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Chargers 2022 NFL preview, schedule: Herbert could lead dark horse to playoffs

With defensive reinforcements in place and one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, the Chargers finally look ready to break through in 2022.

Why the Chargers can be the Dark Horse in the AFC
Harry HowAFP

After coming within a win of qualifying for the playoffs last season, the Chargers were one of the most aggressive teams in the offseason with the primary aim of strengthening a mediocre defense, one of the main reasons they didn’t make it past the regular season.

Among the new faces on that side of the ball, two stand out: cornerback J.C. Jackson and linebacker Khalil Mack, obtained in a trade with the Chicago Bears.

Jackson leads the NFL with 25 interceptions over the past four seasons; in 2021, with the Patriots, he led the league with 23 passes defensed and eight interceptions, earning him a spot in the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.

Jackson joins a defense that includes Asante Samuel Jr. (third among rookie CBs with 11 passes defensed) and safety Derwin James, who returned after missing the entire 2020 season with 118 tackles, two quarterback sacks, two interceptions and five passes defensed.

James, however, will not participate in Chargers training camp until his agent secures a contract extension, something both sides hope will be finalised before the end of preseason.

Mack disappointed in his fourth and final season with the Bears and only featured in seven games, in which he had six sacks. In four seasons in Chicago, Mack recorded 36 sacks and in Los Angeles the expectation is for him to form a formidable pairing with Joey Bosa, who led the team last season with 10.5 sacks.

The Chargers’ defense was one of the worst against the run and that’s why linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Morgan Fox and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Troy Reeder arrived in free agency.

Will that be enough to improve on an awful 138.9 rushing yards per game average coach Brandon Staley’s team allowed in 2021? The jury remains out.

Herbert to take the next step

Fortunately for Staley, his offense is poised to be one of the best in the NFL and the reason for that is Justin Herbert.

The third-year quarterback was second in the league with 5,014 passing yards and third with 38 touchdown passes in 2021.

Additionally, he became the first player with at least 30 touchdown passes in his first two seasons. His 9,350 yards and 69 touchdown passes are the most by a quarterback in his first two seasons in the league.

Herbert will have the best collection of receivers he has ever worked with this year. Veterans Keenan Allen (106 receptions, 1,138 yards, 6 touchdowns in 2021) and Mike Williams (76-1146-9), are joined by Joshua Palmer, who has made a name for himself in training camp, and tight end Gerald Everett.

The backfield is led by Austin Ekeler, who in 2021 managed 1,558 combined yards (911 rushing, 647 receiving) and tied for the league lead with 20 touchdowns. Fresh legs arrive via the draft in the shape of Isaiah Spiller (Texas A&M) and fullback Zander Horvath (Purdue).

The offensive line evolved from being one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL and the only question is who will take the place of Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. Trey Pipkins and Storm Norton are vying for that spot.

If the new defensive faces have the impact that is expected of them, the Chargers will be in the running for the AFC Western Division crown and may get to finally see Herbert in the playoffs. From there, the Chargers could be the NFL Black Horse in January 2023.

Los Angeles Chargers

Record in 2021: 9-8

Stadium: SoFi Stadium

Super Bowl Titles: 0

Head coach: Brandon Staley

Offensive Coordinator: Joe Lombardi

Defensive Coordinator: Renaldo Hill

2022 Chargers calendar

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5
Las Vegasat Kansas CityJacksonvilleat Houstonat Cleveland
Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10
DenverSeattleBYEat Atlantaat San Francisco
Week 11Week 12Week 13Week 14Week 15
Kansas Cityat Arizonaat Las VegasMiamiTennessee
Week 16Week 17Week 18
at IndianapolisLA Ramsat Denver

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