Aaron Rodgers and the red-hot Packers head west to take on Philip Rivers and the upset-minded Chargers
Dignity Health Sports Park will likely serve as a home away from home for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers as they travel west to face Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday. The red-hot Packers will make the trip to Los Angeles riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak, after scoring a 31-24 victory over the Chiefs last Sunday night in Kansas City. The win helped Green Bay improve its overall record to an NFC North-leading 7-1, and a perfect 3-0 on the road this season. First-year head coach Matt LaFleur and his Packers will now look to keep their unblemished road record intact with a victory over the Chargers to complete the season sweep of opponents from the AFC West.
If last week was any indication, Anthony Lynn and the Chargers have no intention of making it easy for the Packers. The Bolts snapped a three-game losing streak with a hard-fought 17-16 win over the Bears on the road. It did require Chicago’s Eddy Pineiro to miss a 41-yard field goal as time expired. And yet another lackluster offensive performance led to the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt this week. But it was a victory nonetheless, and a much-needed one at that. And thanks to Green Bay’s win in Kansas City last week, the 3-5 Chargers are still within striking distance of the Chiefs for first place in the AFC West — just two games back. The question is: Can the Bolts upset the surging Packers on Sunday to stay in the division hunt? It will be a tall order in front of a sea of Packer fans intent on creating a home-field disadvantage for the Chargers.
The Packers hold a commanding 10-1 lead over the Chargers in the all-time series, along with a perfect 6-0 record against the Bolts on the road. The Chargers' only victory came in 1984 in Green Bay. The two teams last met in 2015, resulting in a 27-20 Packers win at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 3 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Packers -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Philip Rivers
A matchup between two quarterbacks of this caliber should be worth the price of admission alone. Aaron Rodgers has been in MVP form, passing for the second-most yards (2,324) and touchdowns (16) in the NFL through eight games with just two interceptions. In his last two games alone, he has thrown for 734 yards and eight touchdowns, with no interceptions. And he’s done it without star wide receiver Davante Adams, who could make his long-awaited return from a turf toe injury on Sunday. In Adams' absence, Rodgers has leaned on running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in the passing game. Jones now leads the Packers in receptions (34) and targets (42), while Williams leads the team in touchdown receptions with four. Jones also leads all NFL running backs with 11 total touchdowns.
Rodgers and company could be tested on Sunday against a Chargers pass defense that currently ranks sixth in the NFL, allowing just 217 passing yards per contest. That being said, the Chargers have allowed the eighth-highest passer rating in the league (103.1) and face an even bigger challenge against the red-hot Rodgers. Rodgers is 2-0 all-time against the Chargers — passing for 502 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions in those two matchups combined.
Considering the numbers Philip Rivers has put up against the Packers, it’s a real head-scratcher as to how he is 0-3 against them in his career. In Rivers’ last game against Green Bay in 2015, he threw for a franchise-record 503 yards. In three career games against the Packers, he’s never thrown for fewer than 306 yards and two scores. It's a trend he hopes to keep going on Sunday, only this time in a winning effort.
Rivers currently ranks third in the NFL, just behind Rodgers, with 2,315 passing yards on the season. However, his 12 touchdown passes rank just 13th in the league, and only five starting NFL quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than Rivers' seven. On Sunday, he will be facing the Packers’ 19th-ranked pass defense, which allows 251.8 passing yards per game. Green Bay also has surrendered nine pass plays of 40 yards or more this season (tied for the most in the NFL), and the fifth-most pass plays of 20 yards or more with 32.
That seems to bode well for the Chargers. But in order to find success, Rivers will need all the help he can get from a patchwork offensive line and a complementary run game that has been anything but complementary of late. Top targets Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler need to step up as well. Williams, in particular, has struggled with some bad drops and has yet to find paydirt this season after scoring 10 touchdowns in 2018.
2. Run, Bolts, run!
If the Chargers are going to have success against the Packers on Sunday, it will be paramount to keep Aaron Rodgers and the high-powered Green Bay offense off the field as much as possible. The only way to do that is to keep the chains moving and the clock rolling with an effective run game. Of course, that’s easier said than done for a Chargers team that hasn’t had much success in that department of late.
In fact, the Chargers have not gained more than 39 rushing yards in a game since Week 4, which coincidentally (or maybe not) coincides with running back Melvin Gordon ending his holdout and returning to the team in Week 5. Gordon has yet to run for more than 32 yards in a game, averaging an anemic 2.5 yards per carry in the process. Fellow running back Austin Ekeler has not rushed for more than 14 yards in a game since Gordon’s return, spending most of his time catching passes out of the backfield, which actually has paid dividends all season in the form of 51 receptions for 507 yards to lead all NFL running backs in those categories.
However, hope is not completely lost for a Chargers ground attack that has had plenty of success in the past, albeit the now-distant past. Head coach Anthony Lynn has already hinted that we will see more of the ground game moving forward, and new Chargers play-caller Shane Steichen will likely be tasked with making sure that happens. Sunday looks like as good a time as any against a Green Bay defense that allows a fairly generous 123 rushing yards per game (24th in the NFL) and 4.8 YPC (28th in the NFL).
3. Elite pass rushers
Pass protection will need to be at a premium for both teams on Sunday. The Packers’ offensive line surrendered five sacks and allowed Aaron Rodgers to get hit 12 times last week against Kansas City. And with starting tackles Bryan Bulaga (finger) and David Bakhtiari (ribs) both a little worse for the wear, life will not get any easier with a pair of ultra-talented pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge in Week 9. Bosa has had two sacks in each of his last two games and ranks fourth in the NFL with seven total sacks on the season to go along with 13 QB hits. Ingram comes in fresh after returning from injury just last week.
Green Bay features arguably the best pass-rush tandem in the NFL right now in “The Smith Brothers” (no actual relation). Za’Darius Smith is coming off a two-sack performance of his own against the Chiefs and now ranks third in the NFL with eight sacks to go along with 15 QB hits. Fellow edge rusher Preston Smith isn’t far behind with seven sacks and 13 QB hits on the year. This dangerous pass-rush combo should prove to be a real handful for a beat-up Chargers offensive line.
As a side note, turnovers could be a factor on Sunday as well. That's a stat that heavily favors the Packers, who are plus-seven in turnover margin (third in the NFL). The Chargers are minus-three in turnover margin (23rd in the NFL).
The Chargers are a very resilient football team, and now that they are within striking distance of the Chiefs in the AFC West, they will bring their A-game on Sunday. Unfortunately, they're facing one of the hottest teams in the league. The Bolts’ best effort might be enough to keep things interesting, but it won’t be enough to get past the surging Packers in front of a predominantly green and gold crowd on Sunday.
Prediction: Packers 27, Chargers 23
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.