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5 Takeaways: Bolts Look to Continue Recent Defensive Surge


The Chargers are 5-7 as they return home for an AFC West clash with Denver on Sunday.

Here are five takeaways from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley's Monday media availability:

1. Kudos to the defense

Don't look now, but the Chargers may have turned a corner on defense.

Yes, the unit has struggled overall for the majority of the season.

But for the majority of the past six weeks, save for the Lions game, Staley said he likes the direction the group is headed.

Their best performances have been the last two, with strong effort and production against New England and Baltimore that yielded just 20 combined points allowed.

"We still have work to do for sure. I felt like the Chicago and the New York game were good steps in the right direction," Staley said. "I thought Green Bay for most of the game, Baltimore [and then] this game, I thought those were more close to the performance we're looking for.

"But it's been two weeks back-to-back where I felt like we've given ourselves a really good chance to win the game. I think when you can settle in on some combinations, that allows you to create consistency," Staley added. "We've had good consistency in the front seven and I think that we've been trying to search for that consistency in the secondary. It's been pretty good the last two weeks."

Staley said that the overall tackling could have been a bit more clean against the Patriots, but the final result still showed a goose egg for New England on the scoreboard.

"Just really proud of the guys," Staley said. "To get a shutout in the NFL it's really tough. Really, really tough. And something to build off of."

The key, Staley noted, was the constant effort shown throughout the lineup in less than perfect conditions.

The Bolts didn't allow the Patriots to reach the red zone, and ended a pair of threats by forcing two turnover on downs in the final half of the fourth quarter.

"I thought we played for four quarters. I thought that was evident on the film, our guys really competed," Staley said. "I think sometimes defensively in a game like that, there's not a lot of momentum in the game where you just have to keep going back out there and getting stops.

"I thought our guys just did what it took to win the game. I thought we made a lot of big plays in the second half to get the job done," Staley added. "I thought in the second half we made some big time stops the two last possessions, turning them over on downs."

Take a look back at the Chargers Week 13 victory over the Patriots in monochrome

2. Kendricks gets a game ball

Staley handed out three game balls in the postgame locker room after Sunday's win.

Punter JK Scott obviously got one, as did wide receiver Alex Erickson, whose 23-yard catch iced the game on the final drive.

The third member to receive one was linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was all over the field with a team-high 10 combined tackles. He also registered two tackles for loss, including his first sack of the season.

"I thought he was around the ball the whole game," Staley said. "He was really physical in the game and tackled extremely well.

"Made some big plays in pass rush and then made a couple big plays in pass coverage," Staley continued. "I just felt like he was around the ball the whole day."

"Just being that 60-minute type of player," Staley later added. "For me, it was one of his best games for us."

According to Pro Football Focus, Kendricks' defensive game grade of 77.0 was his third-best mark of the season. But his pass rush (83.3) and pass coverage (77.9) grades were his highest marks of the season.

Staley also praised the leadership of one of the team captains, who joined the Bolts as a free agent this offseason after eight seasons in Minnesota.

"You felt his energy," Staley said. "It stood out and I thought he did a great job leading the guys on the sideline and coming off [the field] encouraging our offense."

3. An eye on the AFC West

Get ready for a heavy dose of division foes over the next month.

The Chargers have five regular-season games left, four of which come against AFC West teams.

The Bolts host Denver on Sunday before playing at the Broncos in Week 17. A road date with the Raiders awaits next Thursday night and then the season finale is at home against the Chiefs.

"They're going to mean so much down the stretch here because you have the division meaning and then the conference meaning," Staley said. "All these games are very impactful with where you position yourself.

"And you always start with your division," Staley said. "It's going to be tight here down the stretch but we have to focus one at a time."

The Chargers currently sit at 1-1 in division play after a home win over Las Vegas and a road loss in Kansas City.

And at 5-7, the Chargers still remain in the playoff picture. So, too, do all of the other division teams.

It's a safe bet that how the Bolts fare in AFC West play down the stretch will be a good indicator of where they stand after Week 18.

4. Bassey earning his role

Essang Bassey has developed into the Bolts new slot cornerback of late.

Bassey was claimed off waivers in early October and earned a starting spot for the past two games.

Staley on Monday said Bassey has been "steady" in that position.

"He's got good pace in the slot, he can see, he's been kind of trained in this system and I just think he's got the right temperament playing there," Staley said. "He's got a really good processor, can really see and feel the game.

"I think in terms of slot coverage, he's a guy that has the right pace to stay with the quicker receivers in the league and also has enough strength to stay with the bigger guys in there, too," Staley added. "He's just been steady for us, given us steady nickel play, playing with good technique and that's what we've been in search of."

Bassey played 40 snaps against the Ravens before seeing the field for 39 snaps against the Patriots on Sunday. 

5. Focused on the drops

Sunday's weather conditions in New England weren't ideal by any means.

A driving rainstorm permeated for the entirety of the game, accompanied by 40-degree weather and mild wind.

So it was no surprise when both teams had issues catching the ball on a wet day.

Staley, however, said Monday that the Bolts offense has been plagued by drops of late, something that will be a point of emphasis this week.

"Definitely not good enough the last couple of weeks," Staley said. "I think what's interesting is a few weeks back we did something in front of the team where we were the fewest amount of drops in the league and that had been a big point of emphasis for us.

"I think our drops and our giveaways are two areas where we've felt like we were excelling through the first chunk of the year and then these last couple of weeks just hasn't been good enough," Staley continued. "It's collective, it's focusing on technique, it's playing fast. You guys have heard me say that, it's just making sure you're playing fast, you're not overthinking it and you just go back to your training.

"Our guys need to do that and that's going to create the consistency for them," Staley added. "I think all these guys, I think they've proven that they've got good hands, but it's really focusing on technique and fundamentals because I think all those guys have good hands, we just need to make sure we knock those down."

As Staley noted, the drops have been a collective problem, with multiple offensive players being unable to hold onto passes from Justin Herbert.

The Chargers focused on the turnover battle going into Sunday and won that for the first time in four games. Sunday's focus will be about catching the ball consistently.

"Much like we focused on the turnovers last week, we'll be focusing on holding on to the football, running through the catch," Staley said. "Not in a slow it down type of way, but more in a speed it up way. Being strong with the ball and playing fast and trusting your game. I'm sure we'll improve there."

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