NFL

Chargers' offense still in good stead despite Bryan Bulaga loss

By Sports Desk September 18, 2021

The Los Angeles Chargers made a winning start to the new NFL season in Week 1 but now face the challenge of having to adapt to a major loss on their offensive line.

It was announced on Friday that right tackle Bryan Bulaga had been placed on injured reserve due to back and groin problems.

That robs quarterback Justin Herbert of a veteran presence up front for at least three games as he looks to guide the Chargers to the playoffs following a superb Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2020.

However, the numbers suggest it should be a survivable loss for the Chargers despite Bulaga's considerable pedigree as a player in his 11th NFL season.

Bulaga's replacement is Storm Norton, a former undrafted free agent who played 36 snaps in last week's win over the Washington Football Team. 

Last year, Norton played in six games, starting three and, while there is a considerable difference in their experience, there is evidence that points to him outperforming Bulaga in 2020.

Indeed, Norton allowed a pressure rate of 9.0 per cent on 134 pass protection snaps last year compared to 9.7 per cent on 175 for Bulaga.

Bulaga's adjusted sack rate allowed of 1.1 per cent was superior to that of Norton (1.5 per cent), but the Chargers can afford to have hope that there should not be much of a drop-off on the right side of the line in the former Green Bay Packer's absence.

What should give them further reason for confidence is the performance of Herbert when under pressure in Los Angeles' opening win.

Of quarterbacks to be pressured at least five times in Week 1, Herbert had the fourth-best well-thrown percentage under duress, delivering an accurate ball 81.8 per cent of the time.

Replicating that performance may not even be a necessity in the next two games for Herbert, who in Week 2 goes against a Dallas Cowboys defense without pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence that pressured Tom Brady only 13 times in their opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Week 3 sees the Chargers face the Kansas City Chiefs, who managed 12 pressures against the Cleveland Browns.

For context, the San Francisco 49ers racked up a league-high 30 pressures in Week 1 and, though Week 4 opponents the Las Vegas Raiders had success in pressuring Lamar Jackson 19 times in Week 1, the early numbers indicate Herbert might not face enough consistent pressure for Bulaga's injury to develop into a significant issue.

Norton was not a liability when called into action last season. He is set to enter the fray against opponents who will pose serious challenges to the Chargers but not ones who are known for having fearsome pass rushes. The loss of Bulaga is a blow but, given the success of his deputy in a small sample size and Herbert's proficiency against pressure, it is not one that should lead them to approach the coming weeks with any fear.

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