This Sunday, the defending NFC East Champion Washington Football Team kicks off their 2021 campaign with a home game against the Los Angeles Chargers. For weeks, the Chargers were a one-point favorite leading up to the season. However, now that Week 1 is here, things have changed, and the Washington Football Team has shifted to the favorites by a half-point. The bottom line in the betting line is that this game appears to be a toss-up in the eyes of oddsmakers, rightfully so.
The Chargers boast a powerful passing game, who, even with a poor offensive line, still produced a top-five passing attack in the NFL last season. In addition, second-year QB Justin Herbert displayed elite arm talent in his rookie campaign and possesses a ton of potential to become a great quarterback in the NFL.
On the other hand, Washington boasts one of the better defenses in the NFL, with an elite defensive line that can create headaches for some of the best offensive lines in the league. Although a few key matchups will determine the outcome of this game on Sunday; here are my top three that we should be focusing on.
Tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Sam Cosmi vs. Safeties Derwin James and Nasir Adderley
Although it is not new, Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley’s defensive philosophy has gained quite a bit of popularity in the NFL. The Washington Football Team ranked 26th in the NFL last year in rush yards per game and 28th in yards per attempt. So for Washington to beat the Chargers, running the football against the 18th best rush defense from a year ago will be essential on Sunday. However, Staley’s run fits make this an important matchup and could end up being a big factor in Washington’s success in the run game. In his lone season as the Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator, Staley used his safeties often in his base run fits out of the nickel personnel.
What this means exactly is that Staley does an excellent job of allowing his safety to become that extra, unblocked linebacker in the box with good pre-snap disguises. James, a former All-Pro, is the leader of this defense and is still an elite talent when he is on the field. Adderley is a rising player; however, Staley really likes him and will likely make both of his starting safeties very active inside the box against the Washington Football Team. So, while Leno Jr. and Cosmi headline this matchup, make no mistake, Washington's tight ends and slot receivers will play a significant role in accounting for these safeties just as much as Washington’s offensive tackles.
Tight End Jared Cook vs. Linebacker Jamin Davis
The Chargers did a good job investing into their quarterback this off-season by drastically upgrading their offensive line. They drafted rookie Rashawn Slater in the 2021 NFL Draft and signed All-Pro Center Corey Linsley, OL Oday Aboushi, and OL Matt Feiler. So while Washington’s defensive line will have their victories on Sunday, the Chargers offensive line will also have their fair share of theirs. This means that Jared Cook will have opportunities against Washington’s pass coverage.
The tight end position has been a thorn in Washington’s side forever, and they are still trying to find ways to negate the issue. Rookie Jamin Davis is considered one of the solutions here and will have some looks against the veteran tight end.
However, like the previous matchup I mentioned, it will not all come down to Davis, as I am sure that safeties Kamren Curl and Bobby McCain will have some looks at the Chargers slot receivers and tight ends, but the linebackers cannot afford to be exposed against Los Angeles; otherwise, it will be a long day.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill
We in Washington might learn real quick what “Fitzmagic” or “Fitztragic” means for the newly acquired quarterback. We spoke briefly on what Staley likes to do in the run game for his defenses, but on a broader scale, he comes from the Vic Fangio coaching tree. Staley, like Fangio, loves a variety of personnel groupings, disguises, and blitzes.
This means for Fitzpatrick, as he faces off against Staley and Hill, he has to account for veterans Chris Harris Jr. and Joey Bosa, who can sometimes reverse roles as pass rusher and pass coverage. Just using those two as an example, but the main point is that their better players are expected to line up in different positions all over the defense.
So while Fitzpatrick has a ton of experience and has seen a lot of different coverages in his nearly two-decade stint in the league, he has to be near perfect against this secondary on Sunday. The Chargers defense ranked 10th in the NFL last year in yards per game and ninth in passing yards per game. They also drafted rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who is now a starter in their secondary and has impressed often during training camp and preseason.
Those are three matchups I will be looking at heading into this week’s matchup; what are some matchups you are looking into?