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5 Final Thoughts: Chargers Ready to Begin Playoff Push in Primetime


The Chargers take on the Jets on Monday Night Football in Week 9.

Kickoff between the Bolts (3-4) and New York (4-3) is at 5:15 p.m. (PT).

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 9:

1. Seize the moment

This is a big one for the Bolts.

And not just because they're on primetime for the second week in a row, with this game coming on the East Coast for the world to see.

"Anytime you're playing a football game, especially in an environment like that, it brings excitement," said Derwin James, Jr. "You know the fans are going to be loud."

James later added: "I feel like each week in the NFL is a measuring stick, whether you're a coach, player or owner. Each week, you're going out to compete and show who you are. This week is another challenge, Monday night."

With the Chargers sitting at 3-4, they can continue their season-long trend of getting two of the same results in back-to-back games.

A pair of losses to open the season were followed by two wins and two losses, and the Chargers can get to 4-4 with a two-game win streak after Monday night.

But, even as we reach the midway point of the season, there are some early playoff implications at stake, too.

The Jets are 4-3, meaning a Chargers win moves both teams to 4-4, but the Bolts would have the head-to-head tiebreaker for Wild Card purposes.

Plus, the Chargers enter Week 9 with a 1-3 conference record, something they know must improve down the stretch if they want to get into the dance.

"What we're doing is what we need to do," Joey Bosa said of the team's recent mindset. "We had a little bit of a rough start but there are teams that had a great start and aren't rolling too well.

"It's that time of the year where you can really cement yourself as a playoff team and a good team in the league," Bosa added. "I think if our energy stays the same … guys have been really positive … just staying together and trusting each other and continuing to believe in the process."

Eric Kendricks added: "We know the first part of the season wasn't what we expected or wanted, but going forward it a one-game season at a time. Go out there Monday night in New York and let's go handle our business."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley isn't worried about what's coming up down the road for the Bolts. Instead, he knows the importance of this one against New York.

"You can't be looking too far in the future with your team. There are a lot that can change week-to-week in the NFL, based on the matchup," Staley said. "The NFL, to me, is about the matchup in front of you. It's not about the matchups down the road because a lot of things happen in the NFL down the road, so that matchup may change.

"The way it looks now, it may not be the same way later. We're focused on the New York Jets. This is a really good football team. They've beaten a lot of quality teams," Staley added. "They have a winning record. We have a lot of respect for them, coaching and playing. That's where our focus is right now."

Kickoff for Monday Night Football is at 5:15 p.m. (PT) from MetLife Stadium.

2. Face the pressure

Justin Herbert has been exceptional against the blitz this season.

He's completed 70 of 97 passes for 749 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, and his passer rating of 120.2 ranks second in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.

Think of the Vikings game, when Herbert faced extra rushers all game long and threw for 400-plus yards.

When teams don't blitz, Herbert has still put up solid numbers: 103 of 155 for 1,142 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

His passer rating against non-blitz plays, according to PFF, is 89.2, which ranks 19th on such plays.

Think of the Cowboys game, as Dallas used its ferocious front four to harass Herbert without sending extra defenders at him.

All of this leads us to Monday night, where the Jets also have a strong defensive line — and they also blitz the least amount of any team in the league at 16.5 percent.

The key for the Bolts will be to avoid a recipe of the Cowboys game and make plays against four rushers and seven defenders in coverage.

"I think that you have to keep them off-balance. The big thing that you have to force defenses to do is to adjust, and force them to see things that they have to second guess. Keep them off balance," Staley said. "That doesn't just mean run the ball, you have to really force their defense to communicate and force them to adjust and keep them off-balance.

"If you give them a steady diet — when you just turn into a passing team and it's drop back, now they can get into rhythm with not only their front seven, but then their back seven, too, in terms of how they play," Staley added. "That's how I think you need to play against all good defenses, but particularly defenses that have dominant fronts or that capacity to really dominate. I think that that's going to be important in the game."

Herbert said: "I think it starts up front. It starts with us and being able to take what we can get downfield. Be aggressive with our shots and have a well-balanced attack."

Mixing in a potent run game would help give the Bolts that two-pronged attack, but that phase will have to be better than in recent weeks when the Chargers have averaged just 86.2 yards per game in their past five contests.

"I think it goes back to having a dual-threat, first and second-down mentality," Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore said. "It doesn't mean you have to establish the run or any of those things, but you have to have the ability and the threat to run the football and create some passing game off of it.

"That's just the really good balancing act on first and second down. Then, allow third down to be third down," Moore added. "Hopefully, you're in a little more manageable third downs where it's not the seven-plus variety, which favors the defense."

3. Win the TO battle

Ask any NFL player or coach and they will tell you that the weekly turnover battle plays a key role in each outcome.

Well, a pair of the league's best teams in terms of turnover differential meet on Monday night.

The Bolts are tied for the third-best turnover differential of plus-6 while the Jets are tied for the fifth-best mark at plus-3.

New York's defense has 13 takeaways, tied for the fourth-most among all NFL teams.

"They're really well-coached. They have a lot of really good players on that side of the ball," Herbert said. "They're a good team. We have to watch as much film as we can. They're going to do what they do.

"We have to be ready for whatever they bring pressure-wise, coverage-wise," Herbert added. "They do a lot of great things on defense."

In their four wins, the Jets have a plus-6 turnover differential a stat that is highlighted by wins over the Bills (plus-3) and Eagles (plus-4). But in their three losses, New York's turnover margin is at minus-3.

The Chargers actually have a positive turnover differential in three wins (plus-4) and three losses (plus-2).

And the Bolts know how critical this area of the game will be in primetime.

"These guys, when they create the turnovers, it has a huge impact on the game. It creates a lot of energy for their defense," Moore said. "It's a big challenge. They do a tremendous job. It's something they emphasize in a really phenomenal way. We have to do a really excellent job in that category."

Check out the best photos of the Bolts Friday practice at Hoag Performance Center

4. Dominate on defense

Yes, the Chargers know where the Jets offense ranks across the league.

New York is last in third-down conversions (22.99 percent), 31st in passing yards per game (164.3) and 30th in offensive yards per game (273.3). The Jets are also last in EPA per play at minus-0.223.

"You can't take anybody for granted in this league," said Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley. "Everybody has good players. Any given Sunday, which is real."

"We have to do a really good job of focusing on us and doing what we need to do to go up there and get us a chance to win the game," Ansley later added.

The Bolts main focus will be to get New York in obvious passing situations to try and rattle quarterback Zach Wilson, who's passer rating of 74.3 ranks 30th in the league.

But the Chargers also know the magic that Wilson can create, as evident by his late-game heroics in Week 8 against the Giants. Ansley said there are "Houdini-type situations" that Wilson can escape from.

"When I coached at Tennessee, we played him at BYU, and he's kind of the same, really — he's athletic, he buys time," Ansley said. "He's not an overly fast guy, but very instinctive. He can feel that rush and escape pockets.

"He's dangerous on the run. He has that gunslinger-like approach, he plays the next play," Ansley added. "He's a good player. He was a good player in 2019 when we played him and he's a good player now."

This could be a game for the Chargers three-headed pass rushing attack of Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Tuli Tuipulotu to make a difference, especially when they're all on the field together.

"We're taking advantage of moving around," Bosa said. "I think it's great. You don't have to do it every time, but getting those matchups together [with Mack]. And then knowing Tuli, he's on top of everything and can manage the whole thing."

5. A dangerous returner

The Bolts drafted Derius Davis in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft to be their kick and punt returner.

But Jets rookie returner Xavier Gipson, who went undrafted, was also high on Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken's list.

"I really liked Gipson," Ficken said. "He was one of the top guys I had stacked in that area."

Gipson currently ranks fifth in the NFL with a punt return average of 12.1 yards, and had a dazzling moment in Week 1 when he had a walk-off, 65-yard touchdown return against the Bills in overtime.

"He's electric with the ball in his hands," Ficken said. "He does a great job of getting guys vertical and making guys miss. He doesn't have to stop, he can accelerate and has great balance.

"And he does a great job catching in traffic," Ficken added. "Obviously, he had the walk-off in the first game of the year so he's a dangerous returner."

Gipson is one of two players with a punt return for a touchdown this season.

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