At the one-third mark of the regular season, Brandon Staley's Los Angeles Chargers have won three straight and are tied for the AFC West lead despite their defense remaining far from a finished product.
Despite Joey Bosa missing the past three games as he rehabs from a groin injury, the Chargers have been able to turn up the defensive pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Their flaw, though, has been allowing big plays with some of them resulting in touchdowns.
The good and bad were on display Monday night in the Bolts' 19-16 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos.
The Chargers sacked Russell Wilson four times but allowed three plays in the first half of 30 yards or more, including a 39-yard TD connection from Wilson to rookie tight end Greg Dulcich. The Bolts have allowed 15 plays of 30 yards or more, including five that have resulted in touchdowns.
“Without those 12 to 14, let’s just say like my Dad used to say, you cut a third of them, you’d see a lot of defense that you would love,” Staley said the day after his team improved to 4-2 for the second straight season.
“Last night, without those plays, that’s as good of a defense as you’re going to play. That has to continue to be a focus. It’s about consistency of assignment more than anything. I think that once we continue to play together more and guys continue to do their jobs, you’ll see them go.”
The benefit for the Chargers is they are coming off their best half of defensive football of the season. In the second half and overtime, they held Denver to 72 yards, including minus-9 passing, forced three three-and-outs, and sacked Wilson three times.
It is only the third time since 1991 that the Chargers have held an opponent to negative passing yards after halftime. The previous time before Monday night was the 2011 opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
Linebacker Drue Tranquill had a pair of sacks, including a well-timed blitz on a third down late in the fourth quarter to force a Broncos punt. Khalil Mack is tied for second in the league with six sacks, including one in the first half.
“I think anytime you lose a top rusher like Joey, you have to pick it up through other people. I think we picked up a nice variety and that’s what you have to do," Staley said.
J.K. Scott is averaging a league-high 5.05 seconds of hang time on his punts this season. His final punt in Monday night's game had nearly 5.5 seconds of hang time and was fumbled by Denver’s Montrell Washington after teammate P.J. Locke bumped into him. Ja'Sir Taylor blocked Locke into Washington, and Deane Leonard recovered the loose ball at the Denver 28-yard line.
The Chargers averaged 4.34 seconds last season, one of the league's lowest times.
“I think the less the hang (time), the more stress you put on the gunner position. Then, based on the matchup, are they doubled? Are they singled? That can be really tough on them," Staley said. "I think that JK has to continue to improve timing, accuracy, all of those things, and we have to continue to develop our core group, and then, our gunners. So far, I think it’s been a strength of our football team.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Getting Mike Williams to play at home as he does on the road. Williams has had 100-yard games all three times the Chargers have played away from Los Angeles, but the sixth-year receiver has five receptions for 42 yards in the three home games.
Williams had two catches for 17 yards against the Broncos, but his 9-yard grab in overtime got the ball to the Broncos 21-yard line before Dustin Hopkins kicked the game-winner from 39 yards.
Despite a strained hamstring on an extra-point attempt in the second quarter, Hopkins made all four of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winner in OT. It is the fifth time in his nine-year career Hopkins has made at least four field goals in a game.
Hopkins has connected on 27 of his 30 field-goal attempts since joining the Chargers nearly a year ago.
It will be a couple of weeks before Hopkins returns to the field. Staley said that Hopkins will be out 2 to 4 weeks with the hamstring strain.
Left guard Zion Johnson allowed a sack, four quarterback pressures, and committed three holding penalties. The Chargers were called for offensive holding five times on Monday night and have 10 this season, second highest in the league.
Besides Hopkins, RB Josh Kelley has an MCL sprain and will miss at least 2 to 4 weeks. ... TE Donald Parham is in the concussion protocol. ... OL Will Clapp has a bruised quad but will practice this week. ... WR Keenan Allen (hamstring) and C Corey Linsley (illness) were inactive for Monday night but will practice.
1,009: Total completions for Justin Herbert in 38 games. He is the fastest to reach 1,000 completions in NFL history, beating Matthew Stafford, who did it in 41 from 2009-12 in Detroit.
The Chargers remain home to face the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday before going on their bye week. The Bolts have won three of the past four in the series between the former AFC West rivals.
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