Chargers fans like these are not allowed to tailgate or attend any live football games at SoFi stadium until further notice. Carolina Panthers vs Los Angeles Chargers. 1:05 p.m. SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif. CBS. Photo by Anders Krøgh Jørgensen on Unsplash
By Jeremy Gonzalez, Sports Editor
Editor’s note: As the NFL season returned according to schedule, The Bulletin’s online column The Lightning Rod returns to cover the Bolts all season long with game previews and recaps going up weekly.
Panthers record: 0-2. Carolina is coming off a 31-17 divisional loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that saw them lose their star running back, Christian McCaffrey, to an ankle injury.
Chargers record: 1-1. Los Angeles returns to SoFi Stadium after a 23-20 overtime defeat to their AFC West rivals, Kansas City Chiefs. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 311 yards in his debut, becoming just the ninth player since the merger to top 300 passing yards in his first game.
Justin Herbert has had a full week of preparation under his belt to prepare for his second NFL start instead of just a couple of minutes like last week against Kansas City. Herbert found out he was starting under center about an hour before kickoff last week. The rookie will start at quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers for a second straight week after Tyrod Taylor experienced complications from an injection for a rib injury prior to last week’s game.
Taylor is out indefinitely after it was revealed that the doctor who gave the injection punctured a lung. The 10-year veteran went to the hospital last Sunday after having breathing problems before being released. The NFL Players Association has opened an investigation into what occurred and Taylor has been at the team’s complex all week to mentor Herbert for this week’s matchup.
The Chargers are not alone when it comes to missing a key player on offense. The Carolina Panthers are missing All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey due to a high ankle sprain suffered in their Week 2 loss to the Bucs.
Here’s what to look for ahead of the Week 3 matchup between the Panthers and Chargers:
In The Pocket
Despite not getting many reps with the first team, Herbert went 22 of 33 for 311 yards and was responsible for both Chargers touchdowns last Sunday (one passing and one rushing). One mistake he made was throwing into double coverage for an interception late in the third quarter, which led to the Chiefs’ tying touchdown.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen will be looking forward to seeing how much progress Herbert can make in this start now that he had a full week of practice with the first team.
Herbert won’t be asked to do the heavy lifting on offense as Los Angeles leads the league with 85 rushing attempts, and running backs Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley both went over 100 scrimmage yards last week. Both backs could be in for another big day as the Carolina rush defense allowed 5.5 yards per carry last week against the Bucs.
On the other sideline, a new face is under center as Teddy Bridgewater runs the offense in Carolina now. Last week Bridgewater completed 33 of 42 passes for a career-high 367 yards with two interceptions. He has quickly built a rapport with wide receiver Robby Anderson, who caught nine passes for 109 yards in last week’s loss.
Both Bridgewater and Panthers head coach Matt Rhule will be eager to pick up their first win together for the organization.
The Chargers only have four sacks through two weeks but are second in the league with 19 quarterback pressures. Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and his defense were able to keep Kansas City’s high powered offense, led by Patrick Mahomes, out of rhythm last week until the fourth quarter, when Mahomes began running for yardage. Defensive end Joey Bosa has two of the Chargers’ four sacks in this young season. Bridgewater turned the ball over three times last week, so expect the Chargers defense to bring plenty of pressure to force Bridgewater into making errors.
Los Angeles’ front seven will be slightly thinner for the next few weeks as the team placed defensive end Melvin Ingram on injured reserve with a knee issue Saturday, keeping him out for the next three weeks at minimum. Ingram had seven sacks last year and he and Bosa have been considered to be one of the top pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
Big Shoes to Fill
Mike Davis will get the start at running back for the Panthers since McCaffrey will miss at least the next three weeks. In last Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay, Davis hauled in eight catches for 74 yards but registered no carries. The Panthers leaned heavily on McCaffrey when he was in the lineup, and with good reason as many analysts consider him the top running back in the league. It will be interesting to see if Carolina leans on the ground game often or turns to its air attack and asks Bridgewater to throw the ball more.
Key Player for LA
The Chargers’ Hunter Henry could be the deciding factor in this matchup. Henry is one of six tight ends in the league who has 10 or more receptions. He’s second among tight ends with 156 receiving yards and is averaging a whopping 14.2 yards per reception.
Opening: LAC -7.0. 44.0 total.
Saturday night: LAC -6.5. 44.0 total.
Lightning Rod pick: Herbert played very well for the Chargers last week and his excellent play will carry over to this week with the help of a strong running game. Wide receiver Keenan Allen will lead the team in receptions but Henry will lead in yardage. The Chargers pass rush will sack Bridgewater four times including a game-sealing sack at the end of the fourth quarter. Los Angeles will improve to 2-1 and get their first home win in their shiny new stadium while Bridgewater, Rhule and the rest of Carolina will have to wait on their first victory.
Los Angeles 27, Carolina 23.