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Chargers Mailbag: Who Steps Up Without Mike Williams?

Mailbag W4

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...

Let's dive in with the Bolts biggest news of the week.

Mike Williams will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Vikings.

That sentence certainly is tough to digest. Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley on Monday called it "the toughest kind of news."

Everyone in the locker room, and the organization for that matter, feels for Williams and is sending him all the good vibes. He's a beloved teammate and one of the best humans on the roster, too.

Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game, even season-ending ones.

(A quick mini rant here: maybe we can just skip Week 3 next season? Williams was hurt in the third game of this season while Rashawn Slater and Joey Bosa's major injuries occurred in Week 3 a year ago).

And while the Chargers will certainly keep Williams top of mind, the focus going forward undoubtedly shifts to how the Bolts will adapt in both the short and long term.

If you missed it, I wrote Monday how Williams' injury will affect the Bolts. You can read that full piece here.

The gist of it is that everyone will have to step up. This isn't just on Quentin Johnston to step up and fill Williams' role. That's likely not fair to ask of a player who has three career NFL games to his name.

Yes, Johnston will surely get more playing time going forward. And I do think he is ready for the opportunity and get better and better as the season progresses.

But Williams' absence will also filled by Keenan Allen, even if he does see more double teams.

It will be filled by Joshua Palmer, who proved last season that he can step in and flourish amidst injuries to the wide receiver room.

It will be filled by Gerald Everett, who could see a few more targets his way and his exceptional picking up yards after the catch.

It will be filled by Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore, who will need to keep being creative and dialing up great game plans as he has the first three games.

It will be filled by Justin Herbert, who proved Sunday that he's a franchise quarterback in every possible way.

It will be filled by the offensive line and the running backs, including Austin Ekeler once he eventually returns, but producing a solid and consistent run game going forward.

And it will be filled by the defense and special teams, as improved play on that side of the ball means extra chances for Herbert and the offense to score as many points as possible.

Again, the loss of Williams for the entire season sucks. There's really no other way to put it.

But the Bolts proved a year ago at 1-2 that they can overcome injuries to get hot and make the playoffs. I expect them to do it again in the coming months.

Fehoko is the newest member of the Bolts after he was added to the 53-man roster Tuesday as Williams went on Injured Reserve.

Looking for 5 Things to Know on Fehoko? Here you go!

Fehoko has a connection with Moore, who was the Cowboys OC when the wide receiver was a fifth-round pick in 2021.

But most of Fehoko's work in 10 career games has been on special teams, where he has 91 career snaps there. Offensively, he has three career catches for 24 yards.

Does it help that Fehoko probably has a good grasp of Moore's system? Of course.

Do I think he'll come in and shine right away? That's hard to say.

Perhaps he takes a few weeks to get acclimated to the playbook, which is likely not the exact same one Moore had in Dallas. He could help out on special teams, though, and be a depth piece as a receiver going forward.

The Bolts will most likely ride with Allen, Palmer, Johnston and Derius Davis as their top four receiving options going forward … with Jalen Guyton's return possibly lurking the in future.

Speaking of…

A quick refresher: Guyton tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2022 season. (Really though, let's just kick Week 3 injuries to the sun).

Staley was asked Monday about Guyton's status. Here's what he said:

"No timeline on JG's return to play, but he is working very hard. I think that he is making progress on that field. We know what JG can do, as you guys know. He's a proven player in the league. We're not going to put a timeline on his return, but I'm proud of how hard he is working."

Guyton was put on Injured Reserve before the season started, meaning he must miss at least the first four games of the season.

The Bolts have a Week 5 bye, so the earliest Guyton could return is Week 6 at home on Monday Night Football against the Cowboys.

It remains to be seen whether or not Guyton is available for that game in 19 days. Even if he's not, the hope should be to get him back at some point this season.

Are you concerned about the running game on both sides of the ball? (Mike via email)

No. Well, kind of. Let me explain.

Offensively, the Chargers have ran for 91 combined yards in their past two games after popping off for 233 rushing yards in the season opener.

A few factors are at play there.

First, the Titans defensive front might be the best in the league. Almost nobody runs successfully on that group.

Next, the Vikings blitzed almost every single play Sunday. And usually with six or seven players, essentially rendering the Chargers run game ineffective.

Staley on Monday said the Vikings defensive game plan dictated that the Bolts had to pass it nearly 75 percent of the time, which they did. And Herbert was nearly flawless in Minnesota.

"They blitzed 83 percent of the snaps with six or seven guys, so it wasn't going to be a game where the run game was a factor," Staley said. "You shouldn't read into that, it's just the way that the NFL is. You can't force something to happen that isn't made to happen.

"The way that team was playing, we played the game the way that we needed to play it. Just like in the first game, we played the game the way it needed to be played," Staley added. "Nothing to read into offensively, in terms of the run game. Our group yesterday, I thought, executed the game plan just like we wanted it."

As I mentioned above, getting Ekeler back at some point will help the run game and the offense as a whole.

Defensively, though, Staley said he hoped to see a little more from his run defense against.

The Vikings entered the game with just 69 combined rushing yards and were the only team entering Week 3 without a run of at least 10 yards. Minnesota had five such runs Sunday on the way to 130 yards on the ground.

But just as Minnesota's defensive plan meant plenty of passes for the Chargers offense, the Bolts defense certainly geared their own scheme to focus on the Vikings passing attack.

"It was a little leaky at times. Not up to our standard," Staley said of the run defense. "Nothing catastrophic, by any means, but not up to our standard.

"Based on how you have to play that group, we were playing that game a certain type of way, but we need to play better," Staley added.

The Bolts run defense was solid in the first two games of the season. And they will certainly get a good test Sunday with Josh Jacobs and the Raiders coming to town.

Let's see how they fare in the first AFC West showdown of the season.

Good win against the Vikings! How important is it for the Chargers to get to 2-2 at the bye? (Chris via email)


There was certainly a big sigh of relief Sunday in the postgame locker room after the Bolts notched their first victory of the season.

But just as there's a big difference between 1-2 and 0-3, there's also a seemingly mile gap between being 2-2 and 1-3.

If the Chargers can find a way to get a win Sunday, they will be on a two-game win streak entering the bye.

They will have already dug deep and showed resiliency through the first month of the season.

And they will have gotten back to .500 with a pair of massive games looming after the bye.

For my money, the two-game stretch of the Cowboys (home) and Chiefs (away) might be the toughest set of back-to-back contests the Bolts have all season.

Granted, the NFL is a league where anything can happen on any given game day.

Dallas was the talk of the league and a double-digit favorite in Week 3 but lost by double digits to the Cardinals.

If the Chargers can climb to 2-2 by Sunday afternoon, those pair of games suddenly become even more enticing than they already were.

But it all starts with getting a home win against the Raiders. That's where the Bolts entire focus should be this week.

I'd argue that the defense has improved little by little the past few weeks.

The Bolts have allowed fewer points in each game, going from 36 to 27 to 24.

And they have gotten much better at situational football of late, especially in the red zone where the Bolts denied Minnesota on a pair of goal-to-go situations in the final three minutes of Sunday's fourth quarter.

Is the Bolts defense perfect? No.

The run defense, as noted above, can be a bit stouter. And the pass defense continues to allow chunk plays, although that shouldn't be knocked too much against a player that is the caliber of Justin Jefferson.

But Kenneth Murray, Jr. is playing the best football of his career. Tuli Tuipulotu looks like a home-run pick as a second-rounder. And the Chargers should hopefully be getting Eric Kendricks back in the mix sometime soon.

If the Chargers can produce a league average defense, that should be enough to make the playoffs, especially considering how hot the offense is right now.

Daiyan Henley made his NFL debut Sunday by playing 14 snaps on special teams. He did not play on defense.

My best guess is that the Bolts wanted to be cautious with him as he returned to game action from a pretty serious hamstring injury that sidelined him for a few weeks.

The Chargers raved about Henley in training camp and the preseason, and he still figures to be part of the team's long-term plan on defense. One game doesn't change that.

But let's also give some credit to Nick Niemann here, too.

He's essentially the Bolts fourth linebacker and has played really well the past two games while playing next to Murray and filling in for both Kendricks and Henley.

He's flashed in the run game and also against the pass, with no bigger play than his deflection at the goal line that led to Murray's game-winning interception.

Niemann has always been an ace special teams player. But those guys practice defense, too, and want their time to shine on that side of the ball if they can get it.

Niemann has gotten his chance the past two weeks and has been a vital part of the Chargers defense.

The first rule of the Chargers Mailbag is this:

There are no dumb questions!

I don't have all the answers here and simply do my best to enlighten and entertain the Bolt Fam each week.

But the answer to your question, Jim, is no. Allen doesn't lose receiving yards on his touchdown pass to Williams.

Here's why…

To start, it was a backwards pass (as Jim said). That's the same as if Allen had lined up in the backfield and had taken a pitch or a handoff from Herbert.

And since it was a backwards pass, Allen essentially does become a running back and would have picked up rushing yards once he crossed the line of scrimmage.

Since he threw the ball — and man, what a pretty pass — it counts the same as if Herbert had thrown a normal pass on the play.

The end result? A 49-yard touchdown pass for Allen, the cherry on top of a historic day for him with 18(!) catches for 215(!) yards.

A quick programming note:

My colleague, Chargers junior writer Omar Navarro, has a feature coming out Thursday on the veteran wide receiver. It's fantastic and you should be on the look out for it.

In the meantime, let's watch that touchdown pass for the 20th time.

Bolt Up!

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