The defense came up with three huge takeaways in the fourth quarter, only for the offense to come away with just three points. It was a classic Chargers game in every way: coaching mistakes, undisciplined special teams, and bone-headed penalties.
Here are my three takeaways from Sunday.
New bodies haven’t helped special teams coverage
At the beginning of Sunday’s game, the broadcast showed a graphic that had Chargers fans probably shaking their heads. The graphic showed several categories in which the Bolts lead the NFL, including yards allowed on punt returns and blocked punts allowed. Ahead of Sunday, they were also tied for fifth in the NFL in terms of penalties on special teams plays.
Over the last two weeks, the Chargers have promoted linebackers Cole Christiansen and B.J. Bello from the practice squad to give new players opportunities to show that they can help reinforce the league’s worst special teams unit. Unfortunately, their presence hasn’t helped all that much.
Of the Bills 11 drives on Sunday, they started at their 30 or better on eight of them. Four of those were 35 or better. When I was playing college ball still, our coaches called these “invisible yards.” Essentially, when you take a drive from each team — with the Billts starting at their 35 and the Chargers starting at their 25 — you can consider that extra ten yards as an actual yard advantage.
When it came to the usual starting spot for the Chargers, they only started on their 30 or better three times, with two of those coming after takeaways. Seven of their drives started behind their 25 yard line, which means there were numerous times Joe Reed could have taken a knee and given the Bolts better starting field position. This happened all day long and only made this game even harder to win for Justin Herbert and Co.
The only notable player on the offensive line is Bryan Bulaga
Due to an unknown illness that wasn’t deemed related to COVID-19, right tackle Bryan Bulaga did not play in Sundays game. There was no notice and no one knew what was happening until Trey Pipkins took the field for the opening drive.
What proceeded was another lackluster performance by the entire unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers offensive line gave up 23 pressures, including a team-high seven for Pipkins. Trai Turner was second with five allowed. Both Forrest Lamp and Pipkins gave up a single sack, as well.
After all that time waiting for Turner to make his way back into the lineup, it turns out his presence alone isn’t going to fix anything and he’s also been one of the more abhorrent offenders in allowing pressure into Herbert’s face. When Bulaga is on the field, the rookie is able to know that right side isn’t going to let up pressure all that much. Bulaga’s been beat occasionally, but it’s at a much slower rate than anyone else on the line.
I seriously wouldn’t be surprised if this front five was totally revamped after the season. Chances are Bulaga is still here and Feeney likely keeps his spot due to his superb availability, but everyone else is in a replaceable position.
The laundry list of clock management mistakes
I’m not kidding when I say last night’s game left me with a huge migraine.
We can dive deep into every mistake, but here’s an example of what happened at the end of the first half:
On the final drive of the first half with 2:10 left on the clock, Lynn decided to not use timeouts following multiple passing plays that ended in bounds after the two-minute warning. An 11-yard pass to Ekeler, an incomplete pass to Mike Williams, and a 10-yard completion to Jalen Guyton took 52 seconds off the clock and moved them to their own 44-yard line before Herbert was sacked for a loss of eight. This is when he took his first timeout of the drive with 1:01 remaining.
On second-and-18, they completed a pass to Keenan Allen for nine yards. At the 44-second mark, Herbert completed a pass to Ekeler but he was tackled in bounds. Instead of taking an immediate timeout, the clock ran all the way to 21 seconds before the TO was called.
The Chargers would go on to punt.
Again, this team had over two minutes to work with an all three of their timeouts. They didn’t even cross midfield and still went into the half with a timeout left over. Anthony Lynn tried to explain himself to The Athletic’s Daniel Popper in the postgame presser, but he seemed confused and even went as far as to say he didn’t understand what Popper was talking about at the time.
Other mistakes in the second half included the run up the middle following the Hail Mary completion to Tyron Johnson and the apparent QB Sneak that Herbert called yet only he registered, resulting him getting trampled by both teams on the final play of the game.
It was just so, so ugly.
I want to ask you all where the team goes from here, but I think the writing is very clearly on the wall as of this moment.