Behind Enemy Lines: Packers take on high-scoring Chargers offense

Nov 6, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) drops back to pass against the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) drops back to pass against the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Following a tough loss to the Pittsbrugh Steelers, Green Bay is back at Lambeau Field on Sunday to take on the Los Angeles Chargers, who will present a different type of challenge for this Packers team—more on this on a second.

The Chargers have been very good  this season at putting up points and doing so through the air, although they’ve struggled on defense, which could allow this young Packers’ offense to continue building upon some of the momentum that they’ve established in recent weeks.

"“How do you prepare for any really good quarterback,” said Matt LaFleur when asked about preparing for Justin Herbert. “You do the best you can. You put the best plan in place. Obviously you’ve got to study and have an idea of what plays and concepts may be coming your way in order to be able to react the right way.“Certainly, challenge in certain areas, but you better pick your spots, like I said he’s capable of making you pay if you get overly aggressive or if you’re leaving Keenan Allen one-on-one too much, he’s going to make you pay eventually.”"

To help provide us with some insights into this uncommon opponent, Jason Reed of Bolt Beat was kind enough to answer several of my questions about this Chargers team. As always, I provided the Packers perspective to things along the way.

What has been the strength of this Chargers team up to this point in the season?

Jason: The strength has definitely been on the offensive side of the ball. While there have certainly been less-than-ideal games, this team is at its best when it can sling the football around the yard and put up offensive clinics. Specifically, the Chargers’ ability to protect the football has been a big reason why they have been in every single game that they have played. The Chargers are tied for the third-best turnover margin per game. Justin Herbert has thrown just five picks and the offense has lost just two fumbles, which is very important considering how bad the defense has looked at times this season.

Paul: The Chargers are going to present the Packers defense with a new challenge this week. The only other opponent that Green Bay has faced that scores as many points per game on average as Los Angeles is Detroit. The difference between the two, however, is Detroit wants to run the ball while the Chargers want to throw it, with Justin Herbert ranking top 10 in pass attempts per game and fifth in pass attempts of 20-plus yards. That combination of an opponent being able to put up points and do so through the air is not something this defense has had to contend with yet this season.

Jaire Alexander returned to practice on Thursday in a limited capacity but his status for Sunday is still very much up in the air. If unavailable, this would leave Corey Ballentine and Carrington Valentine on the boundary once again. Green Bay could be short-handed at safety as well with Rudy Ford not having practiced at all this week. Priority No. 1 will be trying to contain Keenan Allen, who has nearly three-times as many targets as the next pass-catcher on the Chargers team. Limiting the Los Angeles run game, putting their offense in predictable passing situations is one way the front seven can help their secondary, as is pressuring Herbert when he does dropback. It’s also going to be important that the Packers run game is able to get going in an effort to slow the game down, limit possessions, and keep Herbert on the sidelines. Green Bay can’t have this game turn into a shootout.

On the flip side, what has been the weakness for this team?

Jason: As alluded to, it is the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary. This secondary group simply has never grasped Brandon Staley’s cover 6-heavy defensive scheme and any time the Chargers play a component quarterback or offense they pay for it. Staley’s defense has had a lot of success this season and in year’s past because of a good pass rush that naturally flusters below-average quarterbacks. But the moment this Chargers team plays an offense that can get the ball out quickly, or has a quarterback that can handle that pressure, it has been a nightmare.

Paul: The Packers offense has been gaining momentum in recent weeks and as Jason alluded to, they’ll have the opportunity to build upon that success. There are a few contributors to Green Bay’s recent successes, but a lot of it has to do with the play of the offensive line. Not surprisingly, Jordan Love has played better when he’s had time in the pocket. Although the run game hasn’t been great by any means, it’s been much improved, which has helped keep the offense out of long down-and-distance situations, set up play-action, and in general, opened up opportunities in the passing game. We’ve also seen an improved downfield passing game with the emergence of Jayden Reed, Luke Musgrave, and Dontayvion Wicks. Many of the early season issues Green Bay experienced stemmed from poor offensive line play and an inability to pick up chunk plays.

Who is one player on offense and one on defense that Packers fans may not be as familiar with but could make an impact on Sunday?

Jason: Offense is tough to gauge right now simply because Keenan Allen, Gerald Everett, and Donald Parham all didn’t practice on Wednesday. If those three don’t play, Justin Herbert will be without his WR1, WR2, WR3, TE1, and TE2 in this game. Even if they do play, Herbert is still without his WR2 (Mike Williams) and WR3 (Joshua Palmer). All that being said, Derius Davis is someone who may have to step up for this team out of necessity. The 2023 fourth-round pick has been exceptional on special teams and has given some gadget-play looks thus far this season that have succeeded. In Week 11, he might be forced to be a quick-yardage option for Herbert to get the ball out fast and allow Davis to pick up yards after the catch. With his athleticism, he could have a career day offensively.

Defense would have to be rookie Tuli Tuipulotu. The 2023 second-round pick has been phenomenal for the Chargers this season. While his counting stats do not look Pro Bowl-level, he has had a Pro Bowl-level impact on this defense with his ability to play the run and rush the passer both inside and out. The quartet of Tuipulotu, Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, and Morgan Fox has been one of the best four-man pass rushes in the sport this season.

Paul: Although Allen dominates the passing game for Los Angeles, in part due to injuries, there hasn’t been a true secondary option for the Chargers this season. Instead, if the ball isn’t going Allen’s way, Herbert spreads the ball around quite well and attacks all levels of the field. There are six Chargers pass catchers with between 23 and 38 targets this season. While Allen should have the attention of the entire Green Bay defense, all other pass catching options can be threats as well in this passing game.

The Green Bay offensive line, specifically the tackles, are going to have another tough test this week. The Packers come into the game having faced eight of the top 25 edge rushers in total pressures this season. We are all familiar with how disruptive Bosa and Mack can be, but Tuipulotu has been among the best as well in terms of getting after the quarterback, ranking 30th out of all edge rushers in total pressures, with Matt LaFleur heaping praise on his play during Wednesday’s press conference. As previously mentioned, any chance of potential success for Love and the offense starts with the play of the offensive line. As far as the left tackle position goes, LaFleur mentioned on Thursday that there was a competition still taking place between Yosh Nijman and Rasheed Walker.

When the Chargers have found success and won games, what has that path to victory looked like for them? What needs to happen for them to have the opportunity to win?

Jason: Three of the four games the Chargers won came against supbar quarterbacks (Aidan O’Connell’s first-career start, Tyson Bagent’s second-career start, Zach Wilson). The only exception was in Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings, where Kirk Cousins threw an inexcusable interception in the end zone to finish the game. And even in that game, Justin Herbert had the best start of his entire career and they barely held on (40-47, 405 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). All that to say that the Chargers win when they can fluster opposing quarterbacks, which is something they have not been able to do to average-plus quarterbacks. This game will come down to Jordan Love and how well the offensive line can hold up against this Chargers pass rush.

Paul: Conversely for Green Bay, playing complementary football is going to be a necessity for them against the Chargers—something that has eluded the Packers for a large portion of the year. As previously stated, the Packers don’t want this game turning into a track meet. With a defense that has struggled to get off the field and an offense that has been unable to sustain drives consistently this season, similarly to the Detroit game, this one has the potential of getting out of hand quickly. Even if drives for the Green Bay offense doesn’t end in points, they need to string together some first downs and use up the clock to limit the defense’s exposure to the Chargers offense. As always, winning the turnover battle will be key as well—although that is not a matchup in this game that favors the Packers. Los Angeles has been one of the best at protecting the ball and creating takeaways. Green Bay, meanwhile, has done the opposite on both sides of the ball.

The Chargers have been on the wrong end of several close games this season, is there anything specific that has contributed to those outcomes?

Jason: There is something specific that can be pointed out in each game, but this happens to many teams in the NFL. NFL games are often close and more often than not, the teams with good coaching and a good system in place win these close games more often than not. Meanwhile, the teams with poor coaching and poor systems often lose these close games. It all boils down to coaching.

Paul: Of the Packers six losses this season, four have been by four points or fewer and both sides of the ball have contributed to these unfortunate outcomes. Late in games, if the Packers have had the lead, the defense has been unable to come up with that crucial stop to maintain it. On the flip side, the Love-led offense has put themselves in position to score, but late game interceptions have been prevalent in these situations. Up to this point, Love hasn’t had a go-to option in the passing game, and at times has tried to force the ball to Christian Watson as a result. Hopefully, with the recent play of Reed, Musgrave, and Wicks, one of those players can step up in those key moments or at least not allow the defense to key in on one particular player, which can help open up opportunities for others.