump out at me: (1) their inability to limit big plays, (2) the inconsistent and generally poor performance of the offensive line, and (3) the recent swath of injuries to important role players. Sure, you could go ahead and repeat most of those things about the Seattle Seahawks, but I am going for the optimistic take today; Pete Carroll has his team playing like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, which has resulted in a surprisingly impressive 3-3 record. The Chargers, on the other hand, are in Year Two of the Brandon Staley era, and have high expectations following their first winning season since 2018. If the Seahawks want to put an end to their opponent’s streak, these three areas would be a good place to start.

The defense and the big plays

The Seahawks defense has been bad this season, but the Chargers seem to be similarly afflicted; they have allowed an explosive run for four consecutive weeks, with three of these going for more than 50-yards. And it isn’t just their run defense that is having a rough go of it; They have allowed the ninth most air yards in the NFL while also recording the ninth fewest QB hurries, according to Pro Football Reference. Just to keep this trend going, they also credit the Chargers with the ninth worst rushing defense in Expected Points, which is one spot below the Seahawks. Not great news for a team that will be facing Kenneth Walker III.

But getting back to the pass defense, marquee free agent corner J.C. Jackson got benched for poor play last week, but is in line to start this week, which is good news... for the Seahawks. Matthew Stanley of Bolts From the Blue had this to say of the expensive addition:

“Through four games as a member of the Chargers, Jackson has been not only the worst defensive back on the team, but arguably one of the worst in the entire league.

According to Pro Football Focus, out of 108 cornerbacks to record 100 or more snaps on defense this year, Jackson ranks 107th in overall season grade. His coverage grade of 28.9 is also second-worst amongst qualifying players.

Jackson has allowed 331 yards in coverage this year through four games. His previous career high is 691 during the 2020 season. His current pace — should he play in every game the rest of the season — would be 1,241 yards.”

The offensive line

2021 pro bowler and second-team All Pro left tackle Rashawn Slater is on Injured Reserve, Right tackle Trey Pipkins is coming off of a game where he allowed 5 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, with the exception of Corey Linsley, every current starter on this offensive line has had at least 5 pressures in a game this season, and the team has surrendered a total of 80 pressures on the season. The Seahawks, for comparison, are starting rookie bookend tackles and have only allowed 69. To put it bluntly, the Chargers’ pass blocking hasn’t been good, and losing Slater only made it worse.

Even in their Week 6 victory over the Denver Broncos, four of their five worst-graded players were offensive linemen, and the fifth was Tight End Tre McKitty, according to Michael Peterson of Bolts From the Blue. Adding to this, 2022 first round pick Zion Johsnon has been largely inconsistent to start his NFL career. Sure, it isn’t all bad news for LA, as Corey Linsley is expected to return from food poisoning this week, but even the veteran center can’t single-handedly fix their pass blocking woes... Let’s just say, Uchenna Nwosu might have a fun day against his former team.

The injuries

Joey Bosa is on IR, along with the previously mentioned Rashawn Slater. Keenan Allen is a gametime decision with a lingering hamstring injury, though he may be trending up after logging some practice time this week. They are going to be without their kicker Dustin Hopkins, their primary backup running back Joshua Kelley, and tight end Donald Parham. Losing a kicker is always challenging, and Taylor Bertolet is expected to fill in for him. To his credit, the former USFL kicker has yet to miss on the season, but all of his non-XP field goals have come from within 30-yards. Adding to this, an already ailing defense will be missing Sebastian Joseph-Day, who we may remember most from his days playing under Staley with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Seahawks have yet to win back-to-back games this season; they will look to accomplish this feat for the first time on Sunday. On paper, a road matchup with the 4-2 Chargers sounds more intimidating than it may actually be. Much like this team’s date with the Detroit Lions in Week 4, this game should feature two high-powered offenses taking on questionable defenses. At this point, I think it is fair to say that nobody is sleeping on the Seahawks’ offense anymore, and their fortunes in 2022 seem to reside almost entirely in their ability to prove that last week’s defensive performance is a sign of things to come and not simply a one-game aberration. While Los Angeles is being billed as the clear favorite in this game, a resurgent Seahawks pass rush — combined with their humming offense — may be enough to get past a team struggling with inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.