The Bolts are back from the bye, as the Chargers returned to Hoag Performance Center on Monday.
The Chargers, who are 4-3 and held an afternoon practice, are in Atlanta for Week 9.
Here are five questions facing the Bolts in the final 10 regular-season games:
1. What do the Bolts look like in Atlanta?
The last time we saw the Chargers, they were a frustrated and banged up bunch coming off a tough home loss to the Seahawks. Cornerback J.C. Jackson was lost for the year and wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a high ankle sprain that will keep him out at least four weeks, continuing a rough injury trend this season for the Bolts.
But with plenty of time to rest up physically — and clear their heads mentally — the Chargers now face a trek to Atlanta to face the first-place Falcons in Week 9. At 4-3, the Bolts can start off this second phase of the season on a strong note with a win, which would also help them keep pace in a crowded AFC playoff field. A loss, meanwhile, would drop them to an even .500 for the first time since Week 2.
2. How does Keenan Allen's return impact the offense?
This question is obviously based around Allen returning, which is still up in the air a bit considering he was not spotted at Monday's practice in Costa Mesa. But with Williams out, the hope is that Allen is full go Sunday and that his nagging hamstring injury is behind him. Joshua Palmer was participating in Monday's session, a good sign after he missed Week 7 with a concussion.
But a healthy Allen will surely be a big boost to the offense, as the Bolts will need his experience and skillset on third downs and in the red zone. Another crucial aspect of Allen's game? His run blocking, which could add a jolt to a rushing attack that has struggled for most of this season.
3. Do the Bolts limit big plays on defense?
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said last week that he was going to take a deep dive into what has been ailing the Bolts defense, particularly in terms of giving up big plays.
The Chargers have given them up both on the ground and through the air, which has led to the defense being ranked 31st with 27.0 points per game allowed.
According to TruMedia, an explosive play is a rush of 12-plus yards and a pass play of 16-plus yards. To date, the Bolts have allowed 55 total explosive plays, which is tied for the 14th-most in the league. It's fair to say Staley and the Bolts defense expected better entering the season.
4. How does Michael Davis play as a starter?
As mentioned above, Jackson is out for the season with a torn patella tendon in his right leg. Jackson had surgery Wednesday but will miss the rest of the season as he faces a long road to recovery.
That means Michael Davis will step in as the starter on the outside, which isn't unfamiliar territory for the cornerback. Davis filled in for Jackson when the latter was benched in Week 6 against the Broncos, and when Jackson didn't play in Weeks 1 and 3.
Davis has good size at 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds, and also knows the defensive scheme well after starting 14 games in it in 2021. Davis could be a key piece of the defense in the final two-plus months of the season.
5. Can the Chargers be better at home?
The Bolts have played seven games and have 10 remaining, but six of those are on the road. (All AFC teams have an extra road game in 2022, but they will have a ninth home game next season).
The Chargers face a tough slate coming out of the bye week, with four of their next five games on the road: Atlanta, San Francisco, Arizona and Las Vegas. Sandwiched in between those games is a Week 11 home game against the Chiefs. Of the four home games the Chargers have left, three are against AFC teams (Chiefs, Dolphins and Titans) that currently occupy playoff spots in the conference.
The Bolts have split their four home games this far, but the losses to the Jaguars (by 28 points) and Seahawks (14 points) haven't been pretty. If the Chargers want to be in the playoff race in the final few weeks of the season, they will likely need to hold serve at home against fellow AFC playoff contenders.
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