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Chargers Mailbag: Staley's Coaching, Loss of Johnson & Bosa's Return

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Welcome to the Chargers Mailbag! I'm Senior Writer Eric Smith, and I answer questions from the Bolt Fam each and every week.

Send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go…

I had high hopes for the team before the season began. And I still think we can make the playoff despite all the injuries, I just wanted to give some kudos to Staley for keeping the team in it so far. (John Q. via email)

A rational and logical email to start us off?? I didn't realize there was such a thing!

I'm kidding.

Just an attempt at humor as we are at the halfway point of the 2022 season — nine weeks down and nine to go.

But onto John's email, and I agree wholeheartedly with him. Look, this season certainly hasn't been an easy one thus far for the Bolts.

Injuries have taken their toll on almost every aspect of the roster (inside linebacker is the only position I can think of that hasn't really been affected), yet the Chargers find themselves at 5-3 with nine games left.

Have those five wins been pretty? Certainly not, as only one (Houston) has been by more than one possession.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said as much Sunday:

"When you have as many people go down as we have throughout the season and you go on the road, it's not going to be poetic," Staley said. "Maybe it could be if you're full strength and you had a full army out there, and maybe it could be that way, maybe like in the first game for us or part of the second game.

"But for us, it's just we got to be able to fight the fight based on who we have and based on what's happening," Staley added.

Style points rarely matter in this league. Wins, however, are the ultimate stat.

I really don't care that the Bolts aren't winning glamorously right now. Because it's better than losing.

And for that, Staley and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for the way they have handled this season, keeping things afloat when it easily could have gone off the rails awhile back.

Remember when the Bolts were 1-2 and lost by 28 points at home to Jacksonville in a game where Joey Bosa and Rashawn Slater suffered significant injuries? That was a dark time, but all the Chargers did was rip off three straight wins to prove their mettle.

After Sunday's thrilling win in Atlanta, the Chargers find themselves in an AFC playoff spot as the postseason push begins to heat up.

Are there still areas to fix and things to clean up? Sure, but you'd rather do that after a win.

Let me put it another way: the Chargers are 5-3 and not 3-5. So, kudos to Staley and his staff for doing a great job of maneuver through a wild season thus far.

If the Bolts find themselves in the playoffs in January, Staley should undoubtedly get some Coach of the Year consideration in my book.

Man, it was so tough to see Austin Johnson go down against the Falcons.

His injury didn't look good, and it didn't sound good Monday when Staley revealed Johnson would be out for the season with a sprained MCL and a fractured knee.

The defensive tackle has been a bit unheralded this season. Some of that has to do with the Bolts overall run defense lacking at times, but also because Johnson plays a thankless position up front.

But he's made an impact, for sure, as he has the highest run-stop percentage (11.4) on the team, per analytics website Pro Football Focus.

With Johnson out, what will the defensive interior look like next to Sebastian Joseph-Day?

Christian Covington played 39 snaps Sunday, followed by 33 from Morgan Fox and 28 from Otito Ogbonnia.

One scenario could Covington in the starting role (AKA playing on early downs), with Ogbonnia added into that mix, too. Fox, meanwhile, could help there and on passing downs since he's been solid as a rusher this season.

Breiden Fehoko and Joe Gaziano are currently on the practice squad, and it's likely one if them gets elevated as Johnson goes on Injured Reserve.

Unless, of course, the Chargers bring in someone from the outside, but that might be tough to do given that it's almost mid-November.

Players who aren't on a team now will likely take a while to get up to speed, and keep in mind that money is always a factor with free agents.

We'll start with Bosa.

It was almost a month ago that Staley said the star outside linebacker would be out anywhere from six to 10 weeks. Six weeks would mean mid-November, while a 10-week timeline would mean mid-December.

Bosa, who was injured in Week 3 against the Jaguars, returned to the team facility last week to continue his rehab. Staley then said that the middle of that 6-to-10-week timeframe would be ideal, but that it also wasn't a guarantee.

So, that eight-week mark would be two weeks from now, which would be the Cardinals game in Week 12.

We'll likely get more info this week on whether or not that is a consideration. If not, maybe a return for the Raiders or Dolphins game is more likely.

Either way, the expectation is that Bosa will return at some point. Which will be a massive boost for the Bolts defense.

As for other injury updates, Staley provided a bunch of them Monday.

Chris Rumph II [knee], Dustin Hopkins [hamstring] Keenan Allen [hamstring] and Jerry Tillery [back] are considered day-to-day.

"We're going to wait and see," Staley said.

Mike Williams, meanwhile, is "more like week-to-week, but he's progressing" with a high ankle sprain.

A good point, and one I actually touched on Sunday after the game in my 5 Takeaways from the win.

Herbert, to many observers including myself, looked as good and healthy as he has since before his fractured his rib cartilage Week 2.

His accuracy was on point, he was putting some zip on the ball and, yes, he was moving around better than he had in recent weeks.

As for you're the inquiry above, of course the play calling has been built around Herbert's health over the past six weeks or so.

It's also been based on who else has — and hasn't — been out there on offense.

Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi had a great answer when asked last week about calling plays with so many moving parts this season.

"The biggest challenge is, you know, that you have practiced and every play kind of has a player in mind or players in mind," Lombardi said. "Just trying to figure out while you are up there, 'Who is where on this play now?' I know what I want it to be and it's not that.

"Just going through the call sheet up there in-between drives and figuring out, 'Okay, what do we want to highlight here based on who we have healthy and who has practiced it? Do these plays fit the skillsets of the guys that are currently playing?,'" Lombardi added. "We talked about a formula, I think the hard part is the injuries in-game because that formula now has changed. Going into the game, we always feel good about who we have because the plan fits those guys."

Lombardi was mostly talking about the wide receivers here, but Herbert and his health could have been applied in recent weeks, too.

The Bolts weren't going to ask him to do anything that he wasn't comfortable with or that would put him in harm's way.

I think we can all see how multiple aspects of his game have sharpened and improved of late.

Herbert said postgame that he continues to feel better as the weeks go on.

"It's been better each week. I think time is the best thing for it, to heal, recover," Herbert said. "I just do everything I can in the treatment room to do my best on Sunday.

"It's one of those things that you just kind of have to go through and go through with time, making sure that you're not getting in harm's way, not taking unnecessary shots, things like that," Herbert added. "But it has gotten better."

If Herbert and the Bolt can continue to find ways to win games while there overall health improves, that could make for a dangerous team come December.

That will do it for this week.

As always, you can find me on Twitter at @Eric_L_Smith and submit your questions for the Chargers Mailbag.

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