The Los Angeles Chargers opened up their NFL season on Sunday against the Washington Football Team. After a gritty battle at FedEx Field, the Chargers came out on top, beating the Football Team 20-16. The match was a close one throughout the entire game, with each team holding the lead at one point. These are the Chargers’ takeaways from Week 1.
The Chargers opened the game strong, ending the first half with a 13-9 lead. Though there were a number of concerning mistakes by the receivers early in the game, like dropping easy catches, the team still was managing to outperform Washington’s stagnating offense. With Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick going down with a hip injury in the second quarter, it seemed all but guaranteed that the Chargers would bring home the dub. However, backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke proved to be a greater threat than anticipated.
With Heinicke under center, the Football Team turned on the jets. D.C. dominated the third quarter, scoring the quarter’s lone touchdown and held complete control of the ball. The Chargers, on the other hand, were driving down the field well, but seemed to make costly turnovers. Going into the fourth, the Football Team held a 16-13 lead.
When the fourth quarter started, however, the Chargers couldn’t be stopped. Aside from a Justin Herbert interception early in the quarter, the Chargers were driving down the field and eating up the clock as they went. During this quarter, Herbert was looking like the guy Chargers fans knew and loved, making beautiful passes left and right. An outside pass to Mike Williams for 3 yards took the lead back for the Chargers with 11:21 left on the clock. Washington’s next drive ate up 4 minutes and 38 seconds from the clock, but it was all for naught. They punted to the Chargers, who would hold onto possession for an astounding 6 minutes and 43 seconds. The drive featured 4 clutch third-down conversions, which brought the Chargers’ third-down efficiency to an astonishing 14-of-19. That’s a third-down completion percentage of 74% on high volume!
What Went Well
- The offensive line. A major concern for the Chargers going into the season was whether their offensive line would be able to protect Herbert. General manager Tom Telesco was determined to remedy this, so he brought in three free agents, one being All-Pro center Corey Linsley, and drafting tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round of the NFL Draft. During the preseason, this bolstered offensive line got nearly no snaps, so it was unclear whether Telesco’s gambit would work. The line’s first true test would be against the Washington Football Team’s destructive defensive line. The gambit worked, and the offensive line only allowed two sacks and four tackles for loss through the entire game. Rashawn Slater was the star of the show, not even allowing a single pressure against 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young.
- Brandon Staley’s time management. Previous Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was known to be a great leader, but indecisive in close-game situations. Due to this, the Chargers lost countless winnable games under his tenure. New head coach Brandon Staley, on the other hand, was
able to stay calm in high-pressure situations, and his playcalling on the Chargers’ game-winning drive was certainly commendable. Thanks in large part to his effective playcalling, the Chargers were able to eat off a massive chunk of the clock and secure the win.
- The receivers in the second half. As mentioned above and below, the receivers were struggling greatly in the first half. Passes were being dropped left and right, and there was certainly something amiss. However, something must have happened in that locker room in the second half, because the receivers looked just like how the fans had hoped they would play. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams stole the show, making crucial catches left and right. Together, Allen and Williams combined for 182 yards on 17 receptions, along with a late Williams touchdown. Hopefully, they can bring this momentum back to L.A. for when they host the Dallas Cowboys.
What Did Not
- The receivers in the first half. The receivers in the first half were playing abysmally. Jalen Guyton, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams were all dropping routine passes. However, after finding their rhythm in the second half of the game, the receivers likely won’t see this kind of struggle for a while. Hopefully, this issue doesn’t pop up again against the porous Cowboys defense.
- The running backs. The Chargers’ offense clearly runs through Justin Herbert’s arm, but it would be ideal
to have a reliable ground game to fall back on. Unfortunately, the Chargers’ running backs did not ease those concerns. Austin Ekeler had a passable performance, with 57 yards on 15 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown. Larry Rountree, on the other hand, was used purely to eat up time at the beginnings of sets of downs. He would often run on first downs, where he would on average gain around 2 yards. Rountree finished with a measly 27 yards on 8 carries (3.4 yards per carry). The running backs, though they don’t play a major role in the offense, need to step up as a reliable second option if the passing game falters, which could be a major concern as early as Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Chargers nabbing their first win under Staley’s leadership is huge for the team. With every AFC West team winning their Week 1 matchups, the Chargers cannot afford to fall behind in the division race. Not to mention, the Chargers will need all the motivation and morale they can muster going into Week 2. Unlike last season, the Dallas Cowboys are no pushovers.
Star quarterback Dak Prescott proved that his heartbreaking injury from early last season had no impact on his ability to play and that their offense is up there with the best in the league. Though their defense should be simple enough for Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to pick apart, it’s unclear how well the Chargers’ defense will hold up against that high-octane Cowboys offense. These were the Chargers’ takeaways from Week 1.