No one would blame you if you stopped paying attention to the Chargers after the first month of the season. Los Angeles had failed to garner much interest from even its own fan base as it stumbled out of the gates, continued its depressing run of late-game meltdowns, and lost its first four games. As the attention has shifted to the division-leading Chiefs and the rest of the top AFC squads, the Chargers have quietly put together a three-game win streak to propel themselves back into the postseason conversation. In Sunday’s 21-0 shutout win over the division-rival Broncos, L.A. displayed balance in all three phases, with explosiveness on offense, big plays on special teams, and most importantly, a devastating and unrelenting pressure package powered by perhaps the best pass rushing duo in the NFL right now, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
The Chargers borrowed from the Broncos’ book in the win, overshadowing Denver’s fearsome pass rush unit to bring constant heat off the edge. After falling behind 14-0 in the first half, the Broncos could no longer lean on their ground game to relieve that pressure, and their passing game struggled as the offensive line failed to give their quarterback time to throw. Bosa and Ingram were damn near unblockable and kept quarterback Trevor Siemian on the run and out of sorts, sacking him three times. The Denver signal-caller finished with just 207 yards passing on 35 attempts—a 5.9-yard-per-attempt clip that was indicative of the team’s choice to resort to a dink-and-dunk attack to get the ball out of Siemian’s hands before he got hit.
Bosa was the star of the L.A. defense in this game—at one point, the broadcast play-by-play man declared that Siemian “is going to have nightmares” about the Chargers defensive end—and finished with two sacks on the day to push his season total to 7.5 (sixth in the NFL). He notched his first quarterback takedown in the third quarter and displayed some of his otherworldly athleticism in the process. At the snap, Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles tried to cut Bosa to the ground, but the second-year pass rusher avoided it with a parkour-style hand-plant, maintained his balance, and rushed upfield. Left guard Max Garcia intervened at the last second, pushing Bosa past the pocket, but Bosa again recovered to change direction and sack Siemian.
Bosa got his second sack early in the fourth quarter, beating backup right tackle Allen Barbre (filling in for starter Menelik Watson) with a counter move to the inside.
The former Buckeye is off to a historic start in his young career: That was Bosa’s 18th sack in just his 19th career game—and he’s racked up an incredible 88 pressures along the way, more than any player through their first 19 outings (ahead of even Von Miller) since Pro Football Focus started tracking the stat in 2006.
He’s got help on the other edge, too. Ingram added a sack of his own in the second quarter to push his total to 8.5 on the year (fourth). The sixth-year pro bull-rushed Bolles and pushed the left tackle right into his quarterback, sending Siemian toppling to the ground.
Ingram almost had another sack when he looped around a teammate to rush right up the gut, coming in unblocked to hit Siemian. The official watching the play called roughing the passer when he deemed Ingram had hit Siemian in the head/neck area, but it looked like Ingram made contact with Siemian’s shoulder, which would have made the play a legal sack.
Ingram came into the week ranked sixth among all edge players in Pro Football Focus’s pass-rush-productivity metric (13.6), which accounts for the sum of sacks, pressures, and hits and divides it by pass rush snaps. After Sunday, he’s bound to climb on that list.
Backup end Chris McCain added two sacks (and stripped Siemian of the ball twice, resulting in one turnover) to push the team’s total to five on the day, and while any defensive front would be happy with that performance, the box score doesn’t do L.A.’s defensive performance justice. Not even close, really: Along with that botched roughing-the-passer penalty, the Chargers’ relentless pass rush was directly responsible for an additional three near-interceptions. On all three, pressure affected Siemian’s throws, but each pass was dropped by a Los Angeles defender. The first came early in the second quarter: Ingram and Bosa rushed from both ends, forcing Siemian to retreat up into the pocket and throw off balance and on the run. He air-mailed the pass, and safety Jahleel Addae dropped the sure pick.
The second came midway through the third quarter. Bosa exploded off the edge, easily beat Barbre, was held egregiously (it wasn’t called), and managed to still get a hand on the ball as Siemian let go of the pass. The throw fluttered directly to linebacker Jatavis Brown, who probably had thoughts of running into the end zone in his mind and forgot to catch the ball first.
Finally, early in the fourth, more pressure from Ingram and Bosa forced an off-balance throw from Siemian. Safety Adrian Phillips had position in coverage, jumped up, and let the ball graze off his hands.
The Chargers did what Denver’s consistently done for the past few years: immobilize opposing quarterbacks and dominate offenses with an unstoppable pass rush. L.A. is now tied for fourth in the NFL with 23.0 sacks through seven games, and only one team’s pass rush duo—Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue (16.5)—has more sacks than Ingram and Bosa’s 16.0 combined.
The Chargers still have plenty of issues. The defense has given up the second-most rushing yards in the league this year, Philip Rivers still seems to unleash a handful of incredibly ill-advised throws every game, and the special teams unit came into the game dead last in DVOA. But as we saw on Sunday, having one of the league’s most dominant pass rush duos creating consistent havoc off the edge can hide an awful lot of problems, and Bosa and Ingram look good enough to give the Chargers a chance to contend in the AFC West.