Welcome to the Chargers Mailbag! I'm Senior Writer Eric Smith, and I answer questions from the Bolt Fam each and every week.
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Off we go…
Sunday's loss to the Raiders was frustrating. What does the team need to do in the final games to try and get into the playoffs? (Tim B. via email)
No doubt, Tim.
The Week 13 loss felt like a missed opportunity on both a micro and macro level if you ask me.
Of course, there was the game itself, as the Bolts couldn't hold an early 10-point lead and were hurt by a tough third quarter that saw all the momentum swing toward Las Vegas.
In the bigger picture, the Chargers missed out on taking a step forward in the AFC playoff standings, especially after losses by the Jets and Patriots.
Now the Bolts remain a game back with five to play in the postseason race. What can they do to secure a spot in the dance?
I thought Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley hit on it perfectly Monday when he spoke about not putting teams away when the Bolts have had the chance in recent games.
"I think that we have missed on our opportunities to separate this year. That's why these games have been tight, as you know. You've been at these movies, they're tight," Staley said. "I know that we're trying hard. It's just going to come down to execution. We have to execute as a unit. We have to capitalize on our opportunities.
"Then, you have to make the winning plays. We haven't been able to do that yet consistently. We've been able to do it, at times, but we haven't been able to do it consistently," Staley continued. "Those are the things that we have to learn to do as a team, to feed off of each other.
"Feeding off of each other in that way. We have to continue to search to play like that," Staley added. "It's been inconsistent, but we're, obviously, committed in trying to change that."
To sum it up, the Bolts need to put the hammer down when they have the chance.
Against the Raiders, those chances came early after a successful fake punt and a takeaway on a fumble, but neither outcome led to points. There was also the first drive of the second half, where a fumble eventually made a 13-10 lead disappear in a flash.
The Chargers don't need to be perfect to get into the playoffs. And I haven't changed my stance in believing they will make it in.
But the Bolts will need to be a little more consistent from top to bottom, beginning Sunday night against the Dolphins.
Why don't we play defense like Pittsburgh does? Why don't we just blitz the heck out of our opponent every time we play? It can't be any worse than we're doing right now. (Hugh via email)
It's a good thought, Hugh. I think most people would agree that amping up the pressure would certainly create stress for the opposing offense.
What is ironic, however, is that the Chargers do blitz a lot on defense.
According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, the Bolts are tied for sixth in the league — along with the Broncos — with a blitz rate of 33.4 percent.
The Steelers, whom you referenced, are eighth at 32.6 percent.
I don't think the issue has been the blitz percentage though. Staley and defensive players have all said over the past few games that missed tackles have been a sore spot on defense.
Let's hope the Bolts can shore that up a bit in the final five regular-season games.
A few things here…
First, it's probably doubtful that Parham plays on Sunday. The expectation is that he returns to practice this week, but that doesn't guarantee that he plays.
Parham has dealt with multiple injuries this season, and his potential return to practice simply begins a 21-day window for the Bolts to activate him back to the 53-man roster.
It's a waiting game on Williams, too. He was at practice on Thursday and Friday of last week, which was a welcome sight, but he wasn't dressed out and didn't actually participate.
The hope for him is that he can work his way back into practice this week, but we'll see on his status for Sunday.
As for the offensive line, there are three positions to monitor there.
Center Corey Linsely is still in the concussion protocol, meaning Will Clapp would start for him Sunday if he doesn't clear it.
Right guard Zion Johnson is day-to-day with a shoulder injury, so we'll see how much he does in practice this week.
And right tackle Trey Pipkins III is also day-to-day with a knee injury, so he'll also be one to watch in the coming days. He did not practice at all last week.
Yes, and he's done it in big moments this season.
Go back to the final drive against the Cardinals when the Bolts offense faced third-and-7 at the Arizona 11-yard line with under 30 seconds to play.
If you recall, Austin Ekeler initially lined up wide to the left, which meant an empty backfield. But, even with the play clock running down, Herbert motioned for Ekeler to stand next to him, all while changing the play call on the fly.
Herbert said he noticed the Cardinals were in a zone defense and checked to a screen play, which was beautifully executed for a 10-yard gain down to the 1.
The Bolts, of course, scored a touchdown on the next play and then converted a 2-point play for the win.
Here's what Herbert said on making those kinds of decisions last week:
"I think it just comes with experience and being out there and going through it and making mistakes and learning from those," Herbert said. "Having been in the offense for two years now and having a bunch of film on tape, being able to go back and check it, you feel more comfortable with the offense.
"You know what Joe [Lombardi] wants when he calls a certain play," Herbert added. "I think as an offense, we just feel more comfortable with what we are doing out there."
Not every quarterback in the league has the smarts or understanding to make that audible like Herbert did. But it's just another example of why the Chargers are in great hands with No. 10 at the helm.
Stopping the run.
If the Chargers can find a way to make the Dolphins one-dimensional, that will help slow down the passing attack because the Bolts know it's coming.
Miami had just eight carries for 33 yards in its Week 13 loss. And even though the Dolphins threw for nearly 300 yards, the offense also turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions.
The Dolphins, like most NFL offenses, operate at their best when they keep opposing defenses off balance. But if the run game isn't working, that favors the defense and allowed edge rushers the chance to pin their ears back and try and get after the quarterback.
In saying that, Miami's passing attack is no joke with Tyreek Hill already at 1,379 receiving yards and Jaylen Waddle just 28 yards away from a 1,00-yard season.
The Chargers defense will likely need to play their best game of the season Sunday if the Bolts want to win. That will be a tough task, and it will start with stopping Miami's run game.
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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