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Chargers Mailbag: Focusing on Little Details Against the Chiefs


Welcome back to the Chargers Mailbag!

We'll be running one of these every week during the regular season, so send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go...

Love the Bolts, watched for a long time, love your stuff every week. What an incredibly frustrating game, and season, thus far. It comes down the final seconds every week. Great for a show, but I would rather see blowouts. (Brian via email)

There's no doubt Monday night's loss was a frustrating one, something players echoed in the locker room after the game.

The game was tied at 10 entering the fourth quarter but the Bolts simply didn't make enough plays down the stretch to get a win.

And sometimes it's one moment or two that swings momentum the other way. I thought the 60-yard gain by Dallas on the first play of the fourth quarter was a game changer.

Instead of getting off the field on third down, a bit of a fluky play goes against the Chargers and they end up giving up a touchdown.

Through five games, the Bolts have played well enough to be there late in each contest. But the team is still searching for consistency in all three phases, something Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley harped on during his Tuesday media availability.

In terms of the one-possession games Brian mentions, that's kind of how the league goes. Entering Week 7, more than half of the games have been decided by eight points or less.

All of the Bolts games have been, which shows me that the team is battle tested and can also go on a run if they can find that consistency and jolt in the final stages.

I know the 2-3 record doesn't look great, but the NFL is all about staying even keel over the course of a long season.

The Bolts have a great opportunity this week to get back on track, even if they are going on the road to Kansas City.

These teams know each other well and, yes, the games are always close — both games last year were decided by a field goal and the games in 2021 were each decided by six points.

The NFL season can feel like a rollercoaster given how much rides on each game. But if the Chargers can find a way to get a big win on the road, they'll be right back on track.

I'll end here with what linebacker Eric Kendricks said in the locker room Monday night. His words perfectly sum up how the Bolts are approaching this week.

"You look at the past couple games, everything is close but that's the league," Kendricks said. "Maybe it doesn't feel like it should be reflective of what it is, but that's what it is so we got to roll with it.

"We are 2-3 at this moment, take it how it is, go on to Kansas City on the road," Kendricks added. "We need this big win. We need to band together, good week of practice and get after it. Let's [freaking] go. It's the NFL. It's fun. Let's do it."

We'll start with the latter point here first.

Obviously, the combination of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce is more than enough reason to keep defensive coaches up at night.

It might be the best duo in the league, but it's one Chargers players and coaches know well.

You learn a little more each time you play against them, so let's hope the Bolts defense has a few more answers Sunday … and that's where some optimism sets in.

The Chiefs offense also hasn't been its usual explosive self, either, and most of that is because they have set such a high bar to meet over the past few years.

Entering Week 7, the Chiefs offense ranks seventh in EPA per play at 0.066. (The Bolts, by the way, are fifth at 0.081). A season ago, Kansas City's offensive EPA per play was 0.159.

Perhaps the Bolts can take advantage against an offense that appears to be working through a few things right now.

Even with all that said, the biggest priority will be the Chargers defense playing up to their standards — and doing so while being clean.

Defensive penalties have been an issue all season, especially on third downs, and Staley made it a point Tuesday to say that's an area that needs to be better.

"I think that penalties make the conversions sort of a much different story," Staley said. "That's where I think that we've been focusing, as coaches, and where we need to continue to put the emphasis on — just playing with the right technique and taking advantage of the leverages that we give you. If you do that, then you will stay penalty-free."

If there's one unit you can't given extra chances to, it's Mahomes and the Chiefs offense.

Stopping that team is tough enough as it is. But being able to get off the field and give the Bolts offense as many chances as possible to score points is a key storyline for Sunday.

First off, nobody in the league in like Keenan Allen.

So, let's ease up on the assumption that Quentin Johnston — or anyone else in the entire NFL, for that matter — can do what Allen does.

As for where Johnston is at, it's important to remember that the progression of NFL rookies is not linear.

The Bolts plan for Johnston was for him to develop at his own pace and slowly work himself into the fold on offense.

Did that timeline speed up a bit due to Mike Williams' injury? Sure.

But the Chargers don't need Johnston to be WR1 right now, not with Allen and Joshua Palmer in leading roles.

Staley on Tuesday gave his assessment of where Johnston stands right now.

"He's at the beginning of his rookie season. I think that he is getting more snaps, which is something that we're looking forward to because that allows you to improve, when you're actually out there on the field. The targets will come. There are certainly some games where there will be more than others, but he's just at the beginning. He just needs to keep putting in the right work on the practice field and more opportunities will come. The receiver position, it takes time, as a rookie. We have two outstanding guys outside of him. He just needs to continue to improve and do his part."

The best-case scenario for the Bolts is that Johnston keeps developing and incorporating his way into the offense.

Because if he can be a key contributor as the weeks roll along, he'll be right on track as a rookie.

We'll break this down into two parts here.

In terms of the run game, everyone needs to play better in that aspect, something Staley echoed earlier this week.

It's not just on the offensive line to ensure that the Bolts have a successful run game. And it's not solely on the running backs, either.

It's on both position groups, as well as the tight ends and wide receivers. And the quarterback and offensive coordinator also come into this, too, in terms of play calling and what play the Bolts eventually run at the snap.

The Chiefs have a solid run defense, so Sunday will be another good test for the Bolts, who need to establish some sort of ground game to both keep the ball out of Mahomes' hands and also find some balance on offense.

Moving to the pass protection, Monday night obviously wasn't the best showing up front. But you simply have to give the Cowboys some credit there, they have some werewolves on their side of the ball.

The loss of center Corey Linsley is a big one, as he's such an integral part of the Bolts protection plan.

It's up to the starting unit to find a way to improve and keep Justin Herbert upright in the coming weeks. Herbert's pocket awareness is superb and he does his part to evade pressure and keep plays alive.

The offense, led by Herbert, has all the potential in the world in the passing game. But it takes all 11 players to make it work.

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