For most teams losing an All-Pro Safety and a Pro-Bowl running back will cause them to instantly wind up in the cellar. However, the Chargers are built for this. They have some serious depth at both positions. The actual proof comes in last years playoff win vs. the Ravens when Gus Bradley threw the world off by starting 7 DBs in replace of LBs to neutralize the quickness of Lamar Jackson and gave the Chargers D speed everywhere. The second bit of proof comes after the Chargers went 4-0 without Gordon last year. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson have seen crucial minutes and that will bode well for them depending on the length of Gordon’s holdout. Defensively, Derwin James is going to be a huge loss because of his rare size, speed, and football IQ at such a young age. Luckily, they resigned ’18 pro-bowl and all-pro special teams ace Adrian Phillips. Phillips has been given an opportunity to cash in a very serious payday after this season if he can duplicate last years numbers but with more playing time on defense. He has made big play after big play in the past two years and now its time for him to be recognized. At least until Derwin returns in 3 months.
The leadership on the coaching staff with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and former Super Bowl RB Anthony Lynn. Backup or not, he was there. Young Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are going to be leaned on more than ever. Jackson, a 7th rounder while Ekeler went undrafted. They both want to prove they can produce in this league. Those are two outstanding individual coaches that understand the Safety and RB positions.
Special teams is where Adrian Phillips made his name. Younger players in this league need to recognize what it takes for some players to get their chance. Phillips wasn’t only a special team Pro-Bowler he was also a special team All-Pro. Phillips had 94 tackles with 7 starts. The Chargers needed to resign him but they only gave him a 1 year, ‘show me’ contract. They wanted to see if he can have the same success he had last year. A few years ago the Chargers made the mistake of re-signing Jahleel Addae to a big contract after one breakout season. He is no longer with the team after performing far below expectations from what his contract would suggest. They had a ‘buyer beware’ mentality when putting together a contract for Phillips. He has the chance to put that to rest this season with James out early.
Adrian Phillips isn’t the only player to get added snaps in James absence. Gus Bradley loves former 4th round Safety from Miami Rayshawn Jenkins, who also was a big part in last years playoff win vs. the Ravens. The Chargers also have 2nd round pick Nassir Adderly who has the potential to be a star in this league with James. Don’t get it twisted though, the Chargers will absolutely need James if they want to win a Super Bowl. He needs to rest up and be ready to go in late November or December for a serious playoff run. Until then, Philips and Jenkins need to mentor young Nassir Adderly. The pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will help the secondary because they will cause some ‘ill-advised’ throws or throwing the ball too early because the QB is worried about taking a shot to the body from a pair of pro-bowl caliber edge rushers in Bosa and Ingram.
We all know defense wins championships but let’s turn to the offense. The Chargers seemed to not be worried about the running game with no Melvin Gordon. As I mentioned earlier the Chargers went 4-0 in 2018 without Gordon. Stayed consistent to a ground attack led by two “backups” was key to beating the Steelers and Chiefs late in the season. Ask anyone in the Big 10 if Justin Jackson is a stud or not. He only ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his 4 years at Northwestern. Chargers fans know the value of undrafted Austin Ekeler and his Air Guitar TD celebration. Anthony Lynn and Telesco are very confident in those two if Gordon continues his holdout or gets traded. Whichever comes sooner. Something to point out, Gordon still communicates with Jackson and Ekeler regularly and he has the support of his teammates during this time. For right now at least. Unless Gordon pulls a La’Veon Bell and throws his teammates or organization under the bus which we haven’t seen from him.
Ekeler and Jackson didn’t blow up the stat sheet in those 4 critical games late in the season. They were very productive though. Justin Jackson had a game with 7 receptions and another game with 60 yards and a TD. Ekeler had a few TDs as well. The Steelers and Chiefs were two of those teams. They never turned on the run game. Lynn and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt kept pounding the ball and eventually broke free late in both games. A balanced attack is the only way to win in the National Football League. As the title of this post suggests, they have the depth to get to the postseason and maybe they have enough to win it, but there is no question a healthy James and Gordon put them at the top. Melvin Gordon is a top 5 RB in this league. He can catch, he can run through you or around you, and since his rookie year, he has averaged just under 13 TDs a season rushing and receiving. Very hard to replace that production so we’ll have to wait and see because it looks like this holdout might continue awhile longer. In a report earlier, Tom Telesco said they are suspending contract talks until after the season. Now, it is all up to Melvin Gordon whether or not the two-time pro bowler will show up.
We’ll see how the season progresses not having James or Gordon will hurt but not cripple the Chargers. Tom Telesco has done a great job putting together depth at the Safety and RB position.