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5 Takeaways: Bolts Defense Looks to Rebound After Week 1 Loss


The Bolts are 0-1 after a close 36-34 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Here are five takeaways from Week 1:

1. Tough start for the defense

It was nine months ago that the Chargers defense put the clamps down on a high-powered Dolphins offense at SoFi Stadium.

It wasn't the same story this time around. Such is life in the NFL.

"You have to give credit to Miami," said Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. "Sometimes games like this happen in the NFL. The last time we played these guys, it was the other way.

"Sometimes, you're going to have a game where you light it up and sometimes, in a game with that type of skill over there, you can get lit up," Staley added.

The final numbers allowed by the Bolts defense were eye-popping. The Dolphins put up 536 yards of total offense, the most allowed by the Chargers since Staley was hired in 2021.

Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns, while Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill had 11 receptions for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"They have great players who made great plays," said Sebastian Joseph-Day. "Tyreek did his thing, Tua did this thing. They had a good game.

"The NFL is the most competitive league there is," Joseph-Day later added. "Sometimes things get shown that you haven't seen. Now you learn and keep pushing. Learn and grow from it."

It wasn't as if the Dolphins simply dinked and dunked down the field, either. Miami routinely took deep shots and ended up with eight pass plays of 20-plus yards.

"As a defense, you want to limit the explosives, which we didn't do," said linebacker Eric Kendricks. "We know they live off the explosive plays, so for them to get as many as they did is not advantageous to us winning."

Derwin James, Jr. added: "In some spots, we just let those guys loose and when you do that against them ... that's what happens."

The Bolts run defense did its part with only 70 yards allowed on 20 carries, good for just 3.5 yards per carry.

But the Chargers pass defense had few answers for a high-octane Dolphins passing attack.

In last season's Week 14 matchup, the Chargers were physical at the line of scrimmage and disrupted the timing of the Dolphins passing game.

Miami used much more pre-snap motion this time around that allowed speedsters Hill and Jaylen Waddle to get off the line untouched and wiggle around the field.

"I don't think that we played the right leverages in the secondary and I didn't think that we rushed the quarterback effectively enough," Staley said. "Give credit to Miami. They had a really good gameplan and they made a lot of plays."

He later added: "I didn't do a good enough job today, getting us adjusted throughout the game. We tried. Our adjustments just didn't take shape today. It turned into a track meet in the passing game."

2. Bolts can't get final score

Even with the defensive struggles, the Chargers still had a chance to win it late.

Down 36-34, the Bolts took over at their own 25-yard line with 1 minute and 45 seconds left.

"We think we're winning every time, that's never going to be in question," left tackle Rashawn Slater said. "Looking at who we got back there and who we got on the edges, we believe every time. We didn't get it today but it doesn't change anything for us."

The drive started promising with a 10-yard pass from Justin Herbert to Gerald Everett.

But things spiraled from there as Herbert was called for intentional grounding on first-and-10 from the 35-yard line. That set up second-and-21 from the 24.

"I have to be smarter in that situation and have to put it closer to the receiver," Herbert said.

Miami then dialed up the pressure and sacked Herbert for an 8-yard loss. A 17-yard gain to Mike Williams made it a manageable fourth-and-12, but Herbert was sacked again on a Miami blitz.

"Just a couple of pressures and a couple of adders, where guys that had someone in coverage, secondary rush that's there," Staley said of the pair of late sacks. "I think that we can learn from that 2-minute drive, from a protection standpoint.

"Everyone on our sideline believed that we were going to win that game in 2-minute. After that throw-away and the penalty, it made it tough," Staley added.

Overall, the Chargers offense put up 433 yards of offense in the first game under Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore.

Herbert completed 23 of 33 passes for 228 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to Donald Parham, Jr. Keenan Allen led the way with six catches for 76 yards.

Herbert lamented the Chargers second-to-last drive where they moved inside the Miami 10-yard line but settled for a field goal that have them a 34-30 lead. A touchdown, of course, would have meant a possible 8-point advantage.

"We didn't win the game. We could have done more as an offense," Herbert said. "We had that red-zone opportunity late in the fourth [quarter]. Kicked a field goal there, but would have loved to finish in the end zone on those ones."

3. Run game shines on offense

Despite the loss, the Chargers run game got off to a hot start to start the regular season.

While the team had success on the ground during the preseason, Sunday was the first look at the run game under Moore with the starting unit — and it got off on the right foot.

The Bolts ran the ball 40 times for a grand total of 234 yards and three touchdowns as team, their highest since Week 5 of the 2022 season. They also became the first team since 2010 to reach at least 220 yards and three scores on kickoff weekend.

Running back Austin Ekeler led the group with 16 rushes for 117 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His afternoon was highlighted by a 55-yard run up the middle of the offensive line that set up a Chargers touchdown.

"I think once we started getting in the flow of the game, I think we kind of saw it starting to play out like, 'Okay, this is going to be a high scoring game.' They're having success on offense, we're having success on offense," Ekeler said.

It was one of the many explosive runs the Bolts had throughout the successful day on the ground.

"I think we got some explosions, some explosive runs," Herbert said postgame. "That always helps when you have guys running down the field like that, it opens up the pass game.

"To be able to see the offensive line move the ball like that, I thought that was really good for us, offensively," Herbert added.

The team averaged an efficient 5.8 yards per carry and kept it going throughout the entire game, mixing in tempo to keep Miami off balance.

"I think we were just being really efficient," offensive tackle Rashawn Slater said. "We didn't really give them a chance to stop calling them.

"I think the tempo helped, they were really tired out there," Slater added. "We were working the double teams when we got them."

It wasn't just Ekeler who found success on the ground however, as running back Joshua Kelley also had himself a career day.

Kelley finished the game with 16 rushes for a career-high 91 yards, with the bulk of his runs coming in the second half.

The fourth-year Bolts running back credited the offensive line for making it easy on him as they also had an impressive afternoon, but noted the team is not complacent and will look to build on it.

"They were just coming off the ball," Kelley said. "I felt like honestly with every run play was called, I felt like, 'Hey, it's blocked up for four or five [yards] out there. Just press, make my read and cut."

"Our offensive line is coming off the ball, receivers, tight ends, everyone was blocking," Kelley later added. "It was a team effort, but unfortunately, we didn't get the win so have to go back to the drawing board, go back to practice and just work harder."

4. A costly penalty

The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins the game.

It's a phrase you hear hundreds of times throughout an NFL season.

The miscue the Chargers made late in the first half Sunday was a costly one.

Dicker had just hit a 50-yard field goal to tie the game at 17 late in the second quarter. A touchback on the ensuing kickoff gave Miami the ball with nine seconds left at their own 25.

Miami hit on a 22-yard pass and appeared to have a one last-gasp play remaining, but Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson was called for defensive pass interference on the final play of the half.

With no time left on the clock, the 30-yard penalty led to an untimed down. The Dolphins hit a 41-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead into the break.

And those free three points loomed large on the final scoreboard that saw the Bolts lose by two.

"Obviously, really disappointing. We were just trying to get out of the half with a safe, prevent sort of defense for a last play," Staley said. "Obviously, we can't foul on that play. We were just trying to get out of the half. That really hurt us."

Kendricks added: "That's football for you. It's about the little things and doing the right things right in those crucial situations. We really have to lock in and play the whole quarter."

Khalil Mack said: "Championship football is not played that way and if we want to be champions, that's not acceptable."

Staley was later asked about the play of Jackson, who played in his first game after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Week 7 of the 2022 season.

"Not very good. Everybody on defense today that was covering did not have a good game," Staley said. "It was not just J.C. Jackson, it was our entire back seven, didn't have a great game.

"It starts with me, as the coach, and I have to do a better job," Staley added.

5. Titans are up next

One down, 16 to go.

"Game 1, that's not how you draw it up," Kendricks said.

The Chargers were rightfully disappointed with the final result in the postgame locker room.

But they also know a long season is ahead, even if they started off in the wrong side of the win-loss column.

"That it's a loss. You never want to lose," Allen said of his main takeaway. "First game of the season, you want to start off strong, 1-0 and we didn't get that W."

Kelley added: "It sucks starting off the season 0-1. You've just got to bounce back, move forward to Tennessee, it's going to be another good team. Looking forward to that."

The Bolts will now get ready for the first road game of the 2023 season, a Week 2 date against the Titans.

"This is the first game of the season and there are 16 left," Staley said. "Whether we won this game, or we lost it the way we did, we have to come back and we got to get ready for Tennessee.

"We have a good football team, and so do they. We have to move past this one, learn from all the tough things that we're going to have to learn from in this game, and then get moving on to the Titans," Staley added.

The Chargers are one of three teams in the AFC West, along with the Chiefs and Broncos, who are 0-1. The Raiders are 1-0 and lead the division.

The Titans are also 0-1 after falling 16-15 to the Saints on Sunday in Week 1.

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