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5 Takeaways: Chargers Use Late Surge to Get Past Texans


The Chargers are 2-2 after a 34-24 road win against the Texans.

Here are five takeaways from Week 4:

1. Chargers execute late in Houston

It was fourth-and-2 late in the fourth quarter Sunday, and the Chargers needed a big play.

The Bolts, who has surged early but slowed in the third quarter, had the ball at their own 45-yard line with a 27-24 lead.

Forget about the punt. Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley elected to go for it.

The move paid off as Justin Herbert hit Austin Ekeler for a 21-yard gain in the right flat after the quarterback initially faked a handoff to the running back.

"I know on that play, as fast as I could possibly, run to the flat," Ekeler said. "They had been crashing down hard on our wide zones, so it's like a wide zone play action, but I don't have the ball because I'm going to the flat.

"So, I was like, 'This has some legs here.' I didn't know I was going to be that open," Ekeler added.

Herbert said: "We just knew that we had to get a yard and a half, and we think really highly of our guys on the perimeter. DeAndre Carter set a great pick for Austin Ekeler, which sprung it open, and he made a great catch on the ball, got up field and got the first down."

Staley, who took a timeout before the play, explained the decision to keep the offense on the field, and the play that unfolded.

"It was more than one [yard]. So we kind of wanted to make sure that we had the right play called there," Staley said. "But we wanted to be aggressive in that area.

"We wanted to try and win this game. We felt like we had the play to do it and [Justin] and [Austin] executed it very well," Staley added.

Center Corey Linsley said he wasn't surprised the offense stayed on the field.

"That's kind of been a mantra the last couple of years," Linsley said. "Taking ownership, taking advantage of what they give us but also taking ownership of when we have to close the game out, let's go do it

"Again, we have all the confidence in the world that we can do it, we just got to execute again," Linsley added. "That's what we did."

Five plays after that fourth-down conversion, Herbert and Ekeler struck again with a nearly identical looking play.

It wasn't the exact same play call, the Chargers said, but it looked eerily similar. And it worked both times, as Herbert hit Ekeler for a 14-yard touchdown to put the game on ice.

"Similar, but different," Ekeler said. "Same design."

He later added: "For that and the touchdown, coming wide open and then just getting up field, trying to make something happen."

Staley said: "Similar play call. Yeah. Organized differently."

The Bolts also came up clutch twice before on the scoring drive, with Herbert finding Mike Williams over the middle both times.

On third-and-2 from the Chargers 24, Williams moved the sticks for 13 yards. And on third-and-6 at the Houston 30, Williams picked up 11 yards through the air.

Those plays, much like the two Ekeler made, looked pretty similar, too.

2. Offense finds plenty of explosive plays

When you put up 419 yards of total offense on the road, that likely means you've hit some explosive plays throughout the game.

The Chargers entered Week 4 with just 11 such plays, which are categorized as a run of 10-plus yards, or a pass play of 20-plus yards. That total ranked last in the league.

On Sunday, the Chargers struck for 10 explosive plays, six of which came through the air. 

"You got to have them in the NFL. That's where it's at," Staley said. "I felt like we were able to really access Mike in the deep part of the field today."

"We were able to hit Bandy, Palmer. We had a couple keepers that went a long ways," Staley added. "That's what you got to be able to do to throw for 340 on the road. So it was a team effort and a very good performance for our guys."

Williams had the longest play of the day on a catch-and-run that picked up 50 yards.

Joshua Palmer and Michael Bandy added 25-yard receptions, with Bandy catching another pass for 24 yards, too.

Williams added a 20-yard catch before Ekeler capped off the big day through the air with his fourth-down conversion that picked up 21.

On the ground, Ekeler had all four carries that gained 10 yards or more.

He had a 10-yard carry before his 20-yard rush found the end zone. He later added runs of 14 and 10 yards to help out the ground game that found a spark Sunday.

3. The run game gets going

It wasn't perfect, but the Chargers running game took a step in the right direction.

The Bolts rushed for a season-high 81 yards, and that number should have been a tick higher if not for the five yards Herbert lost on kneel downs late in the fourth quarter.

Overall, on non-Herbert runs, Chargers running backs combined for 86 yards on 23 carries (3.74 yards per carry). 

"It's a start, still not what where we're trying to get to," Ekeler said. "We'll continue to build, but it starts with one game of getting some type of production so that's where we're at right now."

Ekeler had 60 yards and two scores on 13 attempts, while Joshua Kelley added 15 yards on four carries. Sony Michel had 11 yards on six attempts.

"It's huge. It all starts with those guys up front, and to have the backs like we do, you got to take advantage of that," Herbert said. "We think really highly of our offensive linemen, especially our running backs, so it was good to see today."

The Bolts noticeably used more pre-snap motion in Houston, which Ekeler said helped contribute to the success on the ground.

"That was just one of our game plans for this week, just because of how they adjusted as a defense," Ekeler said. "That's one of our game plans, we ended up putting some guys in motion to set up the front that we thought was favorable for us to go block, so that's why that was a thing this week.

"Those are things we try to scheme up every week," Ekeler added. "Where do we want to put people, where do we want to send, do we want to send a motion or just line up in it, set them up and do like a shift. So good stuff."

Overall, Staley was pleased with the effort and results on the ground.

"At the end, I thought, I loved our commitment to it. I thought that that allowed our line to really get into rhythm, which I think helped our passing game," Staley said. "We didn't get any big splitters today, but I thought we had a lot of productive runs, kind of stayed out of the negative runs, and it felt like we ran the ball really well when we needed to.

"It was just a rugged football game, but I liked the way our offensive line was coming off the football," Staley added.

4. Fox, interior defenders get plenty of pressure

The Chargers defense recorded four sacks on Davis Mills in Week 4, three of which came from the interior of the defensive line.

Morgan Fox, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Jerry Tillery all got to Mills, with Tillery forcing a fumble on his sack.

And on the 10 quarterback hits Mills took, the three players above were credited with five of them.

"You know everyone was just rushing well, the back end was holding up, getting their guys covered, gave us a little bit more time," Fox said. "Guys were really communicating on our games, running games really well.

"We started to get a good feel for the protection and kind of what games we could run and what we couldn't," Fox added. "Guys really just talking it out and just trusting each other, you know covering each other really well so everyone just started working together and it clicked."

Khalil Mack had a sack, but his other quarterback hit came on the first drive when he maneuvered inside to rattle Mills and force a pick by Nasir Adderley.

Fox sacked Mills almost midway through the first quarter but joked after the game that he was simply the last guy to get to the Texans quarterback.

"I think everyone missed it honestly," Fox said with a laugh. "Everyone else had great rushes. 

"They slid over, I popped the block on one, slammed the other guy and spun back and then was fortunate enough that everyone else missed it so I was able to come in and clean it up," Fox added.

5. Bolts overcome adversity

The Chargers put up 27 points in the first half Sunday, their most in an opening half in nearly four years.

The defense started strong with an opening-drive takeaway, which the offense then converted to seven points.

The Bolts eventually scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives before adding a pair of second-quarter field goals to stretch out a 20-point halftime lead.

But the Chargers were tested by a pesky Texans team in the second half, as Houston rattled off 17 unanswered points to close within a field goal midway through the fourth quarter.

Yes, the Bolts came out with the win, but they also noted a need to play a more complete game.

"I feel like we haven't played our best football yet," said safety Derwin James, Jr. "Because we were up what? Three touchdowns, 21 points?

"In that third quarter we got kind of loose as a defense, gave up some explosive plays so there's definitely room for us to get better and continue to get better," James added.

Staley complimented his team for hanging tough when the Texans put the pressure on.

"In the fourth quarter, I thought the way we finished that game, you can't ask for anything more as the head coach," Staley said.

He later added: "I thought our guys showed a lot of fight today and I'm really proud of them."

The Chargers, who now sit at 2-2, will head to Cleveland in Week 5.

"Yeah I feel like we're a team that I feel like we have faced some adversity," Ekeler said. "Which in my opinion, is the best way to start a season because it's going to tell you a lot about your team.

"How you're going to be able to respond, if you're going to be able to, can you put up some type of production when you come off of a hard loss, or tough loss, or team loss like we did," Ekeler added. "I feel like we were able to put something together today even though it was still a battle."

James added: "We're back at .500, 2-2 and everything we want is still in front of us. We have to take it one game at a time. We got the Browns coming up and we got to get back in the lab because it's just one game."

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