Sports | August 3, 2020 7:53 am

Are the LA Chargers Ready to Become an Elite Defensive Football Team?

With Philip Rivers now a Colt, Joey Bosa is the new face of the Chargers franchise

Can the Los Angeles Chargers Forge a New Identity on the Fly?
Defensive star Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019. (Mark Brown/Getty)
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Over the next six weeks or so, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of finish from worst to first. Today’s team, the Chargers.

No. 27: Los Angeles Chargers
2019 Record: 5-11

Points For: 337 – Points Against: 345
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 7.5

After taking over for Drew Brees as the starting quarterback for the Chargers in 2006, Philip Rivers started every single one of the team’s games over 14 seasons — 235 in all, including the playoffs. Rivers went 123-101 in those starts (but just 5-6 in the playoffs) and is the franchise’s all time leader in nearly every single passing category of any consequence or import.

But the most recognizable Charger in history is now a member of the Colts after agreeing to a deal with Indianapolis this offseason when he was not offered an extension, leaving a huge void in Los Angeles. For this season at least, it appears the Chargers and fourth-year head coach Anthony Lynn will be counting on former Ohio State standout Joey Bosa and the Los Angeles defense to fill it.

Last week, the franchise and Bosa agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $135 million, including $102 million guaranteed, which made the pass rusher the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. The lucrative extension speaks volumes, and what it says is the Chargers want 25-year-old Bosa, the first player in franchise history to agree to a deal worth at least $100 million, to serve as the cornerstone of LA’s defense for the foreseeable future.

“It makes me feel good, Joey’s tied down for a little while and we know he’s going to be a Charger,” Lynn said after the deal was agreed to. “We’re all excited about that.”

Bosa will now be the linchpin for a Los Angeles defense that added All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and veteran defensive tackle Linval Joseph via free agency and also snagged Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray with the No. 23 overall pick in April’s draft. Those additions should help bolster a unit that finished in the top six in total yards allowed and top five in passing yards allowed, but also struggled badly to get off the field on third down, had difficulty sacking the quarterback and had the fewest forced turnovers (14) of any team in the NFL in 2019.

Improvements to the Chargers defense — which also has a second elite pass rusher in defensive end Melvin Ingram III and a solid secondary helmed by cornerback Desmond King II — are vital, as the team’s offense is likely to be somewhat of a work in progress thanks to the loss of Rivers. 

To replace Rivers, the team will first turn to journeyman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who was the top QB backup for the Chargers last season and is “in the driver’s seat” to be the Day 1 starter for Los Angeles, according to Lynn. Taylor, who will be playing in his 10th NFL season, will have to deliver the goods early on or the calls for Lynn and the team to turn to rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, who was selected with the sixth overall pick in April, will start coming.

Familiar with the system of offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Taylor will be able to rely on top target Keenan Allen as well as the services of pass-catching tight end Hunter Henry, but he’ll no longer be able to turn to Melvin Gordon in the backfield, as the 27-year-old running back joined the Chargers’ AFC West rival, the Denver Broncos, during the offseason.

In lieu of Gordon, the star of LA’s run-heavy offense will be pint-sized Austin Ekeler, a shifty player who broke out last season when Gordon was holding out for more money and finished 2019 with 132 rushes for 557 yards and three rushing scores to go along with 92 receptions, 993 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches. Ekeler’s catches and receiving yards trailed only Pro Bowler Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers.

Like Bosa, Ekeler was rewarded with a new contract this offseason and is a big part of LA’s future plans despite his small stature. But it is Bosa who will assume the leadership role that Rivers leaves vacant, even though he prevents points instead of scores them.

With Bosa leading the way, the new name of the game in LA is defense.