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The Chargers are 6-6, one of three teams in the AFC West with a .500 record. In an odd situation, the Chargers are one game shy of qualifying for an AFC wildcard spot, but only a tiebreaker prevents them from being first in their division at the moment. With the Kansas City Chiefs on a 4-game skid, the Chargers have every reason to think that they can get into the playoffs — not as a wildcard team — but as division champs.
They are likely to be fired up and ready to play inspired football this week in Los Angeles against the Redskins, who, conversely, have a losing record and have been practically (if not yet mathematically) eliminated from the playoffs.
Prediction from Ellliott Harrison at NFL.com
A few recent headlines from Bolts from the Blue
The Los Angeles Chargers face a talented Redskins team on Sunday. Can the defense continue its dominance against a quality quarterback?
Applying Pressure to Cousins
With Redskins tackles Morgan Moses and Trent Williams dealing with injuries, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will have all the opportunity to get after the quarterback. So far this season, Cousins has been sacked 35 times. By comparison, Philip Rivers has only been sacked 13 times.
The Chargers have no problem applying pressure and it will be paramount against a Washington offense that loves to air it out. Although he only has eight interceptions on the year, Cousins is prone to making mistakes.
Feeding Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry
Keenan Allen has had a historic three-game stretch and will look to carry that momentum yet again. Allen will be matched up against Josh Norman, one of the best corners in the NFL. However, the Chargers could use Allen as a decoy and attack the rest of Washington’s subpar secondary.
It’s old news by now, but whenever the Chargers target Hunter Henry five or more times a game, they almost always win. When they don’t they are 0-5. Something tells me that Henry will yet again get his fair share of targets against a suspect defense.
Field Goal Kicking
Nothing is more stressful than watching the Bolts attempt a field goal. Now that Travis Coons is around, the stress level may be a little lower.
After missing his first attempt against Cleveland, he made his next four and gained some confidence. Coons doesn’t have the strongest leg, but if he is automatic from about 40 yards, he’s doing his job.
Protecting the football
Of late, Rivers has done a great job of taking care of the football. He hasn’t thrown a pick in three games and is having one of his best campaigns in recent years. At the moment, the Bolts are plus-11 in turnover differential.
In the last five games, Rivers has thrown the ball at least 30 times. Assuming the trend continues, Rivers can’t force throws down the field. More often than not, Rivers will take a chance and try to make a big play on his own. He needs to play within himself and try not to play hero ball.
Stop the Run
Heading into week 14, the Los Angeles Chargers have the second-worst run defense in the NFL. Although the Redskins don’t have a premiere back, Washington has an intriguing rookie in Samaje Perine.
Even though Los Angeles’ defense has been stellar thus far, the Achilles heel for the unit has been stopping the run. Teams have taken advantage of a weak linebacking corps. The return of Denzel Perryman has helped, but there is still plenty to exploit.
Defensively, the Chargers are 3rd in interceptions per drive & 4th in turnovers per drive. Coming into the year I thought they’d be a bend but don’t break defense that would be pretty good in the red zone. They’re great at limiting teams in the red zone. How the Chargers have managed to take the ball away from teams has been more impressive. We saw it on national TV last week.
Up front you’re seeing Joey Bosa & Melvin Ingram lineup on the same side. That’s created a lot of havoc. You’re also seeing Ingram move around move than ever. He & Chris McCain will often stand up and line up over the center or guard. Confusion creates missed blocks. Missed blocks create quarterbacks chucking and ducking. Chucking and ducking creates turnovers.
If I told you Melvin Gordon was 4th in the NFL in most rushes over 10 yards there’s no way you’d believe me. I still don’t fully believe it. We’ve seen what Austin Ekeler can do subbing in for him. Give him some room to work with as a receiver or runner and Ekeler might be more dangerous. As for Phillip Rivers, he’s tied for 10th with most passes going over 25 yards. I imagine he’d be higher if the offense wasn’t being run through Gordon the first month of the season. Now that the team is opening it up we’re seeing an offense that many fans expected to see coming into the season.
We’re seeing Keenan Allen be the focal point of the offense. That’s doing wonders, it seems. Opening everyone else up. Maybe more importantly, taking the pressure of everyone else. Travis Benjamin can just be a deep threat. He & Keenan are in the upper half of the league in catches over 25 yards. Hunter Henry is slowly but surely taking the reigns as the 2nd threat on this team. Sprinkle in a Tyrell Williams touch here and there and the potential for big plays are everywhere. That’s something the team has been relying on. The run game hasn’t quite worked itself out this year. That’s something I didn’t expect to see, either. But with the weapons on the perimeter, the big plays aren’t going to stop anytime soon.
Hayward doesn’t just pass the eye test. According to Pro Football Focus, Hayward is their highest rated cornerback this season and has claimed three of the five highest graded weekly performances in 2017.
As the Chargers defense continues to improve, much of the credit should go to Hayward. When Hayward shuts down opposing quarterbacks favorite weapons, it can change an entire offensive gameplan. Trusting him in one-on-one situations has allowed defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to send extra pressure on passing downs.
Last season, the Chargers signed Hayward to a three-year $15.3 million deal to be their slot cornerback. After injuries forced him to play outside, it became immediately clear that Hayward was a special player.
Phillip Rivers will have the longest active streak of consecutive games at 186 this Sunday. Jason Witten is the next closest, at 172.
Instead of cheering, Rivers was understandably perturbed by this news. Philip did not mince words in any way, shape, or form.
Philip Rivers, on the Giants benching Eli Manning: "I honestly thought it was pathetic, really. ... I feel like he's earned the opportunity to finish it off, finish off these last five weeks."— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) November 29, 2017
John Gennaro can see the Chargers going deep into the playoffs despite their currently 5-6 record. Can you?
A lot can change, and has changed, with how we think of the Chargers’ late-game schedule since the start of the season. However, as of right now, this looks pretty weak:
vs. Cleveland Browns
vs. Washington Redskins
at Kansas City Chiefs
vs. Oakland Raiders
With a strong offense alone, the Chargers should be able to outscore all of those teams. The dominant defense is a nice little cherry on top, and the Chargers’ solid record of health this season is a big reason why they’re getting better while those other teams are getting worse.
Which of these players will have the biggest positive impact on the game for the Redskins today?
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Which quarterback will have the bigger day?
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