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Final Thoughts: Chargers Keys to Victory in Minnesota


The Bolts are back on the road for a tilt with the Vikings.

Kickoff is at 10 a.m. (PT) Sunday from U.S. Bank Stadium.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 3:

1. This is a big one

The Chargers know what's at stake.

The Bolts currently sit at 0-2 and are still searching for their first win of the 2023 season.

The Vikings are also 0-2 and will be desperate to get into the win column Sunday.

Bolts safety Derwin James, Jr. was asked this week if there is a sense of urgency around the Bolts.

"Definitely," James said. "Definitely need to get going."

Joey Bosa added: "If you look back at the film ... we'd have the same problems we'd need to address whether we were 0-2 and 2-0. You have to have the right perspective on how things are going, can't get too high or too low. But this is obviously a huge game for both teams."

Nobody wants to be 0-3 heading into October. Especially given how much of a long shot the playoffs could be with that record.

"We're going to do everything we can to win this game on Sunday," Justin Herbert said. "We're doing everything we can during practice, in the film room, in the weight room. Anything beyond that is not in our focus right now. We're focused on the Vikings."

Sebastian Joseph-Day said getting a win comes down to consistency.

"It's always being hungry and striving to execute our fundamentals to the highest detail," Joseph-Day said. "We have the talent, we have the coaches, we have everything. It's just about putting it out there come Sunday."

Don't be surprised if Week 3 is a close one.

Minnesota played 11 games last year that were decided by one score or less. The Chargers had 12 such games.

And the teams' four combined losses in 2023 have been by a total of 14 points.

"They have something to play for, just like we do," said Joshua Kelley. "It's going to be a dog fight."

James added: "You've got to do something about being close. You can't just be close in this league. You've got to make it happen."

2. Stop the run

The Vikings offense ranks second in passing yards per game (337.0) and is third in the NFL with 17 explosive pass plays of 15-plus yards.

That has to be the Bolts top defensive priority, yes?

"Honestly, the goal first is to be able to stop the run. That's our goal first," Joseph-Day said. "They have a great running back and a great scheme. We have to earn the right to rush the passer."

Through two games, the Vikings have tallied just 69 rushing yards, the fewest in the NFL and the fewest through two games by any team since both the 2019 Dolphins and Bengals. Minnesota is also the only team without a rush attempt of 10-plus yards this season.

"We're not going to be able to rush the passer without stopping the run," Morgan Fox said. "Everything starts with stopping the run. That's kind of where we're going to start, is making sure we can stop the run and try to make them as one-dimensional as possible."

The Chargers run defense currently ranks 15th at 105.5 rushing yards allowed, a solid improvement from a year ago.

"I think we've definitely improved from where we were last year," Fox said. "Just the guys in our room and what we're made of is always wanting to improve. We're competitive, we want to get higher up than we can so we're trying to play the run better than we're already playing."

If the Bolts can indeed force the Vikings into third-and-long scenarios, that could lead to the defense getting a chance to pressure Kirk Cousins, who has four turnovers (an interception and three lost fumbles) in two games.

Minnesota is currently minus-6 in the turnover margin, the worst mark in the league through two games.

"You pressure any quarterback in the league and you get bad throws," Fox said. "He's a great quarterback, he's been playing for a long time, made a lot of money, he's made a lot of big plays and he's been a really good quarterback for a long time.

"Anything we can do to get him out of his comfort zone and try to make him throw some errant passes or get him off his timing is what we're going to try to do," Fox added.

3. Ficken's homecoming

There are plenty of connections between the Bolts and Vikings.

There's family bragging rights, as outside linebacker Chris Rumph II is the son Vikings defensive line coach Chris Rumph. And linebacker Tanner Muse is the older brother of Vikings tight end Nick Muse.

Chargers linebacker Eric Kendricks spent eight years with the Vikings before joining the Bolts this season. Pipkins III is a native of Apple Valley, Minnesota. And linebackers coach Jeff Howard coached in Minnesota from 2013-19.

There's also the friendship between Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley and Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell.

But nobody has a connection like Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken, who spent a whopping 15 seasons with the Vikings from 2007 to 2021.

"I wouldn't say it's anymore excitement than any other game. It's going to be different being on the other sideline," Ficken said. "Obviously 15 great years, both professionally and personally, but the excitement is because it is the next game.

"That's the most important game, it's this week, only one game out there for this week and we got to do what's best for our organization and find a way to win this game," Ficken added. "But no more added value."

Sunday's contest will also be one of the toughest road environments the Bolts play in all season, something Ficken knows well.

"It's a special stadium. They have a great fanbase there, it's really loud obviously and it's a good environment in the way they go ahead and have those games," Ficken said. "But yeah, it's a great challenge for us. It'll be a great opportunity for our team and what we can do and find a way to go ahead and win the game. It's a special place."

4. Execute late

The Bolts offense had had the ball in their hands with a chance to win in both games this season.

Against Miami, the unit couldn't get past midfield down by two points in the final minute.

And the Bolts went three-and-out to start overtime against the Titans before Tennessee eventually kicked the game-winning field goal.

Perhaps the law of averages even out at some point, no?

"We've practiced those situations a lot," said Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. "It's something that we just have to continue to work on.

"We feel good about when we have those opportunities that we can take advantage of them," Moore added. "We've had two. They haven't turned out. You just keep on moving and growing each and every time. You feel like you'll take advantage of some other ones moving forward."

Herbert added: "I think it's on us as an offense to be better. I think the coaches have done a great job of putting us in a position to win. We just have to execute better."

Herbert has led 13 game-winning drives in his career. It just hasn't happened yet in 2023.

5. An eye on the corners

The Bolts secondary could be in for their biggest test of the year.

Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson leads the league in receiving yards (309) and has the second-most targets (25) and catches (20) through two games.

"You turn his film on and it speaks for itself. He's been making plays week-in and week-out," said cornerback J.C. Jackson. "He's a hell of a player. You turn the field on and you see what he can do."

A key storyline this week will be the Chargers cornerback rotation.

Staley said Monday that Ja'Sir Taylor will be the primary nickel cornerback going forward. That leaves Jackson, Asante Samuel, Jr. and Michael Davis battling for two spots on the outside.

The hope, Staley said, is that two of those three players establish themselves as full-time starters in the coming weeks.

Jackson played 44 snaps in Week 1 before playing 41 against the Titans.

"I feel like I'm improving," Jackson said. "I'm still working, trying to get better. I'm giving it all I've got."

Jackson said that no matter who takes the field in Minnesota, it will be a team effort to slow down Jefferson and company.

He also noted that the rotation at cornerback will eventually shake itself out.

"It's early in the season. Every team is still finding their identity," Jackson said. "It's Week 3. Real football starts in October and November."

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

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