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Chargers Mailbag: No Need to Hit the Panic Button


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…

The AFC West was not won by any team in Week 1. It wasn't lost by anyone, either.

As it stands now, the Raiders stand alone in first place in the division. Let's check back in a month to see where things stand, because there's a good chance there will be plenty of moving and shaking along the way.

Look, was the end result a disappointment for the Bolts in Week 1? Of course.

But seasons are not defined by the first game of the year. I mentioned this Monday afternoon, but the 49ers and Bengals also lost their season openers a year ago. Both of those teams ended up in their respective conference title games.

It remains to be seen if the Bolts make it that far. But it's just a little nugget to remind everyone to take a deep breath, simmer down and enjoy the ride over the rest of the NFL season.

Plus, the Dolphins are a good team! Give some credit to a Miami offense that feature more speed than anyone and found a way to take advantage last weekend.

There's always so much build up to Week 1 that it feels like the playoff are a lock when you win … and that it's the end of the world when you lose.

So much of finding success in the NFL is having an even keel and simply enjoying the ride along the way. That's easier said than done, of course, but it's the right mindset to have.

I work for the Chargers, right? So keep that in mind when reading these Mailbags.

But I'm not ready to make definitive statements on any team after just one game. And I'll say it here that the Bolts are going to be just fine over the next few months.

The Chargers run game popped off in Week 1 with 234 rushing yards, and that aspect of the offense should provide more balance in 2023.

The Bolts run defense was also strong by holding Miami to just 70 rushing yards.

Does the pass defense need to play better? Yep. Nobody is disputing that, and Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said as much Monday.

"There were a lot of guys that had tough days [Sunday] in the secondary," Staley said. "It would be one thing if it was one person in our secondary, and it would be that easy to point to somebody, but our secondary didn't play a good game yesterday, and it starts with me.

"I'm the one responsible for that and for putting them in better positions," Staley added.

When it comes to the pass defense, we'll get a more honest evaluation of them by the Week 5 bye when we have a larger sample size to look at.

Overall, I still believe the Chargers will win double-digit games and be a playoff team.

Keep in mind that the Bolts didn't get blown out Sunday. And they didn't lose their starting quarterback for the season like the Jets did.

The Chargers will need to play a bit better in all three phases in order to win Sunday on the road against the Titans.

Let's see how the Bolts respond in Week 2.

What's the key to winning against the Titans? (Victor via email)

In the 3rd year of a Brandon Staley run defense, is it personnel or scheme more to blame for the lack of success? (Rich Millard)

I'm lumping these two questions together since both touch on what I believe is the biggest key to victory in Week 2.

First off, let's acknowledge the Chargers run defense was good in the season opener. Miami tallied just 70 yards on 20 carries.

But we can also note that the Titans still employ Derrick Henry, a monster of a running back who can take over games with his punishing style. And Tennessee's back up running back, Tyjae Spears, is a good player, too.

One thing I'd point out is that just because something happens in Week 1 doesn't mean it will happen again in Week 2. The NFL is a week-to-week league and each game is a new chapter in the journey.

So, just because the Bolts ground game was sound on both sides of the ball against Miami doesn't mean it will happen again. And the pass defense that struggled now has a chance to make a statement response in Nashville.

The Bolts run defense has been inconsistent the past two seasons. But Sunday was a good start, even if there's a long way to go.

Lots of questions about this topic in various forms, so here's how I'll break it down.

A year ago, the Bolts stymied Miami's aerial attack and clearly had an excellent game plan to disrupt the timing of that passing game by being physical at the line of scrimmage.

And the expectation from fans is that is should simply happen again, right? Same teams, same coaches, same stadium, etc.

But that's simply not how it works.

With this year's matchup being in Week 1, both teams had months and months to prepare for it. In Miami's case, that meant adding a wrinkle on offense that caught the defense off guard a bit.

I wrote about it here in Monday’s 5 Takeaways, but the gist of it is that the Dolphins motioned Tyreek Hill all over the field and in different spots rather than simply sending him in motion across the formation like we see on almost every play.

As a result, Hill and other wide receivers got a running start that didn't allow the Chargers secondary to be press them at the line of scrimmage.

Again, credit Dolphins Head Coach Mike McDaniel. Staley did on Monday.

"First game, there are a lot of things that happen in the first game that don't happen later on in the season," Staley said. "First time out there, some un-scouted looks. Then, really tough matchups, the two people that we were defending. Give credit to Miami. Their players played a really good game."

Good for the Dolphins for showing this in Week 1 that allowed them to get a win. But every other team can now game plan for that, including the Bolts if the teams were to perhaps meet in the postseason.

If that happens, I'd like to think Staley and his staff will have a better answer this time around. Because I'd much rather have this happen in Week 1 than in the postseason.

It wasn't the greatest start to a season for Murray. But it wasn't as if the rest of the Bolts defense lit it up either.

Given Murray's draft status, it's understandable that fans expect a ton of him. And he has the talent to be able to live up to that.

And if we're being honest here, who else was going to play linebacker next to Eric Kendricks in Week 1?

Daiyan Henley is hurt and hasn't practiced in two weeks. I know people are ready to anoint him as a starter but let's pump the brakes on that right now.

He's not healthy, is only a rookie and maybe isn't even ready for that role.

Murray undoubtedly needs to play better going forward. The whole defense does.

But we have to look at the big picture here before we start calling for people to come off the field.

It was a bit of a surprise Sunday afternoon when Isaiah Spiller was inactive while undrafted rookie Elijah Dotson was suited up.

Dotson ended up playing one snap on offense and none on special teams against Miami, so it wasn't as if Dotson was active simply for special teams reasons.

It sounds like the Bolts wanted to have three running backs active and ended up going with Dotson this time around.

Maybe it'll be different against the Titans and beyond?

Staley was asked Monday about Spiller's ability on special teams and gave this answer.

"We have confidence in him to be able to go in there and perform," Staley said. "He has to earn his way in practice.

"It's a tight competition between him and Elijah — one that's not over," Staley added. "We're going to need them both as we go through the season."

That should tell you right away that Joshua Kelley is the clear No. 2 running back. And also that the team likes Dotson.

Draft status does not matter in the NFL. If a guy is practicing well and is able to help the team, he's going to get the nod every time.

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