The Los Angeles Chargers saw their 2021 season end with a heartbreaking loss on Sunday Night Football. Their opponents, the Las Vegas Raiders, earned the Chargers’ spot in the NFL playoffs in an overtime thriller. The Raiders then went on to lose a close game against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wildcard round.
The Chargers had a very up-and-down season, sometimes playing like the best team in football, other times like the worst. However, to be on the cusp of a playoff berth in Brandon Staley’s first season as a head coach is nothing short of impressive. Sure, there are issues that the team must address, but all in all, there are plenty of good things to say about this squad. This is the Chargers’ 2021 season review.
The Good Parts
Justin Herbert Improved on His Rookie Season
An article like this cannot go without mentioning the sophomore phenom quarterback, Justin Herbert. One could argue that Herbert IS the Chargers. He is the unquestioned face of the franchise, even with so many stars on the team.
Justin Herbert finished the season with 443 completions on 672 attempts, good for a completion percentage of 65.9%. While that may be on the lower end of starting quarterbacks’ completion rates, it must be taken into consideration that the Chargers led the league this season in dropped passes, with 33. That topic will be explored later, though. Herbert also finished with 5,014 passing yards (312.7 yards per game) and 38 touchdowns (2.2 TDs per game).
He does have 15 interceptions, tied for third-most among starting NFL quarterbacks, but that can be attributed to a number of things. For example, his 672 attempts are second-most in the NFL, so there are more opportunities for interceptions. His yards-per-attempt of 7.5 is also one of the highest among starting NFL quarterbacks, indicating a deep pass-heavy offensive scheme. Deep passes are naturally riskier, but can pay off greatly (like throwing for 38 touchdowns, third-most in the NFL).
Herbert’s season was a massive improvement over an already-impressive rookie season. Prior to the season, many were wondering whether Herbert would regress or not after setting standards so high. Well, I’d say an All-Star selection (and a starting role at that) is a pretty good indicator for improvement.
Chargers Proved They Can Compete With The Best
While the Chargers did not make the playoffs, they didn’t go down without a fight. Their loss to the Las Vegas Raiders came after forcing overtime when they were down 15 points with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Chargers also beat the Chiefs early in the season in a fairly dominant win. While they did drop some embarrassing games, like against the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans, many of their wins exemplified the team’s talent when they play to their potential. This team could easily be a playoff-caliber squad if they draft a talented run-stuffer in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Bad Parts
The Chargers Defense Needs Work
Any Chargers fan reading this knew that this was coming. The Chargers’ defense was just plain awful this season, particularly in the run game. To describe in one word, the Chargers run defense was…mediocre. The Chargers’ defense allowed 2,361 rushing yards this season, for an average of 138.9 rushing yards allowed per game. Those stats are the third-worst in the NFL, which is surprising, considering they were floating around dead last for most of the season. The Chargers defense also gave up 22 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for third-worst in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, the Chargers allowed the same amount of touchdowns as the team who are in the same division as the rushing phenoms in the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor and the Titans’ Derrick Henry.
The Chargers’ pass defense fared somewhat better. They had a solid pass defense in both passing yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed. The Chargers were 12th in passing yards allowed at 3,761, and were 16th in passing touchdowns allowed at 27. However, these stats do not make up for the fact that their run defense struggled so greatly. The Chargers will likely focus on defense in the 2022 NFL Draft, and another offseason will help the team familiarize themselves with the playbooks.
Chargers Receivers Struggled to Catch the Ball
A growing narrative attempting to explain Herbert’s low completion percentage is that Herbert simply has too strong an arm. So strong, in fact, that Chargers receivers struggle to catch his passes. When asked about it, Chargers receiver Keenan Allen said, “He throwing the ball to you, you better catch that s***. I want the ball. Throw that motherf***** however you want to throw it.”
Even so, it’s concerning that Chargers receivers struggle to catch the ball so often. When accounting for dropped passes, Herbert’s completion percentage goes from 65.9% to 69.3%, which would be second in the NFL behind Joe Burrow. Of course, that isn’t to say all the drops were solely on the receivers, Some of those drops could be attributed to a bad pass by Herbert that was not really catchable in the first place. Regardless, Chargers receivers seriously need to address this issue. Not just to help improve Herbert’s and their own stats, but because those drops being turned into completions would be huge for the offense’s ability to move the ball down the field.
While the season clearly didn’t end as desired, the Chargers showed a fight that gives hope for the future. Any rookie head coach can make mistakes, who says Brandon Staley is any different? Fans need to cut him some slack; these mistakes will be curtailed as Staley builds up experience. Chargers fans should be excited for the future. The coaching staff shows a lot of promise (yes, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi too), the team is loaded with talent at many key positions, and the holes in the depth chart can easily be addressed in the offseason. If general manager Tom Telesco does his job right, then this team is a near-guaranteed lock for the 2022 playoffs. This has been the Chargers’ 2021 season review.