The City of Los Angeles is Charged Up

The City of Los Angeles is Charged Up

NFL

The City of Los Angeles is Charged Up

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@Chargers on Twitter

Playing in a city like Los Angeles, there can be pressures for a sports franchise to win that only New York can rival. Especially for a new team to the city like the Los Angeles Chargers, this can bring extra motivation to build a winning team and keep it sustainable.

In addition, the Chargers now share Los Angeles with another NFL team which pits the two franchises up against each other to see who can win more. The Rams moved to Los Angeles in 2016, one season before the Chargers did so in 2017 and have already made a Super Bowl in their short time in the city. Yet for the Chargers, comparing themselves to the Rams isn’t the way to go about winning over the Los Angeles fans, as winning may be the only way to make a name for themselves in this city. 

For the Chargers, after having much success in the mid-2000s, the team trailed off a bit only reaching the playoffs twice in an eleven-year span. This includes the majority of the seasons with former quarterback Phillip Rivers under center. The Chargers had pieces in place to be a good team in the NFL but with an aging Rivers and the wrong voice in the locker room, the team was limited to where they could go. However, once they decided to move on from Rivers following the 2019 season, the Chargers accession really began. 

In Rivers last season as the quarterback, the team went 5-11 and finished last in the AFC West division but were able to get a top-ten draft pick for the 2020 NFL Draft. The team was placed in the sixth overall slot and ended up taking quarterback Justin Herbert from the University of Oregon.

Coming out of college, Herbert was seen as an exciting prospect due to his arm talent and ability to scramble. In his final year at Oregon, he led the Ducks to a 10-2 record and a win in the Rose Bowl game. Many around the league were excited at the idea of Herbert going to the Chargers due to the weapons they had on the team already. He started his rookie season as the backup to veteran Tyrod Taylor but unfortunately Taylor punctured a lung and Herbert was then forced to become the starter in week two of his rookie season. 

Playing against the defending Super Bowl Champions and division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, Herbert showed that he could play in the NFL. He finished his first career start throwing for 311 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception, and rushed for one score. He become only the third player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for a touchdown in his first career game. Despite the Chargers falling to the Chiefs by three, this game showed that Herbert could be the franchise quarterback the Chargers were looking for.

Over the rest of the 2020 season, Herbert showed that he was for real, and he finished the year with a record of 6-9, throwing for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns, and rushing for five scores. He became only the fourth rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards and was named the Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Chargers had found their quarterback to lead them and now they needed to put together the rest of the roster. 

Additionally, in the first round of the 2020 draft, the Chargers traded up with the Patriots to draft linebacker Kenneth Murray from the University of Oklahoma. They believed that Murray could help solidify their linebacking core and in his first season, Murray posted 101 total tackles and played in all 16 games for Los Angeles. Another draft pick from the 2020 class that seems to have panned out for the Chargers.

Murray was a welcome addition to an already loaded defense that features former third overall pick Joey Bosa, safety Derwin James, nose tackle Linval Joseph who signed a three-year deal with the team prior to the 2020 season, and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. who also signed prior to the 2020 season. The Chargers seemed poised to take another step in 2020 but ultimately finished the year with a 7-9 record, leading to ownership deciding it was time for a head coaching change.

Despite all the success that Justin Herbert had in 2020, the Chargers offensive line didn’t do him any favors so upgrading that was a major part of the team’s offseason plans. To start, the Chargers held the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and selected offensive lineman Rashawn Slater from Northwestern University. Slater immediately became the blindside protector for Herbert due to his balance, light feet, and technical approach and looks to be a key piece to this offensive line for years to come. Additionally, in college, Slater showed that he was more than capable of handling the top defensive players such as Chase Young.

In the second round of the 2021 draft, the Chargers drafted cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. out of Florida State University. Samuel Jr. is another son of a former NFL player, and the Chargers believe that he will be a major piece that helps out the secondary after they moved on from Rayshawn Jenkins and Casey Hayward in the offseason. Samuel Jr. had three interceptions in eight games in his final year in college and projected to be a play-making corner from inside the slot or along the boundaries. 

Once again, the Chargers hit on their first two picks, as both Slater and Samuel Jr. have been major pieces to their early success to start the 2021 season. Through the first six games of the season, Slater has taken 424 snaps and only allowed two sacks. He has graded out at 75.9 from Pro Football Focus and is showing exactly why he was a first round draft selection. For Samuel Jr., he has two interceptions and 16 total tackles in the first six games and has a grade of 62.8 from Pro Football Focus. For NFL teams to become truly special, they need to have strong draft classes and for the Chargers to hit on a consecutive top draft picks shows that they are building something special out in Los Angeles.

The Chargers also knew that they would need to continue upgrading the roster through free agency and again focused on the offensive line. They went out and signed veteran center Corey Linsley to a record contract to make him the highest paid center in the league. Linsley is seen by many as the best center in the league so for the Chargers to gain his services means they targeted him and ended up with exactly the guy they wanted.

He provides them with stability on the offensive line that is attempting to keep Herbert upright. He only allowed four total pressures last season on 437 pass-blocking snaps which was the lowest pressure total in the NFL. Linsley is only 30 years old and shows no signs of slowing down and has proven to be capable to anchor an offensive line as he has done for years with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The team also went out and signed former Steelers offensive lineman Matt Feiler to a three-year deal to help bolster the revamped offensive line. 

Additionally, they signed Oday Aboushi for more offensive line help but unfortunately, he got injured recently and will miss the rest of the 2021 season with a torn ACL. This allows for rookie Brenden Jaimes, whom the Chargers took in the fifth round of the 2021 Draft to possibly take over and show what he has to offer. Jaimes, coming out of the University of Nebraska was an honorable Mention All-Big Ten in each of his last three seasons in college and he also set a school record with 40 consecutive starts by an offensive lineman. Jaimes may be a raw prospect, but he has the college experience that could help him whenever his name is called in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the line, the Chargers added former Cincinnati Bengal Christian Covington to the mix to help with depth. Covington is a player who has shown he is able to disrupt the backfield due to his quickness and processes the needed strength to take on double teams at times. The signing has paid off as through six games, Covington has 17 solo tackles and one sack. He has looked quick off the line and has helped make life easier for Joey Bosa and Linval Joseph. The Chargers wanted to upgrade the trenches going into the 2021 season and based off their early success, the plan they had in place seems to be working out thus far. 

As for weapons that Justin Herbert could throw the ball too, they drafted receiver Josh Palmer out of the University of Tennessee in the third round to add some depth. Palmer caught 67 passes over the last two college seasons for the Volunteers and is still looking for a breakout game in the pros.

The Chargers made the tough decision to let tight end Hunter Henry leave the in offseason so the need for a capable starting tight end was a point of emphasis for Los Angeles. They proceeded to sign veteran Jared Cook who could provide a big frame within the middle of the field for Herbert. He also has played under the offensive scheme that coordinator Joe Lombardi has put into place which helps with any potential learning curve. Through six games, Cook has posted 21 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns. In comparison, Hunter Henry who signed with New England has 22 catches for 241 yards and three touchdowns. The production between the two is very similar but Cook costs the Chargers much less than if they had retained Henry. 

In addition to Palmer and Cook, the Chargers already possessed one of the better pass catching duos around the league in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Allen is seen as one of the better and most reliable receivers in the league who can create separation off the line for consistent short to medium yardage. Williams has completely broken out through the first six games of the 2021 season, giving the Chargers a legit deep threat. He has posted 33 catches for 498 yards, and six touchdowns which has already surpassed last season’s total of five scores.

The emergence of Williams has really allowed this offense to blossom and adding in the threat of running back Austin Ekeler makes this offense one of, if not the best in the NFL. Ekeler and his ability to be a passing threat from the backfield allows Herbert to scan the field first and then always check the ball down to a strong runner for good yardage. 

Yet a quality signing that went under the radar for Los Angeles was the signing of veteran quarterback Chase Daniel to backup Herbert. Daniel has vast experience around the league and played under offensive coordinator Lombardi when he was the New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach years ago. Daniel has made a nice career for himself as a backup and having a veteran backup for a young QB can never be understated. 

Taking Herbert out of contention, the move that has vaulted the Chargers to where they are now came in mid-January 2021, when they hired former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to become their new head coach. They had seen Staley help their intercity rivals to having the number one rated defense the year prior and the hope was that he would be able to replicate his success.

In the 2020 season, the Chargers allowed a 111.2 passer rating on deep passes which was good for 25th in the NFL. In comparison, the Rams under Staley allowed a 29.2 passer rating on deep passes, good for first in the league. At only 38 years old, Staley had already made a name for himself, and the Chargers believed he was the right man to direct their franchise.

So far, they seem to have made the correct decision as Staley embraces analytics and isn’t afraid of any moment. He uses his strong football IQ to create a perfect mixture of the two metrics which has translated to success on the football field. This Chargers organization for years had found ways to loss close games due to poor game management and strategy in crucial situations, but Staley seems to have changed that with his aggressive and efficient approach to coaching. The entire organization seems to have bought into what Staley has brought thus far including Herbert and making sure that a coach and quarterback are on the same page typically equals success. Herbert has said that Staley has done a great job communication with the team and uses data and his aggressive nature to their advantage. 

Another aspect which is allowing Staley to be a successful head coach is his mindset to coaching a team in Los Angeles. Staley has said that fans want to see continuity where not just one person dominates the ball and that people show up to see stars play in the professional leagues. Staley understands the pressures of creating a winning football team in Los Angeles and what it takes to grab the attention of people in the city when they have so many other options at their disposal. His Chargers now sit with a record of 4-2 through his first six games as the head coach and seem to be trending up higher and higher each week.

The Chargers haven’t won the AFC West since 2009 and have missed the playoff six times in the last seven years. They play in a division with the Kansas City Chiefs, who have dominated it as of late but early on in the 2021 season, it’s the Chargers who look like the dominant team. They even went into Arrowhead and beat Kansas City a few weeks ago, giving them an early advantage on their rivals.

The key for the Chargers is to remain consistent and to keep working. This team is extremely talented and coached well so the sky is the limit for them. These aren’t the same old Chargers that find ways to lose games in heartbreaking fashion. They have the structure and culture in place to win consistently and seem to be building something very special in the city of angels. 

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