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5 Qs and 5 As with Bolts from the Blue: What’s the deal with Justin Herbert?

Everything you need to know about the Los Angeles Chargers before Sunday’s matchup with Bolts from the Blue.

NFL: AUG 22 Preseason - 49ers at Chargers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sunday night in prime time, the Niners will be taking on the team from Los Angeles that they don’t hold an eight-game winning streak over. The 49ers are 7.5-point favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook, which suggests a potential blowout. It’ll be San Francisco’s first chance to face off against the Chargers and their wonder boy quarterback, Justin Herbert since he took the league by storm.

However, from a distance, the Bolts still seem a little bit like the same old Bolts. So, to prepare us for this unfamiliar foe, we reached out to Bolts from the Blue to give us the inside track on everything to expect in the upcoming matchup.

1.) One of the Chargers’ premier players is Joey Bosa, an edge-rushing maniac who has a motor that never runs out of gas and only stays in the highest gear possible. The Niners have their own model in Nick Bosa, and, as we know, they came off the same assembly line. Unfortunately, Joey will miss this matchup, which would’ve been their first time facing off in the regular season. Can you describe just how impactful Bosa’s absence has been to the defense? I’ll say Niner fans have some experience with this aspect as well.

Bosa’s absence has been sorely felt this season, as he’s consistently one of the best edge players against the run. His ability to set the edge and wreak havoc in the backfield would be a God send for the Chargers right now, but he’s still a good while from returning. His absence is only further emphasized after the team acquired Khalil Mack during the offseason. They were bound to be the best edge rush duo in the NFL, and now that Bosa is out, fans are left with huge amounts of “what ifs” each and every week he remains sidelined with his groin injury.

2.) Second-year head coach Brandon Staley has become notable for his willingness to make aggressive calls on 4th down backed by the cold hard math of analytics. He’s drawn admiration and ire from football fans for these decisions, including his own players. Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan might be one of the league’s best play designers, but his decisions in these situations lean heavily conservative. So, first, how do Chargers fans feel about Staley’s risk-taking ways, and can he inspire our coach to embrace his inner gambler?

Through the first half of the 2022 season, Staley hasn’t actually looked like his 2021 version. His rate of going for it on fourth down is less, while the situations where he actually does go for it seem a bit less thought out. The confidence from the fan base has unsurprisingly taken a hit and the analytics — the ones that he apparently whole-heartedly follows — tell you that he just doesn’t have the same nuance in that regard than he did last season.

In a game like this, however, I could easily see the Chargers going for it on a fourth or two if the run defense can’t hold its own. If Staley doesn’t believe his defense can hold up, he’ll give his offense every opportunity to extend their drive and stay on the field.

3.) It’s a well-accepted fact in football circles that on any given Sunday, Justin Herbert might just be the most talented quarterback on any field in the world. Yet the team has a negative point differential, and the smell test betrays something rotten about this offense. Can you pinpoint why Herbert seems to have his cape stuck in the phone booth door as opposed to leaping tall buildings in a single bound? aka Why hasn’t Herbert and the offense’s statistical output this year matched the incredibly obvious talent?

Justin Herbert has been limited by two main factors:

1. The supporting cast around him has been wrecked by injuries. He’s missing his All-Pro left tackle, his top two wide receivers, and a 6’8 tight end that helps both in the passing game and as a run blocker.

2. The offense is not being tailored to Hebert’s strengths.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi mentioned to the media this week that the offense simply doesn’t have a lot of speed right now, and that’s certainly affecting their ability to throw the ball downfield more. But even if they WANTED to do that, their available pass-catchers are unable to create consistent separation.

And, of course, I’d be wrong not to mention his rib injury in week two, which was the first severe injury of his young career. While it looked to hamper him for the ensuing month, Herbert looked like his usual self this past Sunday against the Falcons, where he was able to complete a number of pinpoint throws in tight coverage.

Herbert’s been no stranger to being productive with a lackluster cast. He’s done it on several occasions through his first two NFL seasons, but it remains to be seen if he can do it while battling the lingering rib injury.

4.) The Chargers currently have the 29th-ranked rush defense in the league, allowing an abysmal 145 yards on the ground per game on the season and an eye-popping 170 yards on average over their last three contests. How do you explain the performance, and given Kyle Shanahan’s affinity for running the ball, how many yards do you think this offense can rack up?

The Chargers' defense is based on inviting the run over the pass. The average NFL run goes for fewer yards than the average pass play. To Brandon Staley, that means that if he can get the opponent to run more often than pass, he’ll be able to increase his team’s chance of leaving with a victory.

Unfortunately, even in year two, Staley’s defense hasn’t been able to stand up to the expectations. But again, the injuries haven’t helped at all. Losing Bosa was huge. Having one usable middle linebacker (Drue Tranquill) also doesn’t help, and J.C. Jackson’s lack of impact while healthy with the Chargers certainly put a damper on what many thought this defense could accomplish.

If I had to take a swing at it, I’d say the 49ers will rack up over 130 yards on the ground this week against the Bolts.

5.) According to DraftKings, the Chargers are currently 7-point road dogs to the Niners with the over/under set at 45.5 points. How do you see this game playing out, where do you see the final score landing, and should we smash the over or under?

I see the Chargers keeping it close for most of regulation behind some inspired play by Justin Herbert. He’s never come out flat when playing in primetime, even when playing against the best of defenses. However, if Lombardi and the offensive scheme doesn’t evolve to where it needs to go, I don’t see this game hitting anywhere near the over, especially if San Francisco’s defense is as good as it’s being billed.

So, of course, I’m going to take the under in this one, and I’ll predict a final score of 23-17. The 49ers will keep Herbert from throwing multiple touchdowns and come up with a big stop in the fourth quarter to trounce the Chargers.