The Bolts are on a break.
With the bye week at hand, we got a few of the Chargers' beat writers together to discuss where the Bolts are at right now.
Here's what Jeff Miller (Los Angeles Times), Bridget Condon (NFL Network), Nick Cotherl (Sports Illustrated) and Eric Smith (Chargers.com) had to say:
In one word, how would you describe the Chargers season through seven games?
Miller: Perplexing. While injuries have been the main cause for the team's offensive issues, the defensive woes are baffling. This unit was supposed to be improved, and the results so far have been wildly mixed. Fan reaction also has been violently toxic for a franchise that's never won a Super Bowl. I understand that history says to expect the worst with the Chargers. I also get being critical when they lose. But continually complaining about the team not winning good enough seems odd to me.
Condon: Unpredictable. There have been a couple of games where I felt the Chargers would walk away with easy wins and that wasn't the case. On the flip side, some of the games they won I could have seen going the other way. Injuries always pop up, it is the NFL, but this many injuries no one could have predicted.
Smith: Tiring. The Bolts first seven games of the season have taken their toll, both mentally and physically, as the team has fought through close games and dealt with a plethora of injuries. Going into the bye week after a double-digit home loss isn't ideal but perhaps the bye week comes at a necessary time for players and coaches to step away and recharge for the final 10 games. A lot has happened through seven games, but there's still more than half the season left, so recuperating is key right now.
Bolts defensive legends, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and defensive lineman Corey Liuget, signed 1-day contracts with the team to officially retire as Chargers
What's been your chief concern with the Bolts so far?
Miller: The defense has been nothing like I anticipated. During his first year, coach Brandon Staley clearly felt the Chargers lacked the proper personnel to executive his scheme. So, in the offseason, among others, the team added Khalil Mack, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Bryce Callahan and Morgan Fox — all players who had succeeded in the scheme and with Staley previously. And yet, through seven games, the inconsistency and massive breakdowns continue. I am 100 percent certain this is keeping Staley awake at night.
Condon: Consistency. You can tell this team has some really solid players. There are flashes where you're watching thinking ok this team is the real deal but there's too much inconsistency. I understand that comes with injuries and different players stepping up into bigger roles than anticipated. Hopefully, as the season progresses we see more consistency from the team.
Cothrel: To me, the biggest concern thus far has been the up-and-down defense. The Chargers invested a lot in free agency and via trade to improve this unit, and while they've had their moments, it just hasn't been able to produce consistently. The first two weeks, they looked like a defense poised to take a monumental step from where they were just a season ago. Since then, they've come away with timely takeaways, but also have been susceptible to allowing the big play.
Smith: The points and big plays allowed by the defense. I figured this unit would need some time to play together and gel early in the season, and I expected some growing pains early on. But the explosive touchdowns allowed — especially on the ground — have been concerning. To date, the Bolts also rank 30th in the league with 27.0 points allowed per game. Those two areas will need to improve in the second portion of the season.
Who, or what, is the biggest reason for optimism in the final 10 games?
Miller: Justin Herbert is the reason the Chargers are rarely ever out of a game until it's over. He's the same reason to believe this team can find more steady success after the byte week. I'm not entirely sure how healthy Herbert is at the moment. But he certainly still looks less than 100% after his rib injury in Week 2. I'm very interested to see how he looks in Atlanta. I gotta believe having a Sunday off can only help him right now.
Condon: Justin Herbert. It's easy to forget this guy is playing with a fractured rib cartilage because he is still performing at a high level but he's still injured. Once the injury completely heals I think we will see more of the Justin Herbert we saw during the first two weeks of the season. That being said, even injured, he is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. With Herbert as your quarterback anything is possible.
Cothrel: Justin Herbert. When you have a quarterback as talented as Herbert, you're always going to have a chance. Obviously, he's still dealing with a fracture to his rib cartilage, but it's well documented what kind of talent he truly is. The Chargers will also face the fifth-easiest schedule the rest of the way according to the DVOA metric. If this NFL season has shown anything, it's that any team can win on any given Sunday. But the remaining schedule still provides a reason for optimism, nonetheless.
Smith: I promise my answer was also going to be Herbert before the three of them sent their answers in. But yes, I'll go with the quarterback, too. Through seven games, I've seen more 'Wow' moments from Herbert than I did in my first six seasons combined in the NFL. He has an elite skillset and is a locker room leader, and look for him to carry the team down the stretch.
What's your prediction of where this team will be after Week 18?
Miller: Wow, you had to ask this question! This team and this league have both defied prediction in 2022. If I have to make a guess, I'll do the truly strange thing as a sportswriter and take the positive route. I'll say the Chargers will make the playoffs as a wild card, assuming the injuries slow at least a little bit. If the injuries continue, finishing .500 will be a challenge.
Condon: I think the Chargers will finish 11-6 and second in the AFC West.
Cothrel: In projecting the Chargers' remaining schedule, I see them finishing the regular season with a 10-7 record, possibly doing enough to get into the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Injuries have derailed this team at an alarming rate through the first seven weeks. At some point these unfortunate blows have to give, right? They certainly need a bit of injury luck to eventually fall their way. As they remain optimistic about the return of Joey Bosa, Mike Williams and other key members, I see a path to win presumably six of their final 10 games, earning them double-digit wins to close out Week 18.
Smith: The Bolts will go into Week 18 needing a win to secure a playoff spot. And they will get it in Denver, a place that hasn't been too kind of late. The Chargers have lost three straight, and seven of eight overall, in the regular season at the Broncos. But this team will find a way to remain in the hunt before coming through late in the season to clinch their first playoff berth since 2018.
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