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Eye On: Scouting the Los Angeles Chargers

EYE-ON

The Giants play a second consecutive road game this Sunday when they travel to Los Angeles to play the Chargers. At 7-5, the Chargers are one game out of first place in the AFC West and are in heavy competition for one of the three AFC wild card spots. Here's what I've seen on film:

When the Chargers have the ball…

The Chargers rank seventh in yards per game (382.1), fifth in yards per play (5.96) and ninth in points per game (26.2).

Second-year quarterback Justin Herbert is having a strong season. He is completing 66.6% of his passes and has thrown for 295 yards per game to go with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He's also run for 249 yards. The Chargers are one of the heaviest passing teams in the league, running it the third-least frequently overall. Only Patrick Mahomes has more dropbacks to throw than Herbert and only Tom Brady has more passing yards. Herbert is third in the NFL in combined passing and rushing yards per game, behind Brady and Lamar Jackson. Despite Herbert's arm strength, he does not throw the ball down the field that frequently. His 7.9-yard average depth of target is 28th (min. 100 dropbacks), but the Chargers rank third in yards after the catch (1,595). Herbert has 11 interceptions, which puts him tied for the fifth-most in the league.

Keenan Allen is the Chargers' top wide receiver, grabbing 86 passes (tied for second in the NFL) for 929 yards (eight). He is one of the NFL's top route runners and has strong hands, although PFF has tracked him for seven drops. Allen was placed on the COVID-19 list on Monday so his status bears watching all week. Mike Williams has 854 receiving yards and he averages 15.5 yards per reception (seventh, min. 50 targets). At 6'4 and 218 pounds, Williams is tied for third in the league with 15 contested catches. He had 80 or more receiving yards in four of his first five games before going four straight games without gaining 60 yards in a game. In two of his last three games, he has gained 97 and 110 yards. TE Jared Cook has 36 catches for 400 yards and three touchdowns, but has five drops, according to PFF.

RB Austin Ekeler has 56 catches for 518 yards and seven touchdowns. But he has had some trouble handling the ball this year, with four drops and four fumbles – all coming on pass plays. Ekeler leads the Chargers with 663 rushing yards on 4.45 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. The Chargers do not run it often (only 35% of their plays) but they are effective when they do, averaging 4.49 yards per carry (11th).

Rookie LT Rashawn Slater has only allowed five sacks, four quarterback hits and 23 total pressures in 567 pass blocking snaps, according to PFF. Center Corey Linsley has not allowed a sack and just one quarterback hit. LG Matt Feiler has allowed five sacks and six quarterback hits and RT Storm Norton has allowed six sacks, seven quarterback hits and 43 total pressures. Yet, according to PFF, the Chargers have allowed pressure on just 27.3% of their dropbacks (fifth-lowest in NFL).

Only three teams average more yards than the Chargers (6.12 yards) on first down. Only four teams convert a higher percentage of their third downs (44.4%) and no teams converts 3rd-and-6+ more frequently than Los Angeles (38.8%). The Chargers 64% touchdown rate in the red zone ranks eighth.

Keys for the Giants' defense:

1. Keep Justin Herbert in the pocket

2. Plaster wide receivers down the field until the play is over

3. Get pressure on Herbert from the left side of the defense

View photos of the Chargers likely starters ahead of the Week 14 matchup against the Giants at SoFi Stadium.

When the Giants have the ball…

The Chargers are one of the poster-boy teams for the umbrella coverage trend storming the National Football League. Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill has built upon what head coach Brandon Staley brought with him from the Rams, but has kept the same primary philosophy to prevent big plays over the top.

It's why the Chargers are giving up 141 rushing yards per game (31st in the NFL) and have allowed 43 runs of 10+ yards (tied for 27th). But they have only allowed 34 completions of 20+ yards this year (tied for ninth-fewest) and the Chargers are the eight-best in limiting yards after the catch. The approach even shows up on third down: No team is worse than the Chargers in allowing opponents to convert on less than four yards (76%) and they rank 31st in overall third down defense (49%).

Up front, Joey Bosa leads the Chargers with 7.5 sacks, 15 quarterbacks hits, and 54 total pressures. He lines up primarily on the left side against the opponent's right tackle, though he occasionally flips over to right end. He was ruled out of last week's game after being evaluated for a concussion. Uchenna Nwosu, former Giants LB Kyler Fackrell and fourth-round rookie Chris Rumph II share the other edge rushing snaps. Former Giant Linval Joseph, Jerry Tillery, Breiden Fehoko and Justin Jones are their primary defensive tackles. Joseph missed last week's game with an illness.

Given their conservative philosophy on defense, it is surprising the Chargers have the 11th-highest blitz rate in the NFL (28.4%). They have used stunts on 43 percent of their third-down chances. Overall, the Chargers get pressure on 35.5% of their opponent's dropbacks (ninth). Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill are the Chargers' two three-down linebackers.

Derwin James is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He leads the Chargers in tackles with 100 and has five tackles for loss, two sacks, five quarterback hits, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. The Chargers line him up all over the field. Former second-round pick Nasir Adderley from Delaware (2019) lines up next to James and plays mostly the deep areas of the field. The Chargers will mix up their coverages using no single coverage concept more than 25% of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. Tevaughn Campbell and Michael Davis were the teams two primary outside cornerbacks last week, with veteran Chris Harris manning the nickel spot inside. Second-round rookie Asante Samuel suffered a second concussion this season in Week 11 against Pittsburgh and he has not been able to play since.

Keys for the Giants' offense…

1. Run the ball successfully to move the ball consistently and stay out of 3rd-and-long

2. Give help when needed to stop Joey Bosa from living in the backfield

3. Don't let Derwin James wreck the game by forcing turnovers

View photos from practice at the University of Arizona as the Giants prepare for their matchup against the Chargers.

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