In last week’s forecast, I wrote about how one Los Angeles team looked poised for an upswing and the other did not. As it turned out, the Chargers did win on the road against the Browns to improve to 3-2 and the Rams had another disappointing, and downright pathetic, offensive effort against the Cowboys to fall to 2-3.
Fortunately for the Rams, a team more broken and battered than they are comes to SoFi Stadium on Sunday in the Carolina Panthers, while the Chargers wait a day for an intriguing Monday Night Football game against the Denver Broncos.
Broncos at Chargers (-5, 45.5)
Chargers coach Brandon Staley should be careful if he plans on dressing up as a cat for Halloween because he may be running out of lives. His fourth-and-one decision with 1:13 left while clinging to a two-point lead at the Chargers 46-yard-line last week could have gone extremely bad. Instead, the Cleveland Browns’ Cade York missed a 54-yard game-winning attempt and the Chargers survived.
The decision prompted social media angst from star wide receiver Keenan Allen, who apparently had a heart-to-heart with Staley when the Chargers returned home. The catch-all term “analytics” is an oversimplification of what goes into the decision-making process, but it has to be presented in a way that will get full buy-in from the players. Staley has made a lot of data-driven decisions in his 22 games at the helm and many of them have been unpopular. At the end of the day, a win is a win, even with the lingering questions.
One lingering question was answered with authority against Cleveland. The dormant running game found its spark, as Austin Ekeler rushed for 173 yards in 16 carries. Joshua Kelley also got in on the fun with 4.9 yards per carry in 10 attempts. Pairing a strong ground attack with Justin Herbert and his weapons would provide an enormous boost for the Chargers. Given what has happened on defense, they’re going to need every inch of production from the offense.
The Chargers gave up 213 yards rushing and 6.9 yards per carry to the Browns. Jacoby Brissett also nearly topped his season high in yards passing for the second consecutive week. The Chargers defense is not good, ranking 28th in yards allowed per play, and especially not good against the run. That is an area the Broncos may rely on more with Russell Wilson battling a torn shoulder muscle.
Could the defense find its footing against Denver? The Broncos have scored a touchdown on only three of their 14 red-zone opportunities, so there are signs of positive regression, but head coach and play-caller Nathaniel Hackett appears in over his head. The Broncos defense has been solid under former Rams assistant Ejiro Evero, but the offense has sputtered with just 15 points per game.
The Chargers are the first team that can really attack the Broncos with a balanced offense, if what we saw from the running game is legit. That’s enough to make me think they can cover against a disjointed offense that shouldn’t expose the defense as badly as other teams have.
Pick: Chargers -5