The Los Angeles Chargers are a very good football team. Even in the absence of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams for parts of the season, the downfall of JC Jackson, and the abysmal play of Jerry Tiller on the D-line — thankfully he just got waived — the Chargers have played their way to a 5-3 record and are very much in the thick of a division title at the halfway point of the season.
This weekend, the Bolts play the San Francisco 49ers in SoCal in what looks like an entertaining matchup between two low-end Super Bowl contenders. In reality, though, San Francisco should absolutely wipe the floor with L.A. Not because the Chargers’ record is better than their actual performance, but rather because the 49ers match up phenomenally well.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room, the factor everyone is talking about — the Chargers’ run defense. It’s no secret that Los Angeles does about as well at stopping the run as the NFL does at enforcing roughing the passer. The offseason addition of Khalil Mack was supposed to mitigate this problem, since Mack had been one of the best edge defenders against the run for many years. He’s been good, but the rest of the D-line has been underperforming, and those struggles have been amplified with the absence of All-Pro pass rusher Joey Bosa. The Chargers are allowing the most yards per rush of any team in the NFL (5.7). They’re second in the NFL in EPA allowed per rush play as well, only ahead of the Cleveland Browns in that department.
Now, the Niners haven’t been an elite rushing team this year. In fact, they’ve been below average in terms of both EPA and total yards, but make no mistake, the 49ers’ identity is as a run-heavy team, and with Christian McCaffrey suiting up for his third game with the team, San Fran’s rushing attack could be too much for the Chargers to handle, even with the absence of left tackle Trent Williams.
Now, the 49ers’ secondary is a little suspect. While many of the Niners’ faithful were expecting cornerback Jason Verrett to return soon, he instead suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in practice this week. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert should have an easy time dissecting that banged-up secondary, but with both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams missing this game, it could come down to Joshua Palmer, DeAndre Carter, and Gerald Everett to carry the L.A. passing attack. I don’t trust any of them to do serious damage.
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The Chargers’ rushing attack hasn’t been any better. While Austin Ekeler is one of the best backs in the league, he hasn’t been very efficient as a ball carrier. Rather, he’s done most of his damage through the air. That said, San Fran linebacker Fred Warner is one of the best in the NFL at following the ball out of the backfield and making open-field tackles. Ekeler could be in for heavy usage this game, but I wouldn’t expect him to get very far very often. Could he break one or two plays for large gains/touchdowns? Sure, but the 49ers are one of the best teams in the NFL at defending plays out of the backfield.
According to OddsChecker US, bettors disagree with my sentiment. Despite the betting line shifting in the 49ers’ favor over the course of the week — from +5.5 at opening to +7 today — 65 percent of moneyline bets have gone in favor of Los Angeles. This is the first time since Week 3 of 2021 against Kansas City that the Chargers have been a touchdown underdog or worse. Perhaps that solid track record is what is pushing bettors toward the Bolts. Or perhaps it’s the Chargers’ dominance over the 49ers in the 21st century. L.A. has won four of its last five against San Francisco. Still, past results do not indicate future outcomes. Brandon Staley wasn’t even the Chargers’ head coach the last time these two teams played.
With an emphasis on short passes, power runs, and efficiency out of the backfield, the 49ers are arguably the worst team the Chargers could face all year. Could they win? Absolutely. This is the NFL, and anyone can win on any given day. Also, I’m never going to be 100 percent sure of a bet against Justin Herbert, but by every measure imaginable, San Fran should win this game. While bettors seem sure that seven points are too many for the Chargers to lose by, I almost believe a double-digit loss isn’t out of the question. Then again, the 49ers have a knack for losing games they shouldn’t — just ask the Bears and Falcons — so maybe I’m reading too much into this. I doubt it though.