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Final Thoughts: Bolts Embracing Fresh Start Ahead of Week 8


The Chargers are back in primetime as they host Chicago on Sunday Night Football at SoFi Stadium.

Kickoff between the Bolts (2-4) and the Bears (2-5) is at 5:20 p.m. (PT).

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 8:

1. A fresh start

The Chargers can't go back and erase the first six games of the season, a stretch that has been more frustrating than encouraging.

But with the first third of the season in the books, the Bolts are now focused on stringing solid performances together in order to get back in the AFC playoff picture.

Step 1 of that journey begins in Week 8 against the Bears.

"There's a lot left ahead of us," said Chargers outside linebacker Khalil Mack. "There's a lot we have to assess right now, a lot we have to get better at.

"But I'm not a fan of talking [about it]," Mack continued. "It starts out on the field and us putting the effort and pieces together in practice.

"I'm not thinking about the rest of the year," Mack added. "I'm thinking about winning today. If you have enough winning days, you're going to have enough winning performances on Sunday."

The Chargers are one of six teams in the AFC with a sub .500 mark, and seven teams in the conference already have four wins or more.

The Bolts know the time is now to right the ship and start making some hay as the midpoint of the 2023 season nears.

A year ago, the Bolts hung around .500 for the majority of the season before making a late push for a playoff spot they eventually claimed.

The hope is that the Chargers can follow a similar blueprint in 2023, but the starts with getting a win in primetime against the Bears.

"I think, any time you go through adversity like that, that you're going to learn. You're going to get a lot of experience from it," Justin Herbert said of overcoming adversity a season ago. "We have a lot of guys on this team that have been through things like that before. They're fighting through injuries.

"That's the tough part about it. You have to keep answering, you have to keep fighting. No one in that locker room is down," Herbert added. "No one is worried or panicking. We have to get this thing going. We know that we have the guys to be able to get it done."

Bolts outside linebacker Joey Boss said he sensed an excitement within the team this week, a sentiment Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley agreed with.

"There was a freshness," Staley said. "Just focusing on today and putting one foot in front of the other. I think just focusing on the things we can definitely control and the things we can definitely measure.

"That's definitely been the measure all week and I think there's a freedom that comes with that," Staley added. "Focusing on our play style. Guys have come out here with the right approach, and as I've told you, I really like coaching this group. We've got outstanding leadership."

2. An eye on the trenches

The Bolts have faced a who's who of pass rushers in the past three games, as the Chargers offensive line has gone up against the likes of Maxx Crosby, Micah Parsons and Chris Jones.

The result has been a bit more pressure on Herbert, namely on third downs.

"Between Vegas, Dallas and Kansas City, I'd argue those have some of the guys that everyone knows in this whole world that are D-linemen," said Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. "Those are tough matchups. Those are challenging matchups. We'll continue to try and improve."

The Bears might not have a household name, but Bolts guard Jamaree Salyer said the group rushes well as a unit.

"They have a really talented front," Salyer said. "They pose a challenge for us so we're looking forward to stepping up to the plate and have a good game."

Entering Week 8, the Chargers have allowed 15 sacks (tied for the 10th fewest) and have allowed 88 total pressures, which is tied for the 13th fewest.

The past three games have negatively skewed those numbers a bit, but it's not as if the Chargers have one of the league's worst offensive lines.

The group of Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Will Clapp, Salyer and Trey Pipkins III — has been solid, but they know they need to be better going forward, too.

Keep in mind that Slater and Johnson are playing side-by-side for the first time this season, as are Salyer and Pipkins on the right side. Clapp, meanwhile, is filling in for Corey Linsley, who is on the Non-Football Illness List with a non-emergent hear-related issue.

"Keep taking steps forward," Salyer said. "We're a group that's still gelling together. We looking to get better in any way we can. Obviously, the most important thing is to affect the game [and] keep No. 10 upright.

"It does take time," Salyer continued. "Nothing beats reps and the experience aspect of it. Being able to know what Trey thinks without being able to ask, that takes time to get to that level.

"We're just trying to expedite that as best we can," Salyer added. "It's a learning process but we still hold ourselves to high expectations."

3. A look at the WR room

The Chargers wide receiver room will be in the spotlight on Sunday night.

Keenan Allen is thriving in Year 11 with 46 catches for 574 yards and four touchdowns. Behind the veteran, however, things have been jumbled a bit.

Mike Williams is out for the season with a torn ACL, and Joshua Palmer is questionable for Week 8 with a knee injury.

"It will be a game-time decision," Staley of Palmer, who will work out pregame. 

Quentin Johnston and Derius Davis will obviously play a role, but the Chargers could also see the return of Jalen Guyton.

The wide receiver tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2022 season and began this year on the Physically Unable to Perform List. The Bolts opened the 21-day practice window for Guyton last week and he is now listed as questionable after being limited Wednesday but practicing in full on Thursday and Friday.

"Progressing but to be determined," Staley said of Guyton. "[He] was in all three practices this week and that part was encouraging."

Davis said it's been great to see Guyton work his way back into practice in recent weeks.

"JG, he can roll. He's got that 4.3 speed," Davis said. "Just so proud of him because coming back from an injury like that is hard. Just to see him out there going full speed, you see the hard work he's put in."

4. Keep Moore under wraps

Another week, another top-flight wide receiver for the Chargers defense to focus on.

Chicago's DJ Moore comes to town in Week 8. The wide receiver is tied for third in the NFL with five touchdown catches and is fifth in receiving yards with 636.

Moore, whom the Bears acquired this spring when they traded the No. 1 overall pick to Carolina, is also fifth in receiving grade (87.6), according to Pro Football Focus.

"He's a physical receiver, big, body, runs hard. He makes great catches in traffic and is just a playmaker," Ja'Sir Taylor said.

The Chargers cornerback noted that while Moore mostly lines up outside, he averages about 10 snaps per game in the slot, too.

"They try to get him the ball in any position," Taylor said.

Moore ranks fourth in the NFL in yards after catch with 273, and the Bears like to get him the ball in space on screens and quick passes.

In fact, Chicago seemingly throws screen passes to anyone, as the Bears enter Week 8 ranked second in percentage of screen passes thrown at 17.6. (Chicago has thrown 36 screens on 205 total pass attempts).

"They've got a new quarterback in there so they're trying to get the ball out quick," Taylor said. "Get him comfortable in the pocket with screens, quick game, running the ball.

"Little things that just keep his confidence up," Taylor added. "We'll be ready for that."

5. Watch out for the block

There have been 10 teams that have blocked a field goal in 2023, and two teams that have blocked an opponent's extra point.

But only one team — Chicago — has blocked one of each so far this season.

And it's been Bears defensive end Rasheem Green that has notched both blocks.

Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken said Green — and the rest of Chicago's field goal/extra point block team — has their attention.

"They brought him in to block field goals," Ficken said. "He's a very dynamic player and he does a great job. He did it in Seattle and he was effective in Houston, also."

Ficken later added: "He's definitely got a really unique trait with that."

Green blocked a field goal try against Tampa Bay in Week 2 and then swatted away a Vikings extra point try in Week 6.

Chargers long snapper Josh Harris said Chicago's pair of blocked kicks only emphasizes the importance of each kick on Sunday.

"This isn't like high school, or some colleges, where guys take that play off," Harris said. "Chicago has shown they really execute that play at a high level.

"No. 94 [Green] has done a really nice job everywhere he's been of being able to get into the flight path of the ball," Harris added. "Just like every week, we have to take care of our gaps and are technically sound and rely on Cam to keep hitting the ball he is to get that trajectory."

Green also blocked an extra point for Seattle in 2021 and returned the loose ball for a touchdown.

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