By Norm Elrod
It’s time for the battle of Los Angeles. No, not the classic Rage Against the Machine album, and certainly not the rumored WWII attack that never happened. This Sunday the Los Angeles Chargers head about 20 minutes north to face the Los Angeles Rams at L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The teams’ first meeting since each returned to La-La Land might just be the most anticipated matchup of Week 3.
A popular pre-season sleeper pick, the Chargers seem to finally have all the offensive weapons for Philip Rivers to win. Keenan Allen is among the NFL’s top receivers; Tyrell Williams is a serious downfield threat; and Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler can both get it done out of the backfield. Last season’s top passing offense has had no problem gaining yards and putting up points so far. Rivers threw for 424 yards and 3 touchdowns in their Week 1 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and those numbers might have been higher without the drops. He added another 256 yards and 3 TDs in their Week 2 win over the Buffalo Bills.
But, after two games, it’s hard to know quite yet where this Chargers team is heading. Rivers has been sublime so far, albeit against two of the NFL’s worst defenses. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers defense couldn’t contain Chiefs’ rookie sensation, Patrick Mahomes, who torched them for four touchdowns. Two of those went to Tyreek Hill, who also had 169 yards receiving and a punt return for yet another touchdown. Bills rookie Josh Allen put up another 245 yards, much of it in a second half that included two nice drives. The Chargers were sitting on lead at this point, but still were outplayed for half the game.
The Chiefs are among the NFL’s best teams, at least on offense, and improving, while the Bills might be the League’s worst, and heading south. So where does that put the Chargers? This week’s game with the Rams should shed some light on the situation.
The Rams have been stellar so far, controlling the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 and shutting out the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. While neither of those teams have won a game yet this season, the Rams’ wins were convincing. Good teams put away bad teams, and that’s what the Rams did.
Jared Goff has done a stellar job keeping the Rams’ high-powered offense moving, spreading the ball around and putting points on the board. Four different players have at least 5 receptions so far, with Brandin Cooks hauling in 12 for a whopping 246 yards. Todd Gurley remains the team’s workhorse, gaining 150 yards on 39 carries, with 3 TDs, and picking up 70 yards on 6 catches, with another TD.
The Rams have been almost as impressive on defense, allowing just one touchdown so far. Their defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage in both games; DT Aaron Donald practically lived in the Cardinals’ backfield. Their secondary allowed Derek Carr to throw for 303 yards, but picked him off three times. They held Sam Bradford to just 90 yards. Neither opponent had a rusher exceed 50 yards.
The Chargers-Rams matchup Sunday will probably come down to defense. This isn’t to suggest a defensive battle is in the offing; both teams will put up some points. But which team’s defense can slow down the other’s offense enough to gain an advantage?
The nod goes to the Rams, as Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and their formidable D-Line lines up across from a Chargers O-Line that’s been a little suspect so far. Flipping things around, the Chargers will continue to miss DE Joey Bosa, who’s already been ruled out for Week 3.
The Rams should win, but will they cover? As SportsLine analyst Mike Tierney sees it:
This intra-city tussle offers a potential Super Bowl preview. Anytime the underdog in such a scenario is spotted a full touchdown, the opportunity to seize it cannot be passed up. The Chargers would be 2-0 if not for a slew of dropped passes in the opener against Kansas City. They could have bounced Buffalo by a wider margin but lost interest with a healthy lead. QB Philip Rivers has been Brady-like in his twilight years. Keep in mind that, while the Chargers are the visitors, they need not board a plane — or even a bus — for the commute.