Los Angeles Chargers Playoff Preview Mailbag: Facing Trevor Lawrence, Rashawn Slater’s Timeline and Emphasizing Ball Security

Los Angeles Chargers Playoff Preview Mailbag: Facing Trevor Lawrence, Rashawn Slater’s Timeline and Emphasizing Ball Security

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Chargers mailbag on ChargerReport.com this season. I’ve been doing mailbags periodically throughout the year, answering fan questions about the team.

You can enter submissions to be included in the wallet by tweeting me here.

Question no. 1 by @Boltupandrew: Trevor Lawrence was able to get the ball out quickly in Week 3, leading to minimal pressure from the Chargers. What can Brandon Staley and the defense do differently this time around to disrupt his rhythm?

Trevor Lawrence was nearly perfect in Week 3, completing 28 of 39 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns leading to a 38-10 rout of the Chargers. To find different results this time, there’s no question the Chargers can’t let Lawrence sit in the pocket and hide like they did in their first meeting when he wasn’t sacked and only hit once.

I think there’s good reason to be optimistic this time, though. Both the Chargers and Jaguars are very different teams now than they were at the start of the season. I really don’t think there are many parallels from the first game, as a lot has happened since the September 25th blowout at SoFi Stadium.

Brandon Staley also thought the Jaguars team right now isn’t what they faced early on.

“They’re a different team,” Brandon Staley said of the Jaguars’ development since their first game. “They’ve been through a lot since the game we played them. Their season was kind of a roller coaster, too. They were 2-6 at one point, and then they got really hot at the end. I think our seasons are probably similar in that we played our best football at the end.”

In particular, the Chargers’ pass rush has taken monumental strides the past five weeks, an aspect of the defense that wasn’t a factor in Week 3. Kyle Van Noy’s late-season surge has been a big reason for that, picking up a sack in five straight games, the longest active streak by a player in the AFL.

I think it’s also safe to assume that Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack will have a bigger impact this time around against Jacksonville’s offense. In the first Chargers-Jaguars meeting, Bosa played just 13 snaps on defense before slipping on the field and tearing his groin. That left the defense having to endure the loss of one of its star pass rushers on the fly.

I would imagine with Bosa building his way back and Mack being his consistent self, the pressure on Lawrence will be much more devastating.

Question no. 2 by @Curran_CP: Will Rashawn Slater play in the playoffs?

The recovery process for Rashawn Slater is still ongoing. Will he play in the playoffs? Yes, that’s certainly a real possibility, but it also depends on how far the Chargers can go.

Brandon Staley said Monday that Slater is making progress, but wasn’t ready to reveal an exact timeline for the standout left tackle.

“Similar to how we treated Joey [Bosa]Slater’s situation, you’ll find out when he gets closer to getting back into practice,” Staley said of Slater’s status. “I’m proud of the way he’s come back and worked hard to give himself a chance to Play.”

A month ago, Staley wasn’t willing to rule out a possible return for Slater during the regular season. Of course, this turned out to be a little more optimistic than it was an accurate expectation.

During the viewing portion of practice, I haven’t seen Slater resume activity with the team’s coaches gone yet. To give a rough estimate of Slater’s return, I think the earliest we see him in a game is the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Question no. 3 by @Dinhklam: How often do coaches preach “ball security” to players? The convoluted issues have to do with making the playoffs.

Ball security drills are completed at almost every practice. But there’s definitely cause for concern given that two balls were hit in the regular-season finale against the Broncos by Austin Ekeler and DeAndre Carter.

I asked Staley about the team’s ball security on Monday, and he described the two fumbles on Sunday by explaining Ekeler’s as some kind of sudden incident where Justin Simmons came unblocking through the line of scrimmage and only the flat did a quality game with the ball. The dig later in the game by Carter, Staley appreciated the amount suggesting it was a blind shot on the ball.

“You know the story of the turnovers. We were able to finish yesterday, but those two definitely kept us from scoring a lot more points because we really moved the ball well,” Staley said. “You just know that if you can get that, the more productive you’re going to be offensively. That’s certainly something we’re going to emphasize every day moving forward. Our guys have been tremendous all year with him.”

Chargers preach turnover margin profit with great focus. It’s an area Staley said he would be surprised if any other team placed more importance on than they do, showing the value he sees in this aspect of the game.

After all, the Chargers are seventh in turnover margin at +7. They have committed 10 errors this season in which nine other teams have more. But three of the Chargers’ 10 touchdowns have come in the last three games, an indication that this is an area they need to clean up for the playoffs.

Question no. 4 by @Wick_is_back: Is Joey Bosa good?

Assuming you’re referring to Joey Bosa’s early exit in Sunday’s game against the Broncos, Joey Bosa is fine. He played 23 snaps on defense in his second game back from hip surgery, but Staley said it was more about taking him out of the game, rather than suffering a setback.

“We were looking to play a strong first half. Then depending on how the game went in the second half, being able to put Bosa away when we thought the time was right,” Staley said. “That’s something that happened in that second half. We were able to take it out when we thought it was appropriate. We felt like he had enough snaps, like the run game, the pass game, and playing high. We felt like he had a good day’s work and was able to take another step towards building for this week.”

Bosa is closer to being back to his normal self, but is still in the process of building his stamina, just like other guys who have been out for long periods of time have to do when they come back from injury.

Bosa anticipates he’ll be able to handle a regular workload in the Wild Card game without any headcount restrictions.

Question no. 5 by @BRT86_Chargers: Assuming Brandon Staley keeps the job making the playoffs is enough, what does Joe Lombardi need to do in the playoffs to keep it or do you think he stays regardless?

It certainly hasn’t been what it was last season for Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, where the offense finished in the top 5 in many categories across the board in 2021. However, this year the circumstances have been very different and I think this is important when assessing what he did or did not do.

Justin Herbert probably played close to two months with a torn rib cage that limited him, the offensive line has come together at times and Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have missed a few games. All this is worth considering.

But we’ve also seen the offense, especially the last month and a half, where it’s been at or close to power. And yet, given who the Chargers have at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, the results have been more than encouraging.

I will say that the last two weeks have shown some improvement. Week 17 against the Rams, who have a respectable defense despite their record, was the Chargers’ most complete offensive performance since perhaps Week 5 against the Browns. They ran and threw the ball effectively against the Rams (431 yards), something they have struggled to do simultaneously this season.

Lombardi and the offense should certainly make the playoffs. Especially in the Wild Card round when they go to Jacksonville, a warm weather climate where the conditions shouldn’t affect how they move the ball down the field.

I’m sure the Chargers decision makers will do a full review at the end of the season as things relate to Lombardi. I don’t think they would be doing their job to the fullest if they are not at least looking at possible alternative options for next season’s striker. I would assume that offensive performance in the playoffs will play a role in Lombardi’s future, but don’t think it outweighs what he’s shown all season.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of the Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.

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