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5 Takeaways: Bolts Searching for Complementary Football in All 3 Phases

5T Week 7

The Bolts are 2-4 after a tough 31-17 road loss Sunday in Kansas City.

Here are five takeaways from Week 7:

1. Adding it all up

The Chargers sit at 2-4 and have lost two straight games as they passed the one-third mark of their 2023 season.

"Nobody would have predicted that," said Chargers safety Derwin James, Jr.

But the reality is that the Bolts have endured a rollercoaster start to the season to this point, losing twice followed by two straight wins to now facing back-to-back losses.

At this point, the AFC West race is not the team's main focus.

Instead, it's simply coming together right now and playing complementary football in all three phases.

"It's frustrating. I can't tell you why the season is starting this way, but it is," said Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. "It's no one's responsibility but mine. We've got a good football team and we need to reset as a football team. We need to reset.

"We've had two tough losses in a row but we've got a good football team," Staley added. "We've just got to make sure that we keep it simple, keep doing the little things well because this is a good group of guys. This is a good football team and we need to get back to work."

Justin Herbert added: "That's the goal of playing good football and having an offense, defense and special teams playing together. When you get all three phases playing together, you're going to have a good football team. It hasn't happened for us this year."

Sunday's 31-17 loss to the Chiefs was a microcosm of what has plagued the Chargers all season.

If two of the three phases are playing well, the third is struggling. And if, say, the offense is hot … the defense isn't.

That was summed by each half in Week 7 at Arrowhead Stadium.

"It wasn't enough complimentary football. We all need to be locked in on what we need to do and go execute," James said. "I feel like everyone is having their moments in the game … but these last six games, we need to flush them."

The Bolts trailed 24-17 at the break in what was a strong half of the offense (233 total yards) but a poor half for the defense (333 yards allowed).

In the second half, the script flipped as the defense limited the Chiefs to just 150 yards and seven points … but the offense mustered just 125 yards and didn't score at all.

And even on a solid day on special teams — Cameron Dicker hit a 55-yard field goal and JK Scott pinned the Chiefs at the 3, 4 and 8-yard lines — the unit gave up a 50-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that allowed Kansas City to salt the game away.

As the Bolts now turn their attention to a Week 8 home game in primetime against Chicago, they are focused on getting all three phases to click at the same time.

"That's what we need big time," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "We're looking for each unit to step up and deliver this win we desperately need at this point."

Austin Ekeler said: "This is our team. This is who we're riding with, it's all the way until the end. Good, bad or ugly, all the way until the end."

Herbert added: "We've got a new challenge, a new week of football. You can't let your last one affect your next one. We're going to watch the film, we're going to move on, we're going to learn from it and we'll attack the Bears on Sunday."

2. Offense can't stay hot

Down by a touchdown at halftime, the Chargers offense had four separate chances to go down and tie the game in the second half.

The unit couldn't get it done, as the 17 points for the Bolts remained unchanged for the game's final 30 minutes.

"We just didn't get into any rhythm in the second half," Staley said. "I like the way we ran the football in this game and I thought in the passing game in the first half, I thought we were aggressive.

"I felt like we made big plays in the passing game in the first half but just in the second half we couldn't get anything going," Staley added. "Drives just stalled out. Missed a third and short and there were a couple of third downs that were close that we just didn't make. Just didn't operate with any consistency in the second half."

Herbert threw for just 100 yards in the second half and also had a pair of interceptions.

The quarterback and Bolts running back Joshua Kelley credited Kansas City's defense, which entered Week 7 allowing just over 14 points per game.

"Yeah, I think they're always making adjustments," Herbert said. "They played some good defense, they had some good things covered up. We did our best to move the ball and unfortunately we didn't execute as well as we could've.

"There's some plays that we'd love to have back, some throws and some protections, things like that," Herbert added. "I thought our coach put us in a position to play good football today. It's on me and it's on our offense to be able to score points."

Kelley said: "Sometimes you come out swinging, they come back, make their adjustments and it settles. We still had our moments, had our chances, just got to execute them next time."

The second-half shutout continued a downward trend for the Chargers offense, as that unit has now scored just 10 total points in the second halves of their past three games, with all of them coming against Dallas.

"I think it's just executing in the second half," Herbert said. "We have to a better job in the second half, and we've got to a better job in the first half.

"It's all four quarters and we have to put together four quarters or however long the game takes until there's zero left on the clock," Herbert added. "Our offense has to keep moving, we have to keep converting and we have to do a better job."

3. Bolts frustrated by Kelce, Mahomes

The Chargers defense is well-aware that Travis Kelce is the focal point of the Chiefs passing attack.

"We knew who they wanted to get the ball to," Kendricks said.

But the Bolts had few answers for the future Hall of Famer on Sunday, especially during a first half in which he finished with nine catches for 143 yards and a score. (Kelce had three receptions for 36 yards in the second half).

After the game, Staley shouldered the blame for Kelce's big day.

"I just didn't do a good enough job getting our team ready to play," Staley said. "We did not execute in pass rush or pass coverage in the first half, far too many explosions. That ultimately is my responsibility and I didn't do a good enough job.

"I thought in the second half, we made good adjustments and played much better, but there was a lot of damage done in that first half," Staley added. "Just didn't do anything well enough in the first half."

The Chargers head coach said the Bolts played a variety of schemes in the first half, but Kelce seemingly solved them all.

Chargers defenders said that when the Bolts played a zone coverage, Kelce's freestyle method of play shone through.

"He'll start running his route and know who's helping … he'll just stop the route and start a new route," Kendricks said. "That's why they're so good, and they have that chemistry as well."

James added: "He was just finding the soft spot in the zone. In the second half, little bit better result. But at the end we couldn't close it out."

Part of that success, of course, was due to Patrick Mahomes' ability to get outside the pocket and find Kelce — and others — for big gains.

"It's tough, that's just the way he plays and no matter how you rush him, that's going to be part of the game," Staley said. "You've just got to minimize the damage.

"Again, when those off-script plays happened today, there was far too much damage, especially in the first half," Staley added. "There were a bunch of big plays. It's easier said than done, but in order to beat them, that's what you've got to execute."

Safety Dean Marlowe added: "It's right there. Just scramble drills, one play can turn it."

Kendricks added: "We know their play style — broken plays and finding someone down the field. It takes a while to settle into that kind of stuff but we knew coming in what we had to do. With their quarterback, it's going to happen."

Browse through live action photos of the Bolts Week 7 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs

4. No points off turnovers

The Bolts had their chances in a hostile environment Sunday.

Especially when the defense did force Mahomes and the Chiefs offense into mistakes.

With the game tied at 17 in the second quarter, Asante Samuel, Jr. picked off Mahomes with just under six minutes left.

With a chance to take the lead, the Bolts moved near midfield but Herbert was sacked on second down to thwart the drive as the Chargers punted it away.

The Chargers defense had another takeaway to open the third quarter when Kendricks stripped tight end Blake Bell inside the red zone and James pounced on the ball.

Looking to tie the game at 24, the Chargers marched all the way inside the Kansas City 10-yard line. But Herbert's third-down pass was batted into the air at the line of scrimmage and intercepted.

"Maybe a couple inches to the right so it doesn't get tipped," Herbert said. "But it's a good play and they're standing at the line looking for those tipped balls.

"It's a tough play, we'd love to have that one back, I'd love to have that one back but that's the way it went," Herbert added. "We've got to do our best to move or to just to try and avoid those tipped balls."

The Chargers offense wouldn't get in the red zone again for the rest of the game.

And in a game that was within seven points until the final few minutes, the Chargers not scoring on either takeaway loomed large.

"I felt like that was a big part of this game, when you play them, is attacking the football," Staley said.

He later added: "We didn't impact the game enough the way we needed to. Those takeaways if you score there, obviously that would've been a different ball game. I think when you play this team, you can't have two takeaways and if you do get two takeaways for yourself you need to something with it."

Herbert said: "It's on us as an offense to be able to capitalize from those turnovers."

5. Focused on the Middle 8

With the first half evolving into a shootout, it appeared the game might go into halftime tied at 17.

Scott had just pinned the Chiefs at their own 4-yard line with just under three minutes left.

The best-case scenario for the Bolts was to get a stop and perhaps break the tie. If anything, the main objective was to at least get to halftime with the score knotted up.

Instead, Kansas City's first play was a 37-yard gain that set the tone for the end of the first half when the Chiefs never faced a third down in the final few minutes.

Even when Kansas City got down to the 11-yard line, an offensive pass interference call and a sack by Kenneth Murray, Jr. meant the Chiefs had second-and-23 from the Chargers 24.

But that was wiped away as Kendricks was called for defensive pass interference in the end zone while in coverage on Kelce, who scored on a 1-yard pass on the next play.

"The penalty before half was crucial, led to the touchdown," Kendricks said. "It was sold pretty well. I didn't turn my head but I was in a good position."

Staley added: "That score before the half was kind of killer."

Down 24-17 at half, the Bolts defense responded with a vengeance to play a solid second half.

But it was just too little, too late in Week 7.

"Against a team like that, you can't wait until the third quarter," James said.

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