The Chargers are back from the bye and prepping for a Week 6 clash with the Cowboys.
With 13 games left on the schedule, here are five questions facing the Bolts the rest of the way:
1. How do the cornerbacks perform?
This position group underwent some shuffling during the bye week.
The Chargers traded J.C. Jackson to the Patriots and added Essang Bassey to the roster. Bassey has 32 games of NFL experience (including one with the Bolts) and made four total starts for Denver.
The main focus will now be on the trio of Asante Samuel, Jr., Michael Davis and Ja'Sir Taylor, a unit that will be the starting group from here on out.
That group — and the Bolts defense as a whole — faces a host of notable quarterbacks (Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Jared Goff) in the next few months.
How the trio of Samuel, Davis and Taylor defend the pass could tell a big part of whether or not the Chargers are in the playoffs.
2. How do the Bolts fare in primetime?
Almost half of the Chargers 13 remaining games are scheduled to be under the lights, beginning with Monday Night Football against the Cowboys.
The Bolts then have back-to-back primetime games in Weeks 8 (host the Bears on Sunday Night Football) and 9 (at the Jets on Monday Night FootbalI).
That doesn't even include night games against the Ravens, Raiders or Bills … and what if the Week 18 game against the Chiefs is flexed to a primetime slot?
The Bolts are 2-2 and right in the thick of the early AFC playoff race. But given the fact that five of their six guaranteed primetime games are against AFC opponents, having a winning record in those games could do wonders for the Chargers down the stretch.
3. Which rookies continue to step up?
Successful NFL teams get contributions from throughout the lineup, whether it's from veterans or young players alike.
The Chargers don't need their 2023 draft class to be stars right now (although second-rounder Tuli Tuipulotu might already be one).
Instead, help from the likes of Quentin Johnston, Daiyan Henley and Derius Davis could simply be a boost to the overall roster in multiple phases.
Johnston will continue to take on a larger role in the offense with Mike Williams out for the year with an ACL injury. He doesn't need to be WR1, just a solid playmaker who helps move the chains.
Davis saw his offensive snap count increase in Week 4 and added some juice with a dazzling 51-yard rush. More of that would be helpful, along with some splash plays in the return game.
Henley, meanwhile, might not see time at linebacker with Eric Kendricks, Kenenth Murray, Jr. and Nick Niemann holding it down there so far. But he is a vital piece on special teams and should only grow there as the season trudges along.
Tuipulotu simply just needs to keep doing what he has been. The former USC standout looks like one of the NFL's best defensive rookies right now and could be in the conversation about yearly awards if he continues his upward trajectory.
Presenting the 53-man roster for your 2023 Los Angeles Chargers
4. Are the Bolts balanced enough on offense?
Justin Herbert's fractured finger on his non-throwing hand will surely be in the headlines this week.
And the Bolts quarterback has been superb so far, both as a leader and with his play on the field.
Herbert will undoubtedly make incredible throws week-in and week-out, and that will be enough to keep the Chargers in games.
But a balanced offensive attack would do wonders for the offense, too, and the hopeful return of Austin Ekeler from an ankle injury should help out there.
The Chargers running game has had two strong games and two subpar games, although the defensive scheme in the latter two games mostly tells that story.
As we've said here numerous times, the Chargers don't need to have a top-10 rushing attack. If they can simply just be good at it, that should open up room for Herbert and the Bolts playmakers to keep airing it out.
5. Can special teams find its magic?
Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken worked wonders in his first season with the Bolts, improving that phase to be one of the league's most consistent units.
And while special teams hasn't been poor in 2023, players and coaches will tell you that the group could certainly raise its level of play a bit.
Cameron Dicker has been fine by making six of seven field goals, but the punting operation hasn't had the same impact as a year ago.
As mentioned above, Davis is the returner on kickoffs and punts. He has game-changing ability and could swing the momentum any time he touches the ball.
Given the fact that all four of the Chargers games so far have been decided by one score or less, the Bolts could see a season where they are in one close game after another.
If that's the case, consistent special teams play could help swing those final scores the Chargers way more often than not.
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