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Chargers' Offense Isn't Good Enough to Compete With NFL's Best

It's not often a three-score win doesn't feel like a win at all. 

But on Monday night, that's what we got. 

The Los Angeles Chargers handled the New York Jets with a score of 27-6. The game was not close; it was never close. The Chargers had the game in the bag the whole way. 

The offense never got off the ground, though. It was defunct. Justin Herbert was under duress on what felt like every single drop back; receivers couldn't get open, and Austin Ekeler randomly forgot how to catch the football. The 27 points on the scoreboard were a lie. 

Offensive Struggles

Of the three touchdowns the Chargers scored, only one was the offense's doing. The first was a Derius Davis punt return touchdown, and the last was a fumble return the Chargers defense brought down to the 2-yard line for Ekeler to punch in. The Chargers' only real touchdown drive came in the late first quarter — a short drive that started on the 50-yard line. 

Monday night was the offense's worst game by EPA Per Play, according to TruMedia.

This was supposed to be an offense that would spearhead a playoff team. After the game against the Jets, it's hard to feel like the Chargers have the juice to hang with the big dogs. 

The reality is the Chargers offense is gutted. It doesn’t have its best players — plain and simple. WR Mike Williams is out for the season due to a torn ACL, and C Corey Linsley has been on injured reserve for the past month because of a heart issue. WR Josh Palmer also got placed on IR this week due to a knee injury. 

The ripple effect of losing those players has sapped the Chargers of their ability to contend with good teams. Their margin for error is so thin right now. Good defenses pray on that, just like the Jets did on Monday night. 

WR Depth Is an Issue

Wide receiver is the biggest problem. Keenan Allen still leads the charge, and he's been playing at a high level this season. But Allen is neither the caliber nor the type of player to be a one-man show. That's what Williams and Palmer were supposed to be for — huge tree-sized receivers who could play iso ball on the outside. 

With no Williams and no Palmer, the Chargers have been begrudgingly forced to throw first-round pick Quentin Johnston into the lineup. That's not gone well. The only game all season in which Johnston earned more than three catches and/or 20 yards was last week's Bears game, which hardly counts. The Chargers can't find a way to make him work, partly because they don't get what he is. 

Here's a look at Johnston's output this season.

Opponent  Targets  Receptions  Yards
Miami 3 2 9
Tennessee 2 1 7
Minnesota 3 2 10
Las Vegas 3 1 18
Dallas 2 0 0
Kansas City 2 1 20
Chicago 6 5 50
New York 3 2 14

Johnston, despite his 6-foot-4, 216-pound frame, isn't the big ball-winning type like Williams and Palmer. His frame is deceiving. Johnston is a quick-hitting YAC monster and a horizontal field-stretcher.

But it seems the Chargers didn't understand that when they drafted him, and now they have no choice but to fit a square peg into a round hole with injuries to the other two receivers. 

Faulty Offensive Line Play

The offensive line is battling the same problem. That's especially true in pass protection. Without Linsley handling the middle, this isn't the same unit they were earlier in the season. 

The linemen don't communicate the same way, and they don't pick things up nicely. Robert Saleh's Jets exposed that. 

Herbert was pressured on 54.1 percent of his dropbacks, according to NextGenStats. All night, the Jets front gamed up the Chargers’ offensive line. Stunts, twists, five-man pressures — anything to make the Chargers’ offensive line communicate and adjust. 

The Jets bet their pass rush would overwhelm the Chargers’ offensive line and get home before the Chargers' molasses receivers could separate from anybody down the field. They were right. 

As you can imagine, all of that makes for tough living as a quarterback. Shoddy offensive line play or wide receivers who can't separate are problems that can be dealt with separately, but together, they make the margin for error razor-thin. 

Everything Falls on Herbert

Herbert has to be perfect with every read and throw. Even then, he might not be rewarded for his efforts. 

These are the same issues you see with Mac Jones in New England, Jordan Love in Green Bay and Bryce Young in Carolina. Herbert and the Chargers are still better than those offenses, but sometimes they play a defense like the Jets, and they're suddenly not better. 

Herbert having a broken middle finger on his left hand only makes matters worse. Sure, it's not his throwing hand, but it's still inhibiting him. He still has to take the snap and hold the ball with a broken finger. 

That pain lingers with every little thing he does, even if he can still throw the ball with his healthy hand just fine. It's the rotten cherry on top of a garbage cake. 

Creating offense just feels too hard for the Chargers right now — at least against the good teams. There aren't enough easy buttons. They don't have guys who can make a play, and there aren't enough stabilizing factors outside the quarterback. 

Maybe that will change by the time we get to January football. Linsley could come back at some point, and Palmer should be back before the season is over. Johnston might come into his own with more reps, too. 

But that's all wishful thinking. 

The Chargers offense, as it is right now, doesn't feel like a unit that has serious firepower. They're a unit that can only go as far as Herbert and Allen will take them on a given day. Against the NFL's best, it turns out that's not very far. 

Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.