(CBSLA/CBS Local) — The Los Angeles Chargers slipped by the fading Chicago Bears in Week 8. They were due to pull out a close one, and after three consecutive losses by a touchdown or less, they did. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win, even if it resulted from a missed Bears field goal. The Chargers’ season remains alive for another week, as they host the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers.
The Chargers are moving forward without the services of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, however. He was fired Monday after the Chargers failed to produce on offense yet again. The team’s 17 points marked the third time in four weeks they’ve failed to score at least 20. Their 19.6 points per game so far this season puts the traditionally offensive-minded Chargers 23rd in the League. Quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen moves up to offensive coordinator and takes over play-calling duties.
What does this mean for the Chargers in Week 9? Probably more of a focus on the run game. According to NFL On CBS analyst Boomer Esiason, “You have to continually try to run the ball, especially with Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon,” said Esiason. “If they fire an offensive coordinator, it means that they don’t like the fact that they aren’t trying to run the ball enough. They are going to get back to that. That is going to be a big part of their staple this game.”
While the Chargers have struggled to score, quarterback Philip Rivers has not struggled to pick up yards in the passing game. His 289.4 passing yards per game puts him in the top 10 among quarterbacks. Both wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Austin Ekeler are on pace to surpass 100 catches and 1,000 yards on the season.
Rivers has found some success in the passing game despite multiple receiving targets missing time and/or dealing with injuries in the first half of the season. Running back Melvin Gordon, a receiving threat out of the backfield, sat out September due to contract issues. Wide receiver Mike Williams has been nicked up, and receiver Travis Benjamin and tight end Hunter Henry have both been hobbled enough to miss time. Now Allen is dealing with a hamstring issue.
The Chargers’ next opponent — the 7-1 Packers — has not struggled on offense. Aaron Rodgers finds himself among the NFL’s best in multiple categories, from yards per game (290.5) to touchdowns (15) to quarterback rating (106.7). He’s coming off a 305-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Kansas City Chiefs and a 429-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders. Some of the credit for Rodgers’ success should be directed toward rookie coach Matt LaFleur.
Rodgers has had a wide complement of weapons at his disposal, even without wide receiver Davante Adams, who has been out with turf toe since Week 4. (Adams practiced this week and could return for Week 9.) And he’s been getting contributions from up and down the lineup on a week-to-week basis.
But no one (outside of Rodgers himself, perhaps) has been more important to the Packers’ success than Aaron Jones. The dual-threat running back has earned Offensive Player of the Week honors twice in the last month. The most recent came just last Sunday against the Chiefs, when he picked up 67 yards on 13 carries, to go along with seven catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
The Packers offensive line, one of the NFL’s better units, will need to keep Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa away from Rodgers. The elder Bosa is coming off a two-sack, seven-tackle showing against the Bears that earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. He has seven sacks on the year. Behind Bosa, the Chargers secondary will have to contain a Packers passing attack that’s been doing what it wants of late. The defense allows only 217.4 passing yards per game, sixth best in the league, and 19.6 points, which puts them 10th.
The Chargers offensive line, which has struggled at times, will have to deal with Packers defensive end Za’Darius Smith, who enjoyed a two-sack, four-tackle performance of his own against the Chiefs. The Packers defense as a whole actually gives up more points (20.4) than the Chargers defense, as well as more overall yards per game (375.5, compared to the Chargers’ 340.1). They’ve allowed 20-plus points in each of their last four wins. The vulnerability on defense is somewhat hidden by the strong production of the offense.
Still, modest defensive shortcomings won’t be enough to slow down a Packers team that’s found its stride. Look for another big day from Rodgers and another win for the Packers in Los Angeles.
The Chargers play the Packers Sunday @ 4:25 ET on CBS.