ASHBURN — Brandon Scherff’s preparation for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers was a little more complex than normal. The All-Pro guard not only had to watch the Chargers’ defensive line from last year, but he studied film of the Los Angeles Rams’ defense, as well.
Washington doubled up on film study because the Chargers’ Brandon Staley, 38, is in his first year as a head coach after developing a reputation as a young mastermind as the defensive coordinator of the Rams — one of the best defenses in football.
“If that’s what (the Chargers) are going to be like, we have a big task ahead of us,” Scherff said.
Washington opens the season as a slight 1-point underdog at most sporting books — an indication the Chargers will be a solid test for the Burgundy and Gold right out of the gate.
The Chargers in many ways are a mirror image of Washington. Sunday’s matchup features the reigning offensive and defensive rookies of the year in Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Washington defensive end Chase Young. Both are young teams on the rise.
The Chargers also have two stars in wide receiver Keenan Allen and defensive end Joey Bosa. Allen is regarded as one of the best route runners in the game, while Bosa has made the Pro Bowl three times in five seasons.
The Chargers missed the playoffs in 2020, but finished with the same record as Washington: 7-9.
“They’ve got a solid receiving corps, they’ve got a good running back who’s a very versatile guy,” coach Ron Rivera said. “They’ve got a quarterback with a strong arm, they remade their offensive line. Defensively, you look at their pass rushers, what they’re really noted for. They got their safety’s healthy again and the linebackers who can run.”
The defensive scheme that Staley runs tends to give offenses fits. While last year was Staley’s first as a defensive coordinator, many of the concepts are borrowed from Broncos coach Vic Fangio — whose defenses have long had success in the NFL. The two worked together in Chicago and Staley is seen as Fangio’s disciple.
Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner said Staley’s defenses do a good job of disguising their pre-snap look to confuse quarterbacks. That’s something that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will need to monitor.
Washington, too, will likely be without wide receiver Curtis Samuel. The three-year, $34.5 million man suffered an apparent setback with his groin injury Wednesday and hasn’t practiced since Monday. The team has expressed confidence in Samuel’s replacements, namely Cam Sims and rookie Dyami Brown.
When Washington’s on defense, the team’s defensive front will have to generate pressure on Herbert, who threw for 4,336 yards and was outstanding on third down as a rookie with a 62% completion percentage. One matchup to closely watch will be Young against rookie left tackle and 13th overall pick Rashawn Slater, who faced each other in college with Ohio State and Northwestern, respectively.
Slater is just one of four new starters for Los Angeles up front — a major point of emphasis for the Chargers in the offseason.
“They did a really remarkable job if you look at it at really changing the complexion of their offensive line,” Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “So what was a weakness last year, at least on the board, they’ve added some really good players. … That’s part of the challenge of what we’ve got to battle.”