Entering the 2023 season, the Los Angeles Chargers were counted among the contenders in a loaded AFC, mostly due to a high-scoring offense and fourth-year quarterback Justin Herbert.
A rough start and some inconsistent offensive production, however, have left the Chargers at 4-4 and in need of some quick answers when the 6-2 Detroit Lions visit SoFi Stadium on Sunday for the marquee CBS matchup of Week 10.
Los Angeles has won two straight games (beating the Chicago Bears and New York Jets), but the offense has yet to find its groove.
The Chargers gained just 191 net yards against a strong Jets defense in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football, and Herbert managed just a 65.4 passer rating – his lowest in a game since his rookie season.
The Chargers defense has played well over the last two games (allowing 19 combined points) but will face a much stiffer test this week when the NFC North leaders come to town.
Detroit is coming off a bye week and was last seen beating the Las Vegas Raiders 26-14 in Week 8. The team’s last test against a contender – a 38-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7 – was likely the focal point of Dan Campbell and the rest of the coaching staff during the bye.
In terms of the point spread, sportsbooks project Detroit as a 3.0-point road favorite in Los Angeles, and this matchup between playoff hopefuls carries an over/under of 48.5 – the highest of NFL Week 10. However, our model views the underdog Chargers as the best bets with a 61.2% chance of winning this showdown.
DET Key: Ride the Running Backs
Through the first six games of this season, Jared Goff was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL. In leading the Lions to a 5-1 start, Goff had a 105.1 passer rating and had 13 completions of 25 yards or more, ranking in the top five of both categories.
Over his last two games, however, Goff has come back down to Earth.
The former No. 1 overall pick had a combined passer rating of 76.9 against the Ravens and Raiders, and he had just one completion of at least 25 yards.
Detroit’s passing game has leaned heavily on chain-mover Amon-Ra St. Brown and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta – especially in recent weeks. St. Brown has 31 receptions in his last three games, which is the most in any three-game stretch in his career.
His 19 targets and 13 receptions against Baltimore in Week 7 were career highs, and the Lions are 3-0 this season when St. Brown scores a touchdown.
The big plays, however, have been few and far between for such a productive receiver. St. Brown’s average depth of target is 7.4 yards downfield, ranking 39th among the 42 wide receivers with at least 50 targets this season.
When the Lions attempt to stretch the field, it has been either second-year receiver Jameson Williams or Josh Reynolds in the crosshairs. While Williams leads the team with an average depth of target of 14.9 yards, Reynolds has been the more productive of the two deep threats.
Average Receiving Yards Per Catch (Min. 1.875 Receptions/Game)
- Rashid Shaheed, New Orleans Saints (19.3)
- Josh Reynolds, Detroit Lions (18.0)
- Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers (17.7)
- Amari Cooper, Cleveland Browns (17.6)
- Nico Collins, Houston Texans (17.5)
But with Goff’s pace slowing down and the big plays coming inconsistently in the passing game, Detroit will be encouraged to have its two-headed backfield monster healthy once again.
David Montgomery, who was knocked out of a Week 6 game with a rib injury, is slated to return against the Chargers, but his inclusion in the lineup could once again relegate rookie Jahmyr Gibbs to role-player status.
When Montgomery was healthy to start the season, Gibbs averaged 62.3 scrimmage yards per game in a limited role. In the two games that Montgomery missed, Gibbs averaged 157.5 scrimmage yards per game and scored his first two career touchdowns.
With four carries of 10 rushing yards or more in his last game against the Raiders, Gibbs provides some much-needed explosiveness to the offense.
Gibbs’ 0.231 missed or broken tackles per offensive touch rank fourth among running backs with at least 75 touches and his 2.33 yards per carry after contact rank fifth among qualified running backs.
Despite his small stature, Gibbs has even been valuable as a clock-killer, helping the Lions protect leads late and keep possession.
Yards Per Carry in Fourth Quarter (Min. 1.25 Rushes/Game)
- Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks (7.83)
- Raheem Mostert, Miami Dolphins (7.07)
- Chris Brooks, Miami Dolphins (6.27)
- Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions (6.24)
- Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers (6.05)
Despite missing two games, Montgomery remains among the NFL’s leaders with six rushing touchdowns, and the Lions would be smart to give both backs plenty of work now that he’s healthy.
As good as Gibbs has played recently, however, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson will need to carve out a larger role for the rookie running back than he had to start the season.
LAC Key: Get Herbert Going
Despite playing the last several weeks with a broken finger on his non-throwing hand, Herbert has been his typical self this season.
Herbert failed to have a play of at least 25 passing yards last week against the Jets, ending his streak of 17 games with at least one big play passing.
Like Goff, Herbert has done most of his damage in the short-to-intermediate passing game. On passes 21 or more yards downfield, Herbert has completed just 8-of-28 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Instead of attempting to stretch the field with deep-threat Mike Williams out, the Chargers have often looked to move the chains steadily through the air, especially when throwing to Keenan Allen.
First-Down Catches on Third Down
- T-1. DJ Moore, Chicago Bears (15)
- T-1. Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams (15)
- T-1. Adam Thielen, Carolina Panthers (15)
- 4. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (14)
- T-5. A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles (13)
- T-5. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13)
- T-5. Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins (13)
Allen’s ability to keep drives alive by creating separation on third down makes him one of the most reliable weapons in the NFL. His 0.969 catch rating is second in the league among receivers with at least 50 targets, and the veteran has gotten open on 86.6% of his targets – fourth among qualified receivers.
The short-to-intermediate passing game will likely need to be productive for the Chargers to stay in this one, given their relative lack of a running game.
Even with the return of Austin Ekeler from an ankle injury in Week 6, the Chargers have struggled to be dangerous on the ground and rank 30th with a run success rate of 29.3%.
With Detroit’s defense playing well against the rush, Los Angeles will likely need to throw early and often.
Opponent Rushing Plays of 10+ Yards
- 1. Detroit Lions (10)
- 2. Philadelphia Eagles (12)
- T-3. Dallas Cowboys (15)
- T-3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15)
- T-5. Miami Dolphins (17)
- T-5. New England Patriots (17)
Herbert’s production this season, however, has come mostly early in games, and the Chargers will need to start fast in order to keep up with the Lions.
Herbert has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no turnovers in the first halves of games this season, boasting a 109.4 first-half passer rating.
That kind of start will be key against the Lions, who are built to protect leads with their strong running game, offensive line and fearsome pass rush.
Aidan Hutchinson ranks seventh among qualified edge defenders with a 22.5% pressure rate, and if the Chargers fall behind by multiple scores, the Michigan product becomes even more dangerous.
So much seemingly rests on Herbert’s shoulders, but he has shown himself capable of carrying the team.
The Lions, on the other hand, lack a quarterback with elite talent but have built a full roster around Goff and hope to continue finding ways to win.