Here are five top lessons learned from the Chargers' 36-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
1. Austin Powers – After sitting out the second preseason game, Austin Ekeler gashed the Saints in the two series he played. The second-year running back carried the rock six times for 50 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. He also caught all three passes thrown his way for 13 yards. The Bolts are hoping for big things from Ekeler in year two, and this certainly was an encouraging sign. The running back totaled 539 yards from scrimmage a year ago, surpassing 50 yards in four contests. While most think of Ekeler as a scat back type who does most of his damage in the open field, Philip Rivers noted after the game how he's one of the strongest guys on the team:
"He's young. He's arguably the strongest guy on the team, so he's definitely the 'team-tackle' guy. He and (RB) Melvin (Gordon III) really complement each other. They're different. They run with different styles. Austin, keeping him healthy is important. Keeping both those guys (healthy) to have the one-two punch, it's big."
2. Road Graders – A major reason Ekeler was able to churn out those yards on the ground was due to the offensive line. They were absolute road graders in the ground game, imposing their will on the Saints. The starters played the entire first quarter in which the offense averaged a whopping 6.7 yards per carry. Everyone knows how dangerous the Bolts are through the air as they were the number one passing offense in the NFL a year ago. However, as Anthony Lynn noted, a potent ground attack would add another dimension to the offense in 2018, and a major factor in establishing one is the play of the offensive line:
"Offensively, (we) moved the ball on the ground," he continued. "We know we can throw the football on anybody, and they averaged over six yards a carry in the first half, and (did) all of that with no penalties. That's been one of the things we've been focusing on…I feel like this group is starting to gel at the right time. I feel like I saw that tonight. When they came off the field, they really didn't want to come off. They wanted to go back and play, but I saw that in their eyes. I saw that in their face. That was different."
3. Nowhere to Run – On the flip side, the Chargers entered Saturday's contest knowing they'd be in for a tough test against a potent Saints rushing attack. After all, New Orleans' averaged a league-high 4.7 yards per carry a year ago. Well, the Bolts aced that test with flying colors. When the starting units were on the field, the Chargers limited New Orleans to just 16 yards on five carries (3.2 ypc) in the first quarter. In fact, the run defense was one of the first things Lynn talked about after the game:
"I love the way the first unit went out and played against one of the top rush teams in the league," Lynn said. "(We) held them to under four yards a carry the whole first half."
Browse through some of the best shots from the Bolts third preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
4. Derwin's Debut – While this was his third preseason game, Derwin James made his debut as a starter. He didn't take long to make an impact. On the third play from scrimmage, the rookie safety showed off his range by closing quickly on a Drew Brees' pass deep to Ted Ginn. He arrived at the same time the ball did, rising high to pluck it out of the air for an interception. James didn't shy away from how big a moment that was for him as he talked about it in the locker room following the final whistle:
"It felt great. (I) came out and trusted in what my coaches have been telling me. They put me in position. The play was there for me to make, and I made it… (Getting to start) felt great. I'm honored. Whichever way I can help, I'm trying to come in and contribute to the team. Help us get on track and help us win some ball games."
5. Depth Disappoints – The starters may have showed out vs. the Saints, but the depth players struggled after taking over to start the second half. L.A. trailed 14-7 at the half, but the game quickly got away from them as they eventually fell, 36-7. This was a surprising turn of events as the Bolts' backups impressed in training camp and the first two preseason games. Thus, Lynn noted how important it was for the depth players to rebound in the fourth and final preseason game:
"In game four, we're going to play our backups—our second unit. I want them to compete better next week than what they did today. I definitely want to see that. I think that backup defense—it's been pretty dominant all camp. I thought today we lost a lot of one-on-ones."
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