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The Kansas City Chiefs own the recent rivalry with the Los Angeles Chargers, winning the last eight meetings in a row straight up and going 6-2 against the spread. Can Kansas City make it nine in a row when the teams open their seasons Sunday afternoon in suburban Los Angeles?

NFL point spread: The Chargers opened as three-point favorites; the total was 47.5 early in the week, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark. (Line updates and matchup report)

NFL betting pick, via OddsShark computer: 27.9-14.5 Chargers (NFL picks on every game)

Check out the OddsShark podcast on iTunes or at OddsShark.libsyn.com for more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news.
Why the Chiefs can cover the spread

Kansas City finished 10-6 last season both SU and ATS and won the AFC West, before getting upset by Tennessee in a wild-card round playoff game. The Chiefs started 5-1 last year, inexplicably lost six of their next seven but won their last four to clinch their playoff spot.

Over the offseason Kansas City made a big move, trading away quarterback Alex Smith, choosing to now move forward with young slinger Patrick Mahomes.

The Chiefs averaged 375 yards per game last year on offense while allowing 365 YPG on defense. So they ranked 12th in the league in total yardage at plus-10 per game.

Finally, Kansas City swept two games from the Chargers last season by scores of 24-10 and 30-13. The Chiefs covered that first game as three-point favorites at home, then covered as one-point favorites on the road.
Why the Chargers can cover the spread

Los Angeles finished 9-7 SU and 8-7-1 ATS last season, and just missed the playoffs. The Chargers got off to their typical slow start again last year, losing their first four games, and later sat at just 3-6. They then won six of their last seven but fell victim to a playoff tiebreaker.

Los Angeles averaged 377 YPG on offense last year while allowing 328 YPG on defense. So the Chargers ranked sixth in the NFL in total yardage at plus-49 YPG.

Los Angeles lost twice to Kansas City last year, but both those games were closer than those final scores might indicate. The Chargers only trailed that first meeting by a touchdown late in the game, before the Chiefs iced it with a score with just over two minutes to go. And Los Angeles actually led that second meeting 13-10 late into the third quarter before allowing the last 20 points.
Smart betting pick

The Chargers begin this season with heightened expectations, but those can sometimes be a heavy burden. Meanwhile, the Chiefs might be starting a youngster at quarterback, but he’s got a nice arsenal of weapons to work with on offense. Smart money bets KC plus the points.

NFL betting trends

The Chiefs are 7-2 ATS in their last nine games against the Chargers.

The total has gone under in six of the Chiefs’ last eight games against the Chargers.

The Chiefs are 7-3 SU and 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games on the road in September.

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Depending on the player, the Los Angles Chargers’ preseason finale against the San Francisco 49ers has wildly different meanings.

For the starters, it’s an extra night’s rest as Chiefs Week inches closer. Backups become first-teamers for a game. As for those on the bubble? It’s the Super Bowl in August. On Monday, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley said those who have the most riding on Thursday’s performance would be wise to keep a clear head.

“We’ve had many guys this last (preseason) game make the team, but we’ve also had guys because of this game not make it,” Bradley said. “And generally, the ones that don’t make it – that are on the bubble – they’re really distracted.”
Instead of playing how they practice, Bradley explained that players can get caught up thinking too much about things that don’t equate to optimal performance.
“If they go out there and they’re like, ’Boy, I’m on the bubble. This is my chance. What happens if I don’t do well? What happens if I do well? How many guys are behind me?’ – If they do that, they generally don’t play very well.”

There are several resources in the building for those who are playing for a job this week. Bradley pointed to Assistant Defensive Line Coach Eric Henderson as someone who’s been in this exact situation and can give advice on how to best approach it.

Meanwhile, Austin Ekeler locked in a roster spot a year ago with an exceptional preseason finale. He’s one of just several players who will be counted on for support on Thursday night.

“The veterans are great,” Bradley said. “Really, they’ve been awesome this whole preseason. But we’ll even need them more in this game.”

DERWIN JAMES GAINING CONFIDENCE
After Saturday’s game against the Saints, safety Derwin James – who intercepted quarterback Drew Brees on the game’s third play – explained how much things have slowed down for him, even in the last two weeks. On Monday, Bradley agreed that the rookie has grown confidence in the defense.

“If he makes a mistake now, now he knows,” Bradley said. “He’ll come over and go, ‘That was on me’ where I couldn’t say that a couple of weeks ago.”

Bradley also referred to James as a “natural leader” with “a great spirit about him” that will continue to reveal itself with time.

“(He’s) very animated,” Bradley explained. “He’s got a lot of energy, but I think that personality would show more once he gains even more confidence in the system.”

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COSTA MESA, Calif. — While disappointed, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco is not in panic mode after losing one of the team’s best offensive players for the season.

Tight end Hunter Henry suffered a right ACL injury in practice last week, ending his 2018 campaign. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Henry’s 12 receiving touchdowns is tied with Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs for the fourth-most over the last two seasons.

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Henry was expected to take another jump in production this season with future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates leaving the Chargers in free agency. Now, the Chargers have to figure out how to fill the huge void left by Henry’s absence.

“It’s going to be harder without him, but let me be clear: We’ll adapt and move on,” Telesco said. “Chargers fans should be very comfortable with the fact of Anthony Lynn as the head coach and Ken Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator. They’re both very smart, very adaptable coaches. And we’ll find a way. It may be a different way than we mapped out initially, but we’ll find a way.”

Expect Lynn and Whisenhunt to devise a multi-pronged strategy to replace Henry’s production that includes the use of different personnel and schemes to find the right matchups.

Here are three things the Chargers can lean on with Henry gone:

Virgil Green and the play-action game

Signed to a three-year, $8.6 million deal this offseason, Virgil Green was brought in because of his ability as a run blocker. However, Green has played for seven seasons in a similar offensive scheme while with the team’s AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos, which should ease his transition to the Chargers.

Whisenhunt said that Green possesses the speed and hands to have more of an impact in the passing game.

“Number one, we’ve played against him for a number of years,” Whisenhunt said. “Just from watching their offense when we’d go against a common opponent, I’ve seen him play. And then all the offseason work we did in evaluating him in free agency. You felt like you had a pretty good feel for what he could do.

“But I think more importantly is he’s played in this offense. Our terminology, what they do is very similar to what we do, so the learning curve isn’t as big. He’s done a nice job with that. I think when we get the pads on in camp and you can see in that arena, that forum, we’ll be very happy with what he brings to the table.”

Here’s one way the Chargers can get Green more involved — play-action passes in heavy formations when teams are expecting the Bolts to hammer the defense with Melvin Gordon.

Ten of Green’s 14 catches last season, including a 1-yard touchdown reception, came on play-action passes.

Moreover, Philip Rivers has been efficient in the play-action game.

Over the past two seasons, Rivers has completed 62 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns and just four interceptions on play-action passes. Rivers’ 111.7 passer rating on play-action passes is No. 3 in the NFL over that period.

So plays like this 44-yard catch by Green against the Chargers in the season opener last year could be a way for Whisenhunt to get Green involved.
Keenan Allen had the third-most receiving yards and fifth-most catches among wide receivers between the numbers last season. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Expect more three-WR sets with Keenan Allen inside

Henry was such a critical weapon for the Chargers because he could make explosive plays in-between the numbers in the middle of the field. However, the Chargers have a premier playmaker and potentially an ascending talent that can help fill some of the void left by Henry’s absence.

The Chargers ran three-receiver sets on 584 offensive snaps last season, No. 20 in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Chargers used at least two tight ends on 374 offensive snaps last season, No. 8 in the league.

With Henry out and last year’s first-round selection Mike Williams expected to contribute at the start of the year, expect the number of three-receiver sets to go up in 2018, and the number of two-TE sets to decline.

Further, according to ESPN Stats & Statistics, Allen had the third-most receiving yards and fifth-most catches among wide receivers between the numbers last season. Allen could replace some of the production lost by Henry over the middle of the field.

With a limited amount of reps, Williams finished with four receptions for 51 receiving yards on 10 targets last season in-between the numbers. If healthy, that number likely will go up for the Clemson product. Because of his wide catch radius and athleticism, Williams is a prime target for Rivers to use in the middle of the field.

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Rivers shares conversation with GatesChargers QB Philip Rivers says that Antonio Gates will be ready if he is called upon to the return to the team.
If he returns, Antonio Gates still creates matchup issues

The Chargers remain noncommittal on whether the team will bring back Antonio Gates, although Rivers is a proponent of his teammate returning to the fold.

It’s fair to question whether Gates, who turns 38 years old on June 18, still has gas left in the tank.

Look, Gates is no longer a No. 1 tight end in the NFL. However, as a complementary player in the offense, Gates can still win favorable matchups with limited reps.

The Chargers played Gates in 478 offensive snaps last season. He totaled 30 catches for 316 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 51 targets. With Henry out the last two games of the 2017 season due to a lacerated kidney, Gates totaled 10 catches for 127 receiving yards and a score.

The Chargers could use him in a similar manner with comparable results in 2018.

Gates still commands the attention of the defense in the red zone, like this 3-yard TD against rookie safety Jamal Adams in a Week 16 contest against the New York Jets, or this 10-yard score matched up with linebacker Derrick Johnson against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14.

“This guy is one of the best to ever play the game,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s a Hall of Famer, so you always love to have a chance to work with a guy like that.”