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Opponent focus: Jeff Miller, Los Angeles Times

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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Los Angeles Chargers September 25th, 2022

JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2022 season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Jeff Miller, the Los Angeles Times' Los Angeles Chargers beat writer, on the Chargers' matchup with the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

Question: The Chargers went 10-7 in the 2022 regular season and made the postseason as a wild-card team. How did they get here?

Answer: They had a ton of injuries and their defense just hasn't been very good. They were sputtering at 6-6 and it felt like maybe they were a .500 team. Then they had a four-game stretch where they took advantage of playing some lesser quarterbacks. Their defense suddenly turned it around and played like we thought they were going to play. They went from 6-6 to 10-6 and clinched a playoff berth. They went from sort of an average team to an instant they clinched a playoff berth. It really was the defense kind of figuring it out. It was a little hard to tell exactly how good they were because they were playing teams with lesser quarterbacks, but they did play a lot better on defense. But with the injuries and kind of how they had to piece it together on offense, the way they got to the playoffs wasn't anything like how we thought it was going to look.

Q: The Chargers lost the regular-season finale, 31-28, to the Denver Broncos Sunday. What's the Chargers' state of mind entering Saturday?

A: Before Sunday, they were rolling, then Sunday was just a disaster. They were the only team all year that made [Broncos quarterback] Russell Wilson look great. It was like John Elway out there. They gave up three 50-yard-plus passes. These were the Broncos, the worst scoring offense in the NFL, and the Chargers allowed nine plays of 20 or more yards. They melted down on defense. It was one of their worst performances all season. They played their starters into the fourth quarter. Wide receiver Keenan Allen played the whole game and the game didn't matter. So, it was this really weird day in Denver. The postgame locker room, it was like they lost a playoff game. It was dead silent. They clinched the No. 5 seed right before the game and we're all thinking, "OK, they'll just play this out." I'm still not sure what they were thinking. I think they just wanted to try to keep this momentum going and they were afraid of giving everybody the day off or backing off and it ended up being a disaster. So, I have no idea what their state of mind's going to be Saturday. I think they'll play well and it'll probably be a good game, but they could go out there and just flop. Sunday was just a nightmare for them.

Q: The Chargers ranked eighth in the NFL in total offense in 2022. Has their offense been what you expected it to be and why?

A: They had so many guys hurt. [Wide receivers] Keenan Allen and Mike Williams missed a lot of time. There was all this talk this season about [quarterback Justin] Herbert regressing and why don't they throw the ball down field and all this stuff. They just had so many injuries that they couldn't protect him. He also had fractured rib cartilage, which held him back for a few weeks. But it's funny: Even when they got their guys back, they still have not quite [been right]. We know what they can do and it's still in there, but they just haven't been quite as consistently productive as expected.

Q: Herbert is in his third season and this is their first playoff appearance in that span. Assess him.

A: He still puts up big numbers and makes these ridiculous throws, so the idea that he somehow isn't getting better is just ridiculous. By every measure, he is better. These guys talk about how much better he is at the line of scrimmage, right. He's just maturing into an NFL quarterback and he still makes throws every game that make you wonder like, "Where did it come from? How do you do that? Where'd that come from?" He still does that every game.

Q: You mentioned the defense. When they're good defensively, why are they good?

A: What they try to do is limit big plays and control the run. That's one of the things they have a hard time with. If they can control the run and limit big plays, then they want to get some decent pressure off the edges and also up the middle up front. When they're good, they have it all working together and they're getting good rush and they're getting good coverage in the back. Their defense is pretty much predicated on everybody doing their job. If they have one breakdown, things fall apart, like what happened Sunday. The secondary was just terrible Sunday, so they all looked terrible. When they're all connected and doing their thing – that's their theme every week – it's 11 guys playing like one guy … that's what they're trying to do. When they get that going, the times they've done that, you can see why this scheme has been successful in the league.

Q: So, it sounds overall as if you're sure what to expect from this team in the postseason.

A: I really don't know. Like with [Jaguars quarterback Trevor] Lawrence, it's Herbert's first playoff game. I don't think it'll be a big deal for him. He has played enough big games that I don't think he will freak out, but these guys are so hard to figure out. They, they lost [All-Pro safety] Derwin James and then they started playing really good on defense. He came back Sunday and they're terrible again. It doesn't make any sense, but they've been better when he hasn't played. Then on offense, they finally get all their guys back and they're still not that good. It's weird. Could they go out there and dominate the game? Sure. They could go there and lose by four touchdowns again. I don't think they'll get beat that bad, but it wouldn't shock me if the Jaguars control the game and win. They're just so hard to predict. You really can't tell from one game to the next, from one series to the next. They just are not consistent. They've been totally up and down all season.

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