After being a wildly popular preseason pick to go deep into the playoffs this year, the 2-5 Los Angeles Chargers come to town Sunday as one of the few teams that have been more disappointing than the 3-3 Bears through the first seven weeks of the season. And with five losses already, Sunday is as close to a must-win for the Chargers as it gets to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive.
All five of the Chargers losses are by one score.
Chargers Offense vs. Bears Defense: The Chargers are deep at all the skill positions, but, obviously, any breakdown of this offense starts with Philip Rivers at quarterback – and he is surrounded by a number of dangerous weapons.
Keenan Allen is one of the most underrated receivers in the league, and across from him, Mike Williams has Pro Bowl-talent, as does tight end Hunter Henry, but both have struggled throughout their young careers to stay healthy.
The Chargers’ running game has been a problem this season with Melvin Gordon holding out until two weeks ago. While his backup Austin Ekeler is Rivers’ favorite target with 49 catches and 4 TDs, he’s averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on the ground.
Gordon has 36 carries since returning, but has averaged just 2.3 yards a clip and he fumbled at the Titans’ goal line last Sunday, costing the Chargers their third win.
Rivers has been sacked 13 times in seven games, and a lot of the problems on the ground have come from a struggling offensive line that played without Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, who suffered a pulmonary embolism during the offseason, but may make his return Sunday. The Chargers will be without starting guard Forest Lamp, who broke his ankle last Sunday.
In spite of their struggles in the past two games, the Bears defense still ranks fifth in points allowed and tied for fifth in the league at plus-four turnover differential.
What slants this matchup slightly is the Chargers are 27th in turnover/takeaway ratio and have turned the ball over 12 times.
Chargers defense vs. Bears offense: The Bears offense isn’t going to match up well against anyone right now, and the Chargers rush the passer as well as anyone in the league, led by Pro Bowl talents Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who’s missed the past couple weeks with a hamstring injury.
Another former Pro Bowler, veteran linebacker Thomas Davis, is the leading tackler, and Desmond King one of the better young cornerbacks in the league. Pairing him with veteran Casey Hayward Jr. makes the Chargers dangerous on the back end, but the loss of Derwin James at safety has been costly.
The Chargers have been below average stopping the run – 21st in the league – and while they are 5th versus the pass, they are 28th in average gain per pass allowed. Big plays have been a huge problem for this defense, and the Chargers are just 31st in the league stopping third-down conversions.
Still, with where the Bears offense is at right now ...
Special Teams: The Chargers are solid in the return game – 7th returning punts and 13th returning kickoffs – but the Bears are No. 1 in the league in both categories. The Bears also are slightly better covering punts, but they are 30th in the league on kickoff coverage, while the Chargers rank 12th.
The Bears also rate an edge in the kicking game with Eddy Pineiro perfect on extra points and 9 of 10 on field goals, while Chase McLaughlin is the Chargers’ third kicker this season and is 5 of 7 on field goals.
Chargers punter Ty Long is solid with a 42.0-yard net average, 9 punts inside the 20 and no touchbacks, while Patrick O’Donnell was enjoying his best season as a Bear until having his first punt blocked last Sunday.
Coaching: Anthony Lynn is 24-16 in two-plus seasons as head coach of the Chargers and led them to the same 12-4 record last year that Matt Nagy notched as a rookie with the Bears. Lynn’s 24 wins include a wild-card victory over the Ravens last season, while Nagy currently is 15-7, but 0-1 in the playoffs.