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Chargers Mailbag: Stopping the Browns, OLB Depth & Bandy's Emergence


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 actually thought the run game took a step in the right direction Sunday in Houston.

The final numbers show 81 rushing yards on 27 attempts, but you have to factor in a few kneel downs from Justin Herbert in there, too.

Take away four kneel downs that lost five total yards, and the production from running backs was actually 23 carries for 86 yards … good for 3.74 yards per attempt. That's more than a yard better than the Chargers were averaging entering the game.

 To me, it was a little bit of famine, famine, feast against the Texans, especially for Austin Ekeler.

He had a good amount of runs (eight in all) that were for two yards or less, but Ekeler also had four runs that went for 10 yards or more, including a pair of touchdown runs.

Ekeler finished the game with 60 yards on 13 attempts, but had four runs that tallied 54 yards. That meant his nine other rushes went for six yards, hence the famine and feast reference.

So, was it a dominating performance on the ground? No.

But it was encouraging to see at least a little juice from that aspect of the offense.

And to me, it's no surprise the offense put up a season-high 419 yards, too. The Bolts are at their best when there is at least some sort of threat on the ground.

And if the Chargers can reduce the number of runs that get stuffed and turn them into four or five-yard gains, that will only make the offense that much more explosive.

Jimmy, I'm in agreement with you on Kelley, who looked solid in training camp and has carried that over into the season.

He had four carries for 15 yards Sunday, but all of those carries came in the first half. He carried the ball on three straight plays to gain 16 yards, but then didn't get a carry in the second half after losing a yard on his final attempt.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley actually talked about the running back usage after the game and why Sony Michel was featured more down the stretch. 

"Just a couple of those personnel grouping-oriented running schemes. Nothing more than that," Staley said. "I really felt like all three guys did a nice job. Sony had a really nice third-and-2 run where there was nothing there and he was able to get vertical and he kind of shows his value. He's got that feel in short yardage.

"And I think all three of them are doing well for us. Josh had a good performance today, too," Staley added. "So we're going to try and keep all those three guys rolling and really try to put the pressure on the defense to defend all three."

If you ask me, this is a good problem to have if you are the Chargers. Ekeler is the lead back, and getting him going undoubtedly sparked the offense in Week 4.

But if Kelley and Michel can produce when they are on the field, that will only add to the dynamic in the Bolts backfield. 

Like I've said about other positions and players so far this season, the Chargers will need everybody at some point this season.

Well, that might be as tall a task as the Chargers face all season, even if you factor in that the Bolts will see both Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor in back-to-back weeks in December. 

Entering Week 5, Cleveland ranks second with 187.3 rushing yards per game, and already have 25 explosive runs this season (rushes that go for at least 10 yards).

Nick Chubb is the focal point, as he ranks second in the league with 459 rushing yards and five scores on the ground. Kareem Hunt is a more-than-capable player, too, that gives the Browns a 1-2 punch.

The Bolts run defense, meanwhile, is around the middle of the pack, as they are tied for 15th by allowing 109.8 rushing yards per game.

So what will it take to slow down the Browns on the ground? A team effort.

The Chargers have allowed a run of at least 50 yards in three straight games, with two of them going for touchdowns against the Jaguars (50 yards) and Texans (75 yards).

Staley said earlier this week that getting all 11 players to the ball is key to limiting those long gains.

"In all of those runs, they've been to the perimeter. We have to have better perimeter run support. That's where it starts," Staley said. "There are going to be some plays that get to the perimeter. We have to make sure that we support the run better on the perimeter.

"There are a lot of different types of run support, obviously. We have to support the run better in those instances," Staley added. "Then, if the run splits the second level, then we need to be able to knock the run down for a 10-yard game. That's what's happened, we haven't had good enough support at the point of attack."

Put another way, keep an eye on the Chargers secondary Sunday in Cleveland. If the Browns do get into the second level, the defensive backs will need to make sure those runs are limited to sizable gains and not home runs that put points on the board.

First off, neither of those players is named Joey Bosa, and they shouldn't be expected to produce like Bosa does. That's not fair to Rumph or Van Noy.

However, if we stick with the full-team approach I just outlined above, I think the Bolts can compensate for the loss of Bosa with an all-hands-on-deck approach.

And I thought they did that against the Texans. 

Khalil Mack was his usual self by creating havoc all over the field, using warding off double teams of a lineman and a tight end/running back. But if teams are going to do that, it will leave four opposing offensive linemen against three interior defensive linemen and an outside linebacker.

That means four 1-on-1 battles, and the Chargers have to win them. 

Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox and Jerry Tillery were strong against the Texans, as each recorded a sack. Joseph-Day and Fox each recorded five pressures, too.

Rumph created three pressures, by the way, so he was involved, too.

That's a long way of saying that it won't just fall on Rumph or Van Noy on the outside. If Mack continues to do his thing, and the interior gets a push up front, the Bolts defense will make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

With Jalen Guyton out for the season, the Bolts put Jason Moore, Jr., on the active roster last week.

But Bandy was then elevated for Sunday, and to nobody's surprise, made an impact with two catches for 49 yards.

At this point, perhaps the Chargers keep things the way they are … with Moore on the active roster and Bandy still on the practice squad. That could mean another elevation or two for Bandy, however, before the team reaches the limit on being able to do that.

A lot of it will depend on Keenan Allen's health in the next week or two. If he returns, then the Chargers will likely roll with him, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer and DeAndre Carter as the top four options there. If that's the case, neither Moore or Bandy will likely see the field much.

But if Allen misses more time, then either one of those players could be in the mix for playing time. There's no doubt Bandy made another good impression in Week 4.

We'll end with this one, which is a fascinating storyline through the first quarter-ish of the season.

Through three games, the Chargers have outscored their opponents 61 to 33 in the first half. But the final two quarters have been flipped, as the Bolts have been outscored 75 to 31 through four games.

That's certainly a concern, and one the Chargers are aware of.

Here's what safety Derwin James, Jr., said after Sunday's win, in which the Bolts saw a 20-point halftime lead dwindle to three points late in the fourth quarter.

"We just gotta keep playing and eliminate where there aren't any chances," James said. "When we up 21-28, that's ball game."

Staley addressed it, too, saying Monday that he's particularly focused on the third quarter and getting things turned around there.

If the Bolts want to be in a playoff position down the stretch, this is something they certainly have to fix going forward. 

And in Week 5 against Cleveland would be a good place to start. Because if the Bolts can't get going in the second half and the Browns get their run game clicking with a potential lead, that's a recipe for a tough time next to Lake Erie.

That will do it for this week.

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

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