Every once in a while, a team comes along that is remembered despite not winning a championship. The late ’70s/early ’80s Chargers were one of those teams after captivating fans with their lighting-fast offense.
The only thing that was perhaps faster than the Chargers offense those days was the Lakers’ “Showtime” offense. Led by quarterback Dan Fouts, the Chargers’ “Air Coryell” offense reached back-to-back AFC title games in 1980-81. The 1981 Chargers went down in NFL lore after defeating Miami in one of the longest games in NFL history in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Chargers’ run came to a screeching halt the following week, however, as Fouts and Co. were unable to overcome a -59-degree wind chill in Cincinnati. Now, four decades removed from the height of the Chargers’ greatest post-merger era, the franchise is looking to make a similar playoff run.
To do that, the Chargers will first have to defeat a Jaguars team that is red hot after winning its last five games during the regular season. While Jacksonville is the real deal, the Chargers have the players capable of handing the Jaguars their first loss since Dec. 4.
Here are three reasons why the Chargers will come out on top on Saturday night.
Part of a talented rookie draft class, Herbert enjoyed the quickest start to his NFL career after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. And while Herbert has backed his rookie season up with two more Pro Bowl-caliber seasons, the success of Joe Burrow and the Bengals over the past year-plus has sometimes overshadowed Herbert’s success. Rest assured that the success of Burrow and fellow draft classmate Tua Tagovailoa has served as motivation for Herbert.
Herbert faced the Jaguars way back in Week 3. It was a game Herbert would probably like to forget as he completed less than 56% percent of his throws in a 38-10 loss. There are tangible reasons to explain Herbert’s struggles that day. He played despite dealing with a painful injury to his ribs that was sustained the previous week. Herbert was also without Keenan Allen, who was in the middle of a six-game absence while dealing with an injured hamstring.
The first quarterback to start his career with three consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons, Herbert seemingly gets better with every snap. His set career-high in completion percentage this season. And while his numbers of touchdown passes dipped, Herbert threw a career-low 10 interceptions. Herbert’s improvement in taking care of the ball played a big role in the Chargers going 5-2 during the season’s final seven games. It will play an integral role in the Chargers’ success should they defeat the Jaguars on Saturday night.
Similar to the “Charger Power” era, the modern day Chargers possess an explosive offense that features some of the NFL’s best skill-position players.
Along with Herbert, the Chargers have one of the best receiving duos in the NFL in Allen and Mike Williams. Allen, after dealing with injuries earlier this season, is back to his usual self after catching two touchdowns in the Chargers’ regular-season finale. Williams also fought through injuries but rebounded with a strong finish to the regular season while helping Los Angeles clinch a playoff berth. He is dealing with a back injury this week and is questionable to suit up after not practicing so far this week.
While not an idea situation, the injuries to Allen and Williams may have made the Chargers offense better in the long run. Those injuries allowed fellow wideouts DeAndre Carter and Josh Palmer to get more opportunities. Both players took advantage of their extra reps while combining to catch 118 passes during the season. Tight end Gerald Everett was also a key part of the Chargers offense with 58 catches and four touchdowns.
Fans that don’t watch too many Chargers games will get the chance to watch one of the NFL’s most underrated players on Saturday night in Austin Ekeler. The league’s most versatile running back, Ekeler ran for 13 touchdowns this season while picking up 915 yards on the ground. He caught an astounding 107 receptions on 127 targets for 722 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. Rarely in the conversation of the league’s best backs, Ekeler is surely chomping at the bit to make a big impact in his first career playoff start.
The Jaguars defense played a major role in Jacksonville’s late run, but the unit has weaknesses the Chargers will certainly look to exploit. They are just 28th in the NFL in pass defense, 29th in third-down defense and 24th in red zone efficiency. If those numbers hold serve on Saturday night, the Chargers will be on their way to the divisional round.
The stats don’t bear out how good the Chargers defense is. After struggling early, the unit held four of its last five regular-season opponents to less than 20 points. Forcing turnovers has been a huge part of its success, as the Chargers forced seven turnovers in their last four games and 24 turnovers during the season. This is a good sign for the Chargers as they will face a Jaguars offense that gave up the ball seven times during the same span.
Along with turnovers, the Chargers pass defense was stellar during the final stretch of the regular season. The unit, which allowed just one 300-yard passer in 17 games, allowed just one quarterback to throw for over 200 yards during the last five games of the regular season. The Chargers will surely look to duplicate that success against Trevor Lawrence while forcing the Jaguars running game — led by Travis Etienne — to try to beat them.
Running the ball, however, won’t be easy either given the Chargers front seven that consists of Pro Bowler Khalil Mack and four-time Pro Bowler Joey Bosa. Look for Pro Bowler Derwin James, who filled the stat sheet better than perhaps any other safety this season, to play a significant role in the outcome of Saturday night’s game.