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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2024 Opponent Preview: Los Angeles Chargers, Week 15

New Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is reshaping the Chargers after a disappointing 2023 season, and he has one of the NFL's most talented quarterbacks to build around


As Head Coach Todd Bowles pointed out to his players at the end of last week's minicamp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had better be ready to put in a lot of good work in training camp, because the upcoming season will be challenging. The Buccaneers' 2024 schedule, for instance, includes all four teams that were still playing on conference championship weekend. As we wait for the start of that camp, we are taking an opportunity to look at each team Tampa Bay is going to face during the regular season. From how those teams fared last year, to what they've done with the roster since, to some as-yet-unanswered questions – we want to get a better feel for what the Bucs will be up against this fall. Today we look at a team the Bucs will have to cross the country to face in mid-December: the Los Angeles Chargers.

2023 Results

The Chargers were a playoff team in 2022 but they dropped to 5-12 and fourth place in the AFC West last season, which ultimately cost Head Coach Brandon Staley his job with three games left to be played. Injuries were an issue, which is seemingly the case every season for the Chargers, but they were still in contention at midseason before losing eight of their last nine outings.

The bye week came early for Los Angeles, and at that point they certainly looked like contenders. Two and three-point losses for the Dolphins and Titans started the season but were followed by wins at Minnesota and at home against the Raiders. Austin Ekeler, Justin Herbert and Joshua Kelley all ran for touchdowns in the opener to build a 34-30 lead over Miami in the opener but Tua Tagovailoa won it with a four-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill late in regulation. The following week in Tennessee, Cameron Dicker tied the game as the fourth quarter expired but the Titans won it in overtime on a 41-yard Nick Folk kick, as Herbert's 305 passing yards and two touchdown tosses weren't enough.

The Chargers returned the favor to the Vikings in Minnesota in Week Three, as Herbert hit Josh Palmer for the go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown pass in a 38-24 win. Herbert completed a stunning 40 of 47 passes for 405 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Los Angeles built a 24-7 lead over the Raiders in Week Four and held on for a 24-17 win.

After their bye, the Chargers lost two in a row again, a three-point decision at home against Dallas and a two-touchdown defeat in Kansas City. Bryan Cook and L'Jarius Sneed picked Herbert off and Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdown passes. The pendulum swung back for the Chargers as they followed with lopsided wins over the Bears and Jets. Herbert had another big game against Chicago, completing 31 of 40 for 298 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Rookie Derius Davis started the Week Eight rout at the Meadowlands with an 87-yard punt return touchdown, as the Chargers won despite posting only 191 yards of offense.

The Chargers' season nose-dived after that, starting with three straight losses to eventual playoff teams Detroit, Green Bay and Baltimore. It could have easily gone differently. Herbert's fourth touchdown pass against Detroit and second to Keenan Allen tied the Week Nine game at 38 apiece in the fourth quarter but Jared Goff's 41-yard completion to Kalif Raymond set up the Lions' game-winning field goal with no time left. Another fourth-quarter Allen touchdown gave the Lions a late lead at Lambeau Field, too, but Jordan Love won it with a 24-yard scoring strike to Romeo Doubs. However, the Chargers' next four losses were all by double digits.

The final win on the Chargers' schedule was a low-wattage takedown of the struggling Patriots in Foxborough, with Dicker providing the only points in a 6-0 outcome. The L.A. defense did come up big, sacking Bailey Zappe five times, including two by Khalil Mack. The game that brought Staley's three-season tenure as head coach to an end came two weeks later in Las Vegas, with Aidan O'Connell torching the Chargers' defense with four touchdown passes. Los Angeles had lost Herbert for the remainder of the season the previous weekend during a loss to the Broncos, as he suffered a fractured index finger on his throwing hand. Easton Stick replaced him and did throw three touchdown passes, but he also turned the ball over three times in a 63-21 final. The Chargers fired both Staley and General Manager Tom Telesco, giving the interim jobs to Giff Smith and JoJo Wooden, respectively.

Stick started the final three games as well, as the Chargers finished with losses to Buffalo, Denver and Kansas City. Allen missed four games due to injury and fellow wideout Mike Williams was lost for the season after just three outings. Other prominent Chargers who ended up on injured reserve included edge rusher Joey Bosa and center Corey Linsley.

Herbert finished his 13 games with 3,134 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Despite missing four games, Allen racked up 108 catches for 1,243 yards and seven touchdowns. No other Charger finished with more than 436 receiving yards, including 2023 first-round pick Quentin Johnston, who topped out at 38 for 431. Ekeler topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns, a far cry from the 38 touchdowns he scored in the previous two seasons combined. Los Angeles finished 18th in yards per game (329.4) and 21st in points per game (20.4).

The Chargers' defense struggled, ranking 28th in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed. It was particularly susceptible to the pass, allowing 249.8 aerial yards per game, third most in the league. Khalil Mack had a bounce back season, ranking fourth in the NFL with 17.0 sacks, his first season in double digits since 2018. Safety Derwin James led the team with 125 tackles. The Chargers secured just nine interceptions, including two each by Asante Samuel and Alohi Gilman.

2024 Arrivals

Thanks in part to a very tight salary cap situation, the Chargers mostly went for depth signings in free agency, with none of their additions getting a contract worth more than $14 million. The only one who landed a three-year deal was tight end Will Dissly, the former Seahawk who will likely start for Los Angeles. The team also added another veteran to that group in Hayden Hurst, most recently of the Panthers.

After moving on from Allen and Williams the Chargers needed some new bodies in the receiver room and most notably used the 34th overall pick on Georgia's Ladd McConkey after trading up three spots in the second round. Los Angeles also threw two seventh-round darts at the position in USC's Brenden Rice (son of the receiver G.O.A.T. Jerry Rice) and Michigan's Cornelius Johnson. After the draft, the Chargers added a veteran to the group in seventh-year man D.J. Chark, who had 35 catches for the Panthers last season.

Los Angeles did some one-stop shopping in its backfield, signing both Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins from Baltimore. Edwards got a two-year deal while Dobbins inked a one-year contract. Edwards may be in line to start, as he had 810 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last year while Dobbins only played in one game. The Chargers even added a fullback in Ben Mason, who was also on the Ravens' practice squad last season and who may be familiar with the Chargers' new head coach (more on that below) from his time at Michigan. On the line, the team signed former Panthers center Bradley Bozeman, who could be in line to start following the June release of Corey Linsley.

The Chargers will definitely have a new starter at right tackle. New Head Coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear that the team would build from the trenches out and stuck to his word by taking Notre Dame's Joe Alt fifth overall while several blue-chip receiving prospects remained on the board. Alt was the first offensive lineman selected in a draft that was absolutely loaded at the position, and he is a massive and powerful blocker.

The Chargers gave a two-year deal to edge rusher Bud Dupree, who had 6.5 sacks in his lone season in Atlanta last year. At off-ball linebacker, the team loaded up both in the draft and free agency. Michigan's Junior Colson could start after being drafted in the third round, while veterans Denzel Perryman (Houston) and Troy Dye (Minnesota) added depth on one-year pacts.

Cornerback Kristian Fulton could also step into a starting spot opposite Samuel after coming over from the Titans. Los Angeles needed some more depth at the position and thus used a pair of fifth-round selections on Maryland's Tarheeb Still and Notre Dame's Cam Hart. The team also gave a one-year deal to defensive lineman Poona Ford, most recently of the Bills, and used a fourth-round pick on the position with Alabama's Justin Eboigbe.

2024 Departures

The Chargers had a new coaching staff to start the offseason and were facing a very restrictive salary cap situations, so it was no surprise that a veteran purge was in the offing. Most notably, the pass-catching duo of Allen and Williams, who had combined to play in 127 games and rack up more than 15,000 receiving yards as Chargers, were sent away. Williams was released and subsequently signed with the Jets, while Allen was traded to the Bears for a fourth-round draft pick.

As noted above, Linsley was recently released, as the team waited until June to make that move and spread out his dead cap hit. Linsley only played in three games last year but started all 33 that he played in at center for the Chargers. Long-time Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks only spent one year in Los Angeles before being cut and signing with the Cowboys.

Ekeler, who never quite got the contract he was seeking in Los Angeles, hit free agency and landed with the Commanders on a two-year $8.3 million deal. Tight ends Gerald Everett (Bears) and Nick Vannett (Titans) also moved on in free agency, as did wide receiver Jalen Guyton (Raiders). Third-string quarterback Will Grier decided to back up Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia instead.

On defense, the Chargers had free agency defections from linebackers Kenneth Murray (Titans) and Amen Ogbongbemiga (Bears), while defensive tackle Austin Johnson moved on to Buffalo. Cornerback Michael Davis joined Ekeler in Washington while safety Jaylinn Hawkins signed with the Patriots.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Harbaugh, again, is the new man in the Chargers' corner office as he returned to the NFL after a nine-year run at the University of Michigan that included a national championship. In four seasons as the 49ers' head coach (2011-14) had a sparkly 44-19-1 record and led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in his second season.

Harbaugh tabbed Greg Roman to be his offensive coordinator; Roman spent one year out of the league after being the Ravens' offensive coordinator in Baltimore under Harbaugh's brother, John. Harbaugh values a strong running game, which has always been an emphasis for a Roman-led attack. Harbaugh brought Jesse Minter with him from Michigan to serve as defensive coordinator after Minter spent the past two seasons in that post in Ann Arbor.

Los Angeles also brought in a new General Manager after letting Telesco go in December, tabbing Joe Hortiz, who surely came in heavily recommended after spending the past 26 years with the Ravens, including the last five as the team's director of player personnel.

The Chargers didn't have a lot of room to maneuver in free agency due to their cap numbers, but they did re-sign a few of their own players, including safety Alohi Gilman to a two-year extension. Stick got a new one-year deal after his late-season starting stint and the Chargers also retained kicker Cameron Dicker, who made 31 of his 33 field goal tries in 2023.

A handful of other Chargers who hit free agency remain unsigned. That list includes defensive tackle Nick Williams, wide receiver Alex Erickson, running back Josh Kelley and linebacker Tanner Muse.

Pressing Questions

Will Justin Herbert thrive in the offense designed by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman?

The Chargers knew they needed to restock their pass-catching corps after the departures of Allen and Williams, but giving Herbert more pass-catching alternatives wasn't their top priority. Instead, the first goal was to give their talented quarterback better protection and a stronger running game to provide offensive balance. The hiring of Roman and the selection of Alt fifth overall over the likes of LSU Malik Nabers – not to mention the direct comments by Harbaugh about starting up front – made that very clear.

Herbert is clearly one of the most talented passers in the NFL and he is capable of putting up absolutely monstrous numbers, such as the 5,014 passing yards and the 38 touchdowns he threw for in 2021, his second season. Through just four seasons he already has 114 touchdown passes, and he has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. However, in the Chargers' offense last year Herbert had an average depth of target on his passes of 7.6 yards, which ranked 17th in the NFL, just ahead of Carolina rookie Bryce Young.

Will Harbaugh and Roman, with their insistence on building a strong rushing attack, put even more limits on Herbert's big arm? That seems unlikely. Harbaugh seeks a balanced attack that can run the ball effectively when it wants to on early downs. Most likely, the Chargers will seek to give Herbert more chance to thrive in more favorable down-and-distance situations.

Can the Chargers get back to terrorizing opposing passers with the edge rush duo of Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa?

Los Angeles wasn't bad at rushing the passer in 2023. They ranked 14th in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt and had a total of 48 QB takedowns, tied with the Bucs and 49ers for the seventh most in the league. Of course, a lot of that had to do with a renaissance season for former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, who had a renaissance season in his 10th NFL year with a career-best 7.0 sacks. That was more than double his total from his first season with the Chargers, when he didn't miss a game but finished with 8.0 sacks.

Bosa, meanwhile, was bit by the injury bug again and missed roughly half the season. He has played in just 14 games over the past two years, tallying 9.0 sacks. However, before that he had averaged almost exactly 10 sacks per season and was virtually a lock to hit double digits if he played most of the campaign. If Bosa can encounter some better injury luck and regain his 10-sack form, and if Mack has another huge season in the tank, the Chargers' defense could be energized by a strong rush up front.

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