Below are three takeaways from Wednesday's press conferences with Brandon Staley, Justin Jones and Justin Jackson:
Week 18 mentality
As the Bolts prepare for their second primetime battle against the Las Vegas Raiders this season, head coach Brandon Staley talked about how the Chargers have become a better team since their 28-14 win over the Raiders in Week 4.
"I think we're just a lot more certain of who we are," Staley said. "As a team, I feel like there's so much that's happened in between that we've learned from, so many experiences; wins, losses, injuries, COVID, there are so many things that have transpired that have made our team a better team, a more connected team, a more complete team. That's always your quest, as a coach, is to find your best football at the end."
Staley recognizes the Bolts will also have to win the 'game within a game' when it comes to beating a divisional opponent like the Raiders twice in the same season. Winning this time also carries a special significance, win and you're in the postseason.
To do so, Staley explained he will look for ways to use his Week 4 game plan to contain Derek Carr and company in Week 18 if any similarities present themselves on film.
Defensive lineman Justin Jones missed the Bolts' Week 4 matchup due to injury, but talked about how the Chargers need to play physical and have the same mentality they've had this entire season in order to get the same result in Week 18.
"In that game, we knew it was going to be a fight," Jones said. "We knew we were going to have to play our best game up front to beat those guys. Same mentality this week, up front is where games are going to be won. So, we take that and put it on our shoulders and we're going to approach that game and be physical, violent. Everyone's going to be flying around. Everybody is going to communicate and everybody is have a day. I feel like it's going to be in our favor this week — I do feel that way."
Quarterback Justin Herbert has turned up his game when under the lights this season, throwing for eight touchdown passes in the Bolts' three primetime games.
Running back Justin Jackson discussed the type of player Herbert has been when the Bolts are on national TV.
"He's a baller, I mean, what else can you say?" Jackson said. "The dude is an unbelievable player and he heightens his level in those games. I think that's what great players do, so it's awesome having someone like that on your side. It's great to support him in everything we can do, especially as a running back, whether that's protecting him, running the ball, getting out of the backfield as we do a lot here as well or catching the ball for him so he can throw the ball two yards and get 30 or 40 yards on his passing totals."
Career seasons on the Chargers' roster
Part of the formula for the Bolts' playoff push has been the improvement of several key players on the Bolts roster this season. Whether it's Austin Ekeler, Kyzir White, Uchenna Nwosu, Mike Williams or Herbert, who continues to break records practically on a weekly basis, players on both sides of the ball are having career seasons this year.
Along with crediting the organization and the players themselves for their ability to improve, Staley dug deep into other reasons these players are experiencing such professional success.
"I'm really proud of our coaching staff," Staley said. "Like I told you guys, character and capacity, being an outstanding teacher, and then being an outstanding person, I think that that really helps in helping a player improve, being there for the players in good times and in bad times, and I think that we've been able to do that with our guys. I'm really proud of the guys that you mentioned and a lot more because that's what it is about for us, allowing these guys to be as good as they can be."
Despite missing six games this season, Jones is having himself a career-year as well with a career-high two sacks and tying his career-high in total tackles with 34 on the year.
When asked about what he attributes his successful season to, Jones focused more on the 'who' and gave props to those around him.
"Everybody in our room is the reason why," Jones said, "[Defensive Line] Coach Giff [Smith], [Alex G. Spanos Coaching Fellow John] Timu, [Head] Coach [Brandon] Staley, DJ [S Derwin James Jr.]. My defense is everything, everybody on our defense is balling — I'm balling. That's just what it is, we feed off each other…. Now that everyone's back, you can see the difference. In the run game, special teams, offense — you can see it, you can feel it from the couch. It's contagious."
Bringing energy on defense
The Bolts run defense came to life with key players back in the lineup and played with energy that held the Broncos' running back duo to a combined 73 rushing yards. Jones, who has made a big impact in the run defense, talked about how crucial it will be to 'keep that energy up' this weekend when it comes to containing the Raiders lead running back, Josh Jacobs.
"It's a mindset and the want to play the run," Jones said. "I feel, like I said, with the energy feel that we bring to the field when we are all together as a unit, it's not a big adjustment for us to play the run. We just have to keep that energy up. Keep the morale up on our team, keep everyone going and everybody on the same page — get hype when we make run plays, get hype for making sacks get hyped for making PBU's. Get hyped for any big play in the game. Show everybody on the team that, 'Hey man, I see you!' That's the biggest thing for us."
In the Chargers' 34-13 win over the Denver Broncos, it appeared quarterback Drew Lock directed some words towards OLB Joey Bosa right before a play. After the ensuing snap, Bosa then beat his man at the line and tackled former Chargers running back Melvin Gordon for a four-yard loss.
Jones explained that's the type of 'challenge' that Bosa loves and the energy No. 97 brings.
"He loves a challenge from anybody," he said. "If anyone challenges him, he's not backing down. That's what I love about him. He's got that fiery energy in him and that's contagious through our whole line through the whole front, through the whole front, [middle] and the back. Everybody feels it. Like I said, when we're all together, it's contagious."
When asked about the comments Lock made, Jones replied with a smile.
"If you poke a bear, you're going to get mauled."
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