How important are these 2 games coming out of the bye against big-time teams? (Craig via email)
We're back from the bye! I hope you all had a relaxing bye week and were able to take a breath from the rollercoster first month of the season.
The Chargers are back to work this week and will hold their first official practice of the week on Thursday. But the Bolts had an open locker room Tuesday and it was very evident the vibes are high right now.
The only thing louder than the music in the locker room was the laughs, another sign of the strong team camaraderie inside the building.
The Bolts sit at 2-2 and have mostly climbed out of the 0-2 hole to start the season.
But there is surely still work to be done, and the Chargers have a chance here in Week 6 and 7 to make a national statement.
All eyes will be on Monday Night Football. Getting to 3-2 would mean a three-game win streak and the team riding high into a road date with the Chiefs.
Although it's still way too early to talk about seeding and the playoff picture, the Bolts need to stay hot and keep pace with the Chiefs, who are currently the only team in the AFC West with a winning record.
I believe the bye, although early, came at the right time for the Bolts. A host of key players — including Austin Ekeler and Derwin James, Jr. — are expected to return from injuries against Dallas.
Now is the time for the Bolts to settle in and start putting together weekly consistent performances. If they can do that over the next few weeks, it should help the Chargers be there at the end of the season.
Everyone will be hungry for this one.
As mentioned above, the Bolts will be looking to stay hot and prove themselves in front of a nationally-televised audience against one of the league's most notable teams.
And the Cowboys will certainly be motivated given how their Week 5 game against the 49ers ended up.
But if you're looking for the storyline I'm most interested in, it's definitely Kellen Moore against his former team.
We've touched on this before, but I think it bears repeating here: the fact that Moore was available after such a successful run in Dallas was a bit stunning. And it was a gift the Chargers pounced on right away by hiring him in essentially less than 24 hours.
So yeah, I'm fascinated to see what Moore has up his sleeve against his former team. Remember that while the Chargers Offensive Coordinator knows the Dallas offensive skill players well, he also went against Dan Quinn's defense every day in practice and might know a few secrets there, too.
Add in that the Chargers are coming off the bye and will have had two weeks to prepare, I think we could see a dazzling performance from the offense on Monday night.
A two-part question here.
First off, no, the bye week does not count as one of the four games a player must at least miss if they are on a specific list.
So, for Corey Linsley and JT Woods, both of whom are on the Non-Football Illness (NFI) List, they must miss at least the next three games after going on NFI before Week 4.
But in the case of Jalen Guyton and Otito Ogbonnia, both of whom are on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, they are both eligible to return at any time since they were put on PUP before the season started.
Both Guyton and Ogbonnia have been working hard behind the scenes but it remains to be seen when the Chargers activate their 21-day practice window.
That's usually the first sign a player is getting close to return.
I know this is a weekly topic for the Mailbag and I totally understand why.
The Chargers currently rank 27th in the league in terms of explosive pass plays (15-plus yards) allowed with 31 total. And there is certainly a need to improve in that aspect of the defense going forward.
But I think worth noting that the performance against Miami — who had a whopping 17 explosive pass plays — has skewed the numbers a bit. (Side note: the Dolphins have the most offensive yards through five games of any team in NFL history, so give them a ton of credit for that success).
Yes, the Bolts gave up 17 explosive pass plays in the first game. Over their next three games, they allowed a total of 14 such plays. If you just look at Weeks 2 through 4, that amount is tied for the 10th-fewest.
Again, this is not me saying the pass defense is suddenly fixed. I'm just pointing out that the unit is trending in the right direction from what we saw in Week 1.
One final point here: the continuity the Chargers now have at cornerback should hopefully help them going forward.
J.C. Jackson is gone, meaning the trio of Asante Samuel, Jr., Michael Davis and Ja'Sir Taylor (nickel) are your starters going forward.
Davis spoke in the locker room Tuesday and said the onus is now on himself and the other cornerbacks to pick it up as the season goes along.
"Now everything falls on me," Davis said. "I feel like me and J.C. were kind of competing for the spot. Competing to see who was starting every week. It was kind of the unknown every week.
"I guess you can say that in a way but it's still the same output every week," Davis later added when asked about the roles being set in stone. "Got to go out there and perform. I've got to play better. Obviously, it's defined but I still have to play better."
Defensively, it's Davis, who proved last year that he can be one of the NFL's top cornerbacks.
That hasn't been the case so far this year, but that situation has also been a bit weird (for lack of a better word) for the first month of the season.
Now that things are settled down in the secondary, I expect Davis to get back to his elite level of play.
Offensively, I'm going with Ekeler.
I know that's kind of a cop out since he was injured, but the Chargers sorely missed his production all over the field the past three games.
I believe he'll help jumpstart a running game that was fantastic in Week 1 but hasn't made the same impact since. And he obviously provides an element in the passing game as another option for Justin Herbert, something the Bolts need with Mike Williams out for the year.
Put another way: you want the guy with 38 total touchdowns over the past two seasons in your lineup.
A good question here. I don't know if we'll see more designed Herbert runs, per se. At least not like we routinely see from Lamar Jackson and others.
But there's no doubt that Herbert's legs have played a key part in his success this season.
Pro Football Focus has Herbert with a 79.6 run grade this season, good for sixth among all quarterbacks. He's probably never going to run for 50 or 75 yards a game, but if he can extend plays with his feet then he makes the Bolts offense that much more dangerous.
Herbert's 12-yard touchdown run against the Raiders was a perfect example. It wasn't a designed run, but he saw the lane and used his speed and athleticism to score.
And his juke on Maxx Crosby was brilliant and probably a bit overshadowed given what happened when Herbert escaped the pocket and ran out of bounds.
Herbert's fractured finger on his non-throwing hand will certainly bear monitoring. But hopefully that doesn't affect his legs, which have been a sneaky good weapon so far in 2023.
Well, it will certainly be a challenge. Dallas is currently second in the league with a team pass-rush grade of 90.0, according to PFF.
Micah Parsons is among the elite of the elite. DeMarcus Lawrence and Osa Odighizuwa are studs.
But like I mentioned above where the Bolts have a chance to make a statement as a team, the Chargers O-line has that same opportunity.
Not having Linsley is certainly a big loss, but I believe the rest of the group will be up to the task.
Games like these won't be pretty so I wouldn't expect the Bolts to completely shut down Dallas' pass rush.
But if the Chargers can battle and do just enough for four quarters to give Herbert time to make plays, that could end up being a difference when all is said and done.
Now, onto the trenches on the other side of the ball.
No doubt the 49ers made life rough for Dak Prescott on Sunday by pressuring him on 14 of his 27 total dropbacks. When someone is in your face every other play, that makes for a long, long game.
Can the Chargers do the same? I'd argue that the 49ers probably have the best overall pass rush in the league. (They are PFF's No. 1-ranked team in that regard).
The Bolts, meanwhile, are 15th overall at 71.7. But the Chargers have found a way to get to the opposing quarterback, as their 16.0 sacks are tied for the fifth-most and were tied for the league lead before Week 5.
To me, this is a game where you need your big-time pass rushers such as Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Tuli Tuipulotu to come up big.
Mack doesn't have anything to prove and Tuipulotu has been a bonafide star as a rookie. But if Bosa returns to full health after the bye, the Chargers could make Monday night difficult for Prescott if they can deploy all three players on the field and create mismatches up front.
We'll end with a fun one here.
A few names came to mind: Mack, James, Jamaree Salyer and Kenneth Murray, Jr.
But I'm going to go with Ekeler here, who might be one of the best pound-for-pound athletes in the NFL anyway.
He is listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds and has a bit of a boxer's build already. And his work ethic and determination is up there with anyone on the roster, too.
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