The Los Angeles Chargers’ offense showed signs of improvement during the season opener in the areas coach Brandon Staley pointed to throughout the offseason.
The same can’t be said about Staley’s defense.
Many of the deficiencies that have plagued the Chargers’ defense were laid bare again in Sunday’s 36-34 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Giving up a ton of points? Check. It was the seventh time since Staley’s arrival in 2021 that Los Angeles has allowed at least 35 points, tied for second most in the league.
Inability to get off the field on third-and-long? Check. The Dolphins converted three of six opportunities when they faced third down with more than 6 yards to go. The Chargers allowed opponents to convert 30.2% on third-and-long last season, the league’s fourth-highest conversion rate.
Allowing big pass plays? Check. Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa had a league-high 14 completions of at least 16 yards on Sunday (the next closest was eight by Tampa Bay’s Baker Mayfield). The Chargers have allowed 185 explosive pass plays since 2021, tied for third-most in the league. Factor in runs of at least 12 yards, and the Chargers have surrendered 275 explosive plays during that span, also the third-highest.
“I didn’t do a good enough job (Sunday) getting us adjusted throughout the game. We tried. Our adjustments didn’t take shape,” Staley said. “It turned into a track meet in the passing game. We gave up a couple of killer third-down-and-longs that, I think, really could have changed momentum for us.
“I don’t think that we played the right leverages in the secondary, and I didn’t think that we rushed the quarterback effectively enough.”
Despite having a healthy Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, the Chargers did not record a sack and had only two quarterback hits.
Los Angeles also allowed a franchise-record 466 passing yards to Tagovailoa, and the 536 total yards were the most they gave up in an opener, surpassing the 505 yards that Denver gained in 1962.
Even though Staley and his players repeated that it was only one game, the continued breakdowns in the same areas are putting even more heat on the defense. Los Angeles was looking for a good opener after blowing a 27-point lead in last year’s playoff loss at Jacksonville. Instead, the Chargers squandered another late lead and the opportunity to show they had learned from past mistakes.
The running game. Staley has stressed improving the running game since last season ended. The Chargers had the most rushing yards (234) and highest average yards per carry (5.85) in the league on Sunday. It was the first time since 2011 they had at least 40 rushing attempts and went for over 200 yards on the ground in the same game.
Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelly each had 16 carries and scored a touchdown. Ekeler rushed for 116 yards and Kelley finished with 91. It was the first time since 2018 the Chargers had a pair of 90-yard rushers.
On a 10-play, 75-yard drive that finished with Kelley’s 2-yard TD early in the fourth quarter, new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called six straight run plays that gained 34 yards.
“That was great for us to get in rhythm, and once you get in that rhythm you get a feel for the defense, how everything’s going,” Kelley said.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Pass protection in the fourth quarter. Justin Herbert was sacked twice on the final drive and was pressured six times in the last 15 minutes after Miami generated only four pressures in the first three quarters.
WR Keenan Allen, plagued by hamstring problems most of last season, finished with six receptions for 76 yards. He also reached 800 career catches in his 127th career game, tying Julio Jones as the second-fastest player to reach that mark in NFL history.
Cornerback J.C. Jackson. Yes, he had an interception in the end zone during the third quarter, but he ran it out and the Chargers took over at their 4. Los Angeles went three-and-out on that drive. He also was flagged for pass interference late in the second quarter, leading to a Miami field goal and a 20-17 lead at halftime. Jackson was targeted eight times and allowed three receptions for 99 yards, including Hill’s 35-yard TD on a go route during the third quarter.
Staley said Ekeler tweaked his ankle during the second half and is day-to-day.
28 – Straight games in which Herbert has completed at least 20 passes, the third-longest streak in league history. Drew Brees leads the way with streaks of 57 and 30 games.
The Chargers head to Tennessee for a matchup of 0-1 teams. Los Angeles has won 11 of the last 13 games against the Titans, including 17-14 last season.
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