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Three Takeaways: How are the Bolts Preparing for A Crucial Stretch of December Football?

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Below are three takeaways from Wednesday's press conferences with Brandon Staley, Keenan Allen and Derwin James Jr.:

Hitting a new gear in December

As the 2021 seasons turns the page to the month of December, the Chargers now enter the most crucial stretch of the season yet.

On Wednesday, head coach Brandon Staley explained how the Chargers have established a good rhythm but now it's time to reach a new 'gear' in order to have a successful December.

"It's Dec. 1 today and now there's a different level when you're in the hunt," Staley said. "There's another level of focus, there's another gear that you have to get to…when you're in the hunt now you've got to make those improvements. Your margin for error is smaller so your attention to detail, your focus needs to be better and you can't talk about it, you've got to go do it."

Veteran wide receiver Keenan Allen talked about the difference in the building when it comes to playing meaningful football on the back end of the season, especially as the Bolts prepare for a Cincinnati Bengals team that is just ahead of them in the AFC Wildcard standings.

"It's a big difference," Allen said. "Just the way you talk to people, the way people talk to you, the way you look at people. It's different in the room when you are playing for something, it means something obviously. We got the right team, the right coaches, everything is going good so we just have to put it together."

Preparing for the three Js

The Bolts know if they are going to end the Bengals' two-game winning streak this Sunday, they will have to contain the offensive weapons of quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

When talking about Mixon, Staley called him one of the top running backs in the NFL and described what makes a 'complete' back like him so talented.

"When you flip on the film, he jumps off the tape," Staley said. "He's as good a runner as there is. Pick a runner and he's as good as any of them; balance, body control, speed, power on contact, this guy is really good on contact. Can catch the football out of the backfield, he's a very, very complete back and he's certainly been an engine for them."

Safety Derwin James Jr. talked about what he's seen from the standout rookie receiver, Chase, who has totaled 906 receiving yards, eight touchdowns and averages 18.1 yards per reception through 11 games this season.

"I like Ja'Marr Chase," James Jr. said. "I feel like he's a young, great receiver. Him and [Joe] Burrow, they've got a special connection dating back to LSU and you can see it in the league, he can trust his guy. Not only Chase, but Tee Higgins is another guy that is a great receiver. I know Tee a lot, those guys have a great team, so we have to be ready."

What Derwin means to this team

After missing a large amount of the 2019 season and the entirety of 2020, getting James back healthy has been key for this Chargers team and defense, as the safety's presence has been felt with No. 33 nearing 100 tackles on the season with six games to go.

When talking about James during Wednesday's press conference, Allen had a smile from ear to ear calling him the best safety in the league while admitting he deserves to be an All-Pro like he was during his 2018 rookie season.

Allen went into detail on what makes No. 33 such a special player.

"Just his energy," Allen said. "The way he leads us every day he comes out with a passion and energy. He just leads us in the right way. He's making plays, when we need the turnover, he goes down and makes it … He's making plays and every time we need a play he's the one that comes up with it."

Staley talked about how James' presence helps the entire defense and why there's not many players in the league who play like James Jr.

"Derwin is the central figure in our defense," Staley said. "He's the key to how we play, he's the key to how we play structurally, schematically. He's the key to how we play from an energy and from just a pure intangible standpoint because of his leadership, his toughness … He makes a lot of people better because of all the places he can play for us."

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