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Final Thoughts: 5 Key Storylines for the Chargers in Week 2


Week 2 has arrived.

The Chargers are 0-1 and are now ready for their first road game of the 2023 season in Nashville. Kick off between the Bolts and Titans is at 10 a.m. (PT) on Sunday.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 2:

1. Get back on track

Don't let one loss turn into two.

That was the mindset of the Bolts this week as they worked in preparation for Tennessee.

There's always so much hype surrounding Week 1 in the NFL, but the reality is that half the league is going to be 0-1 after the first game.

The key is to now get back on track, because falling to 0-2 means a steep hill to climb the rest of the way.

Just look at these stats:

Since 1990, there are 270 teams that began a season with an 0-2 record. Only 31 of those teams made the playoffs, good for an 11.5-percent success rate.

If we narrow it down to the past two seasons when the NFL implemented a 17-game schedule, those chances are even less.

Of the 28 playoffs teams in 2021 and 2022, only one started 0-2 and made the postseason. That was the Bengals a year ago. The other 27 teams consisted of 11 teams who were 2-0 after Week 2 and 16 teams who were 1-1.

All that is to say that it's important for the Bolts to find a way to get into the win column.

"That's the name of the game," Khalil Mack said. "You have to go out there and put your pads on and play ball.

"You have to show why they brought you here," Mack added.

The Bolts-Titans matchup is one of two games in the AFC, along with the Colts-Texans game, that includes teams who are 0-1.

2. Strength vs. strength

After all that chatter about the Bolts rushing attack this offseason, the unit started off the 2023 season with a bang in Week 1.

The Chargers posted a league-high 234 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. And the analytics backed up that stellar outing.

The Bolts ranked first in EPA per play (0.308), overall Pro Football Focus rush grade (83.6), rushing yards before contact (88) and had 17 runs go for first downs.

"It certainly is a big emphasis for us," said Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. "We spent a lot of this offseason, we've all — you guys included, probably [laughter] — spent time on this run game emphasis.

"It's really exciting that when it comes to an opportunity like we had in Week 1, we're able to take advantage of that, from a run game perspective," Moore added. "Excited about that. Excited to be able to build off of that. It doesn't mean that you can do it each and every week, but we'll see where it takes us."

That performance takes the Bolts right into the teeth of a defense has been perhaps the league's best at stopping the run in recent years.

The Titans allowed the least rushing yards per game in 2022 (76.9) and the second-least in 2021 (84.6). Tennessee was stout again in Week 1 against the Saints by giving up just 69 yards on 27 carries.

"Obviously, they're one of the best. They've been one of the best for a long time," Moore said. "It's really, really challenging. They, obviously, have excellent personnel, they have excellent scheme.

"They're really, really sound. They don't give you anything easy," Moore added. "You're going to earn everything in this league. It's been a big challenge for us preparing for them."

Chargers left guard Zion Johnson said offensive line is focused on two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons.

"It's a good challenge," Johnson said. "We're competitors we want to go against good players, Jeffrey Simmons is one of those good players in our league. We accept that challenge.

"We've been preparing all week to go against a front like that, they're big, they're heavy up front, and they stop the run," Johnson added. "We're going to accept that challenge and go do what we do."

Austin Ekeler led the Bolts with 117 rushing yards in Week 1 but is doubtful for Sunday with an ankle injury. If he can't go, Joshua Kelley would step in as the starter after rushing for 91 yards and a score in the season opener.

"Just a big-time professional," Moore said. "Obviously, we see the production on the field, but I think he prepares really, really well. He's a great teammate to everyone. He knows his role. He embraces his role.

"When he gets those opportunities to take advantage of some chances there, he certainly takes advantage of them," Moore added. "As the season goes on, he's a guy — like a number of these running backs — we're going to need different guys to play different roles as the weeks go on."

Kelley's only other career start came in 2022 when he and Ekeler lined up on the field together against the Titans.

"To be honest, that doesn't really change anything," Kelley said about possibly starting. "I feel like my mental approach has always been the same ever since it's been training camp, preseason, regular season, I think it's all been the same for me.

"My mentality is to dominate, take every possession, every rep, to the best of my ability," Kelley added.

Check out the best photos of the Chargers Thursday practice at Hoag Performance Center

3. How does the defense respond?

Nobody on the defensive side of the ball — players and coaches alike — was happy with their performance in Week 1.

But the Chargers defense now has a chance to respond and turn the page after Week 1.

"We have a bunch of grown men in our room," said Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley. "The coaches are really excited about getting back out there. I know I am, the staff feels the same way.

"Every seven days you get an opportunity to humble somebody, or somebody humbles you," Ansley added. "We'll get another chance this Sunday."

The Bolts pass defense struggled mightily in Week 1, giving up 466 yards through the air. The Chargers unsurprisingly rank last in total defensive EPA heading into Week 2.

The Dolphins used plenty of types of motions Sunday, and Ansley said the Chargers will be ready if the Titans and other teams deploy the same tactics.

"I'm sure that you will see some sprinkles of that. It's a copy-cat league," Ansley said. "We do a really good job on Mondays of going through the corrections and sprinkling those things in throughout the week, so that if we see them again, we're ready for them.

"Miami didn't present a whole lot of problems schematically, we just have to do a better job of doing our jobs," Ansley added.

As the Chargers turn the page in Week 2, however, they are more focused on Tennessee's ground game.

The operation is led by Derrick Henry, a two-time NFL rushing champion who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds.

"You have to play team defense on this guy. He is one of the toughest guys to tackle in the league," Staley said. "His resumé speaks for itself. He has been a consistent player in the league for a long time. Definitely one of the big engines for their offense."

The Dolphins and Titans couldn't be more opposite in terms of their offensive strengths.

Luckily for the Chargers, they faced the same two-game stretch late in the 2022 season when they hosted Miami and Tennessee in Week 14 and 15.

The Bolts won both of those games with great defensive efforts. They will need another one Sunday, especially given how Week 1 went.

"Can't wait for Sunday," safety Derwin James, Jr. said. "I don't want to get up here and talk about it. Can't wait for Sunday to show you."

4. Make a splash on special teams

The Bolts had some ups and downs on special teams to open the season.

There was some good, including a 50-yard field goal from Cameron Dicker, who was perfect on six total kicks.

"We believe in him at all distances," said Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken.

But there were also areas to improve on, whether it was a short punt from JK Scott out of his own end zone or a missed chance from the gunners on a Scott punt that went into the end zone for a touchback.

Scott's punt from his own end zone went just 34 yards as Miami scored on the ensuing play.

"In that situation, we're obviously trying to minimize the return," Ficken said. "But you want to get that ball at least to the 50-yard line where you give them one first down before they are in field goal range."

Ficken said that Ja'Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard make that play near the goal line nine out of 10 times but couldn't in Week 1.

The attention on special teams has now turned to the Titans, who also had an inconsistent performance.

Tennessee stripped and recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the season but also had a punt blocked in Week 1 against the Saints.

"It's a really well-coached team," Ficken said. "They play hard and they are big, long and athletic. It's going to be a really good test for us."

5. A look at the linebackers

The Bolts could be thin at linebacker in Nashville as both Eric Kendricks (hamstring) and Daiyan Henley (hamstring) are listed as doubtful.

That likely means a larger role for Kenneth Murray, Jr., who said Friday he will wear the green dot and relay defensive calls to his teammates.

"No. It's [business as] usual for me. Just got out there and play football," Murray said. "Obviously, EK was the green dot so I'll have that this week.

"Nothing I'm not used to," Murray added. "I did it my whole rookie year. I've done it before with Staley, early on."

If Kendricks and Henley can't go, that would mean a larger role for either Nick Niemann or Amen Ogbongbemiga, both of whom are key special teams players for the Chargers. Tanner Muse is also on the roster but was added earlier this month off waivers.

Staley said: "Certainly, the group is going to have to pick up for Eric. It'll be a great opportunity for those young guys."

Murray added: "Those guys are stepping in and having to take on a bigger role. Just letting them know I'm there for them every play and make sure we're communicating well in and out of series and then on the field. It'll be good. The week of practice we had was really good and I'm nothing but confident heading into the game."

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