Los Angeles Chargers 2018 Stats Review
Pythagorean Wins: 10.6
ATS: 9-7; average line -4.8
Over/Under: 8-8; average total 47.8
Close Games Record: 6-1
Turnover Differential: 0.1
Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 100.0 (25th)
Offense: 4th in EPA per play (+0.146); 6.37 yards per play
Defense: 8th in EPA per play (-0.015); 5.49 yards per play
Masters of Close Games
Finally, the Los Angeles Chargers had the luck they deserved – after so many years stacked with injuries, and collapses from their special teams. They still ranked in the bottom-eight of injury luck, but they went a terrific 6-1 in close games. They ranked top-10 on both sides of the ball, and Philip Rivers was awesome – he played a decent mile above his career path. However, their season ended how some folks predicted it would end: Anthony Lynn and DC Gus Bradley got outcoached by a mile against a great coaching staff at Foxboro.
Since 2009, 38 teams had a close game differential of -5 or worse, or +5 or higher. These 38 teams saw an average absolute change of 4.34 wins the next season. Only two sides were able to win the same amount of games again; not a single team overcame the regression. The Chargers have a very talented roster, so they will likely land on the positive side of the distribution. But we should expect them to lose more games in 2019.
Against the Cardinals, the Bolts were down 10 (lol) and won. At Kansas City, they were down 14 and won. At Pittsburgh? Down 16 and won. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel randomly decided to go for two after the late touchdown that made the score 19-20, Tennessee failed. Going for it a couple of drives earlier at 12-17 would have been the better option mathematically. They had a two-point win against CJ Beathard.
On top of that, the Bolts were expected to play the second-easiest schedule. They ended up playing the fifth-easiest schedule in terms of wins and losses. Expect some regression going forward.
The Return of Hunter Henry
The biggest problem for the Chargers remains the coaching staff. I have no faith in Anthony Lynn and DC Gus Bradley played zone coverage exclusively against Tom Brady, until the game was over. The Bolts lost deep-threat Tyrell Williams, but they get TE Hunter Henry back. Over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, 232 receivers saw 50 or more targets. Hunter Henry ranked second in receiving expected points added per target. Rob Gronkowski ranked first. Even regressing from that performance level, Henry will be an incredible addition to this offense. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry look like a top-10 receiving trio on paper, maybe even better.
Melvin Gordon could hold out the season, but that shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Austin Ekeler is the more talented receiver, and Ekeler and Justin Jackson can replace a fair share of Gordon’s rush production. The biggest concern, in my opinion, is the offensive line that didn’t get addressed at all. Chargers GM Tom Telesco got a lot of praise for the picks of Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley, but he didn’t upgrade a lousy offensive line, whether in free agency or the draft.
Right tackle Sam Tevi and left guard Dan Feeney were among the worst at their respective positions last year and allowed a combined 125 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Right guard Michael Schofield wasn’t much better either. Center Mike Pouncey played worse as advertised. Left tackle Russell Okung, the unit’s best player, has dealt with a severe medical condition and it’s uncertain whether he will or want to continue his career. The Bolts should give 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp a shot at left or right guard this year; it can’t get worse. Philip Rivers is a good quarterback, and his receiving weapons are deadly. But this offensive line is going to cause trouble, especially when the coaching staff doesn’t try to optimize play-calling tendencies.
The Defense is Loaded
There shouldn’t be a debate about the defense, which is top-10 material on paper. With Tillery and Adderley, the Bolts filled needs, but it’s not easy to predict rookie impact. Because of a lack of alternatives, I expect both guys to see significant playtime. The Draft Network sees Tillery as a pass rush specialist which is extremely intriguing when considering the lack of interior rush last year. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are one of the best edge-rushing duos in the league. Last year’s rookie Uchenna Nwosu played a little over 300 snaps as a rotational pass rusher and did a stable job. Add some contribution by Tillery and blitzes by All-Pro Derwin James, and you have a terrific pass rush together.
Mike linebacker Denzel Perryman’s season was over after nine games. He returns and gets help by 36-year old Thomas Davis (Pro Bowl 2015-2017) who brings a lot of experience and game intelligence to this unit. Last year’s fourth-round-pick, linebacker Kyzir White, who instantly became a starter, went to IR after week three. Anthony Lynn raved about his “speed and explosiveness” during the off-season. It could be the best linebacking group the Los Angeles Chargers have had in a while.
The cornerback group consisting of Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams, and Desmond King is outstanding. Derwin James was the steal of the 2018 draft, getting All-Pro honors in his first season. He can do everything – playing in coverage, stopping the run and blitzing. Adrian Philip will likely get the start at free safety, but Nasir Adderley could see significant playing time depending on his development.
Last year, this defense gave up 30 points to the Steelers, 28 to the Rams, 31 and 28 to the Chiefs, and 41 to New England. Offenses dictate matchups, but if the Chargers defense wants elite status, they need to take a step forward against good attacks.
After playing an extremely relaxed program last season, it will get slightly harder this time. According to the current Pinnacle season win totals, the implied strength of schedule for the Los Angeles Chargers is 0.4915 which would rank 25th. As measured by 2018 EPA per offensive play, their defense is projected to face the 15th-hardest schedule (+0.0394).
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Their 3-1 record against the NFC West could get replaced by 2-2 against the NFC North along with two early eastern time matchups at Chicago and Detroit. Will the Raiders be able to sneak out a win with an improved receiving corps? One of their home games gets replaced by a neutral field matchup against the Chiefs in Mexico City, and the Bolts will play two cold-weather games in December at Arrowhead and Mile High. All in all, other teams play significantly more brutal programs.
Los Angeles Chargers 2019: More Wins Than Children?
The positives: the Los Angeles Chargers have a good quarterback, a good receiving corps and a good pass defense. On the negative side: Philip Rivers could regress a little bit, they could feature one of the worst offensive lines, their coaching staff doesn’t seem to put them over the top, and they must expect negative regression in close games. But the overall talent level is too good to expect a massive regression of four or more wins and the strength of their schedule will likely be in the bottom half.
I expect the Chargers to win around ten games, which would be one more than Philip Rivers has children. And I expect them to battle with the Chiefs for the division title once again which should be a close race. It’s hard to win 12+ games back-to-back in this league, and I doubt the Bolts will be able to achieve that. But they should be able to provide Philip Rivers with another playoff ticket.
The season wins total opened at 9.8 (adjusted for juice) and betting markets cautiously attacked the over to push the number to 9.9. I think the current line is spot on, but the Over is priced heavily. The Chargers need to win 10 or more games 60 percent of the time to cash that ticket.