Paper Tiger or real deal: 2023 Los Angeles Chargers

Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos (Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos (Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports) /

Please read in John Facenda’s voice: The 2023 Los Angeles Chargers are the most confusing team in recent memory.

Not only does it seem to be a team that is better on paper than in reality, they may not even be as good as last year’s team.

Let’s start with the biggest problem. Their best players on defense last season may have been Drue Tranquill (5 sacks, 146 tackles), who went to Kansas City, and Nasir Adderley, who retired at age 26.

Chargers history shows us that they fare better when they are a Top 10 defensive team, as opposed to an offensive one. 6 of the last 8 times that they have been in the Top 10 defensively in points, they have reached the playoffs. That goes back to 1992, and their Super Bowl run in 1994 was one of those seasons. On the other hand, only 4 of the last 8 times they have been Top 10 in offense have they reached the playoffs. That list only goes back to 2007, which was the last time they reached the AFC Championship Game.

That was actually in the middle of an 8 year stretch with Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner that they were Top 10 in offense, a far cry from that last 90s stretch when Stan Humphries, Craig Whelihan, Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Leaf and Doug Flutie each led the team in passing.

So you would think that having Justin Herbert would automatically make them a contender. I agree, but look at their recent first round picks:

2016- Joey Bosa

2017- Mike Williams

2018- Derwin James

2019- Jerry Tillery

2020- Justin Herbert

2020- Kenneth Murray

2021- Rashawn Slater

2022- Zion Johnson

2023- Quentin Johnston

Tillery is gone, and the jury is out on Johnston. The Chargers hit on the rest of them, so why haven’t they taken that next step?

Herbert has the only 5000 yd season in Chargers history. Dan Fouts, in the strike season of 1982, still holds the record for most yds per game with 320.

Austin Ekeler doesn’t have a 1000 yd season. The red flag here is that of the 30 best rushing seasons in Chargers history, only 6 of them were by players 28 or older, which Ekeler will be this season. Only one was 30- Chuck Muncie.

Keenan Allen has the second most receiving yards in a season, 1393 in 2017. Only Lance Alworth’s 1965 season had more. Allen had 752 yds in 2022.

Khalil Mack was 2016 AP Def PoY. Has had 4 10 sack seasons, but not since 2018.

Joey Bosa was 2016 AP Def RoY. Has also had 4 10 sack seasons, but only played 5 games last year.

JC Jackson led the league with 23 passes defended in 2021. He isn’t even listed as a starter.

Mike Williams led the league with 20.4 yds a reception in 2019. He was at 14.2 in 2022.

Lots of big names; lots of small production.

So how does this team get better? Start with the offensive line, which has been straight up offensive over the last few years. Way too much of Bryan Bulaga and Storm Norton. This line was barely better than the Jets, especially since Jamaree Salyer did not look ready last season. The other is the TE spot. A franchise that has had Kellen Winslow and Antonio Gates leads with Gerald Everett, who is solid, but not a Hall of Famer like the other two.

On defense, the linebacking core is a strength. Note: Bosa is listed as OLB. So is the secondary, with Samuel and James, especially if James can stay healthy.

Now with all of the hype out of the way, why not look at the Chargers schedule. With the unbalanced schedule, this is the year in which the Chargers have 9 home games. The irony being that they have a much tougher home than road schedule. Potentially Miami, Dallas, Detroit, Baltimore, Buffalo and Kansas City would be losses, meaning 3-6 at home. If that happens, Staley gets fired.

Road wins: Tennessee, Green Bay, Vegas and Denver, meaning 4-4 on the road.

Verdict: 7-10, even with Herbert being one of the most exciting players in the game.