In preparation for this week's matchup with the Chargers, I went back to look at the matchup from last year, one in which the Texans took home a 41-29 win. It was weird on many levels, a glorious weird, but weird nonetheless. Both teams were ravaged by COVID-19 and injuries but it was the Texans that came out on top to win that game with their best performance of the season.
2022 is a whole different scenario, well, sort of. COVID-19 hasn't driven a stake through the heart of each side, but injuries have really played a role for the Chargers in the lead up to this game. Pro Bowl DE Joey Bosa was put on IR this week and will miss this game for the second straight season. Pro Bowl LT, and Houstonian, Rashawn Slater is also slated to miss this game with an injury. Pro Bowl WR Keenan Allen missed last week's game but should play this week. Pro Bowl CB J.C. Jackson has only played in one game this season as he struggles a bit to get 100% healthy after offseason surgery. Finally, QB Justin Herbert has been dealing with bad ribs after taking a massive shot to the midsection two weeks ago against the Chiefs. He did play against the Jaguars, but he was clearly not himself.
So, what personnel steps into the void for the Pro Bowlers that will not play in this game for the Chargers? Can the Texans exploit those absences? I expect Herbert will play, as will Pro Bowl WR Keenan Allen so the offense should, and will, revolve around those two, with WR Mike Williams and RB Austin Ekeler ready to provide help as well. On defense, DE Khalil Mack and S Derwin James are ready to go and that's not good news for anyone on the Texans side. That duo is a handful, to say the least.
With all of that as a backdrop for this matchup, the Chargers will take the field looking for a little revenge after last year's loss at NRG Stadium. Let's get to Know the Texans' Foe for Week 4 of the 2022 season - the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers 2022 Schedule (1-2)
|Week 1||Las Vegas Raiders (W, 24-19)|
|Week 2||@ Kansas City Chiefs (L, 27-24)|
|Week 3||Jacksonville Jaguars (L, 38-10)|
|Week 4||@ Houston Texans|
|Week 5||@ Cleveland Browns|
|Week 6||Denver Broncos|
|Week 7||Seattle Seahawks|
|Week 9||@ Atlanta Falcons|
|Week 10||@ San Francisco 49ers|
|Week 11||Kansas City Chiefs|
|Week 12||@ Arizona Cardinals|
|Week 13||@ Las Vegas Raiders|
|Week 14||Miami Dolphins|
|Week 15||Tennessee Titans|
|Week 16||@ Indianapolis Colts|
|Week 17||Los Angeles Rams|
|Week 18||@ Denver Broncos|
Chargers OFFENSE (in 2022 Regular Season)
|Rushing Yards Per game||59.0 ypg (32nd in the NFL)|
|Passing Yards Per game||297.0 ypg (2nd)|
|Total offense per game||356.0 ypg (11th)|
|Turnovers lost||3 (1 Fumble lost, 2 INT)|
Expected Chargers starting offense for Week 4
|WR||Keenan Allen (missed last week)|
|C||Corey Linsley/WILL CLAPP (started last week v. Jaguars)|
Key offensive non-starters
ALL CAPS = New to team in 2022
Keys to winning v. the Chargers offense
1. Keenan's Craftiness
It's criminal, football-wise, that Chargers WR Keenan Allen is so underrated. Ask people around the league for their list of the top five receivers in the league and Allen is often omitted. That's a shame because he's capable of taking over the game as he did against the Texans in LA in 2019. The Texans controlled the clock last year with their run game and that kept Allen and the Chargers' offense at bay. Allen only had six targets with four catches for 35 yards. What Allen didn't have last year against the Texans was Mike Williams and what Williams didn't have last week against Jacksonville was Allen. Both should be ready to rock on Sunday and that could be a problem, especially against Allen, who is a route running maestro anywhere on the field.
2. Austin's Area
The one major thing that worries me about a banged up Chargers offensive line is that'll force the Chargers' offensive staff to think about how to get RB Austin Ekeler the ball out in space, as opposed to the interior run game. I hate, HATE seeing Ekeler out in space with the ball in his hands. Because of Ekeler's perimeter success combined with little success they had running on the interior, I'd expect the Chargers to go that route heavily.
3. Edge Excitement?
Okay, so I couldn't really come up with a different alliterative term with edge, but it could be exciting for the Texans with rookie OT Rashawn Slater not in the game. Now, I don't wish injury on anyone, especially a quality young man, and Houstonian, like Slater, but his absence needs to be felt on the Chargers' offensive side of the ball. The Texans strength on defense is in their pass rush and the Chargers inability to combat that with Slater has to be a key in this game. Not to mention, but it's clearly a factor, QB Justin Herbert is struggling with a rib injury that can only take so many hits in a game. One poor block, one missed protection and a Texan edge rusher can make Herbert's day a miserable one.
Chargers DEFENSE (in 2022 Regular Season)
|Rushing Yards Allowed Per game||102.7 ypg (12th in the NFL)|
|Passing Yards Allowed Per game||248.0 ypg (20th)|
|Total offense Allowed per game||350.7 ypg (19th)|
|Turnovers generated||3 (3 INT, No Fumble recoveries - Chargers are even in TO margin)|
Expected Chargers starting defense for Week 4
|OLB||KYLE VAN NOY|
|CB||J.C. JACKSON/Michael Davis|
|CB||Asante Samuel Jr.|
Key defensive non-starters
ALL CAPS = New to team in 2022
Keys to winning v. the Chargers defense
1. Big Bear Bosa's Being (gone…again)
Last year, just prior to the matchup with the Texans, All-Pro DE Joey Bosa was placed on the COVID list and missed the game in Houston. The Texans dodged a major bullet with Bosa unable to play. They'll dodge the same bullet, if you will, with Bosa being placed on IR dealing with a groin issue that led to Bosa getting surgery this week. Now, there was no Khalil Mack last year so the Chargers actually put ILB Kenneth Murray out on the edge. He, predictably, struggled but Mack won't. With both Bosa and Mack on the field, there's a decision to make - double Bosa/single Mack or vice versa. However, with Bosa sidelined, the Texans can put plenty of resources into slowing down Mack throughout the entire game.
2. Derwin's Dominance
Prior to last year's game, Chargers S Derwin James was dressed out and I was convinced that he was going to play. I watched him from the sideline for the first couple of series to ensure that he wouldn't come in and wreck the game. He never was healthy enough to get out on the field, but the dynamic all-around playmaker is ready to roll this week in Houston. He might be able to do more on a field than any other safety in the NFL and the Texans need to know where he is and have an approximate understanding of what he can do at that spot on every play. Thus far in the 2022 season, he's covered every single pass catching position on the field. He's a fixture in the run defense. He's a physical presence all over the field. Find 3. Have a plan for him.
3. Cooks' Comeback
The Chargers had a handful of stars that didn't play last year, but the Texans missed WR Brandin Cooks on the field as well. It didn't slow the Texans' passing game that day, but the Texans' passing game has been slowed this year as Cooks hasn't found his stride just yet. It's just off. The connection between Cooks and QB Davis Mills has not quite been consistent enough through the first four games of the season. For the Texans to go get this W, Mills and Cooks must, MUST link up more often than they have thus far this season. In three games, Cooks' catch % (catches/targets) is less than 45%. In comparison, Bills star WR Stefon Diggs' catch % is nearly 80%. That's got to change against a secondary that might be without Chargers star CB J.C. Jackson.