Welcome to Week 11.
Here are five final thoughts ahead of the Chargers-Chiefs matchup:
1. The Bolts are getting healthier
All eyes will be on the Chargers and Chiefs in Sunday night's primetime showdown.
The Bolts are hoping that Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will be a part of that key AFC West battle.
Both wide receivers practiced in full Friday, an improvement from their limited status on Wednesday and Thursday.
And while both will be game-time decisions, the vibe around the Chargers is that both could give it a go in Week 11.
"They're great team guys. Besides being two of the top players at that position in the league, they're really good players for our team," said Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. "They really help our team chemistry. Them being out at practice just improves all that. They mean a lot to us, more than just what happens on the field.
"Certainly, that's going to matter for a lot, but they also count for a lot with our team chemistry and the leadership of our team," Staley added. "They have a lot of experience, have made a lot of winning plays for us. It was good to get them back out there and practice and get them into a rhythm."
The Chargers offense could certainly use their presence, as the duo has played only 43 snaps together this season. The Bolts have run 635 offensive plays so far this year.
Allen tweaked his hamstring in Week 1 and returned in Week 7, only to aggravate it after the bye week. But he sounded optimistic Friday when asked about his chances.
Does he need to get to a certain point to be ready to play?
"Kind of the same I felt today," said Allen, who said he topped out at full speed. "Confident, explosive, just being able to sustain and hold the speed.
"I did it today. It felt great," he later added.
Williams, meanwhile, suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 7 and hasn't played since. He leads the team with 495 receiving yards.
If both can play Sunday, it would be a major boost for the Bolts.
"They are really talented receivers. They are two of the best in the game," said quarterback Justin Herbert. "To have guys like that around, they have been a big help to all of the receivers stepping up. It's been good to just see them working and see whatever happens."
Sunday's result will also go a long way to determining the AFC West race.
Through 10 weeks, the Chargers sit in second place at 5-4, two games behind the 7-2 Chiefs, although Kansas City has the head-to-head-tiebreaker from Week 2.
If the Chiefs win Sunday, they are well set up for another division crown. But if the Bolts can split the season series and pull to within one game in the division standings, the final seven games will be enthralling theater.
Presenting your 2022 Los Angeles Chargers
2. Win the turnover battle
In Staley's three games against the Chiefs, the Chargers have won, lost and tied the turnover battle.
And it's no coincidence that the game the Bolts won that area (Week 3 of the 2021 season), it led to a Chargers win, too, The Bolts won that one 30-24 while forcing four turnovers and committing none.
But the past two games against Kansas City, the Bolts have tied (2-2) and lost (1-0) that margin, with the Chiefs winning both games.
Staley on Friday highlighted the importance of taking the ball away, and then keeping it away from a potent Chiefs offense.
"That is where it starts in the NFL, with us, is the takeaway margin. That has to be at the heart of your program," Staley said. "Right now, we're plus-two on the season, so that's a good thing. That's good place to start.
"But against them, it's going to be a possession game against them," Staley added. "How can you create possessions? How can you eliminate some of theirs? Then, can you score? Always going to be important in game like this?"
The Chargers get credit for any takeaways in the Week 2 meeting, but they had a nose for the ball at Arrowhead Stadium.
Nasir Adderley had an interception taken away due to a defensive penalty, while Derwin James, Jr., also had a pick negated because of offsetting penalties.
Asante Samuel, Jr., had an interception called on the field but the reversed after a replay review, and he also dropped an interception in the end zone in the third quarter.
If the Chargers can win the turnover battle Sunday night, it will go a long way in getting a win in the standings, too.
3. Success on 1st downs
The Chargers offense had 22 first-down plays Sunday against the 49ers, gaining 67 yards in all.
But 32 of those yards came on the opening drive when Justin Herbert hit DeAndre Carter for a touchdown.
And on 16 of those plays, the Chargers gained two yards or fewer, or had an incomplete pass or interception.
Those numbers were magnified in the second half, when the Bolts ran eight first-down plays that gained just 21 yards.
"We just had a couple of negative plays," Lombardi said. "Overall, the execution wasn't as good as we needed it to be."
"They were playing a lot of shell [coverage] in the second half, so we were trying to run it effectively against a light box, and had a few good runs," Lombardi added calling run plays. "Any time that you don't score points, you look back and wish that you called the plays that would have helped you score."
Staley reiterated this week that getting off to a better start early in drives has been a focal point.
"There are things that we need to improve on from the last game, like on first down in the second half, we have to get off to a better start," Staley said. "At the same time, we protected the football. We took the sting off some of their rushers. I think that we achieved that goal.
"You just take the good with the things you need to improve on and keep it moving. That's just been the type of year it has been, but I think that our group is improving as a group because we're figuring out more ways to play," Staley added. "I think that is a positive with your group because it is reality. You have to figure out ways to win a game like that."
Check out the best photos of the Chargers Thursday practice at Hoag Performance Center
4. Defend everybody
As usual, the Chargers heaped praise on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes this week.
"He's one of the special players in the game, but he's still at the beginning," Staley said. "There is still, hopefully, a lot of years of him playing this game. He's great for the league. You have respect for competitors, and he's certainly a guy that we have the fullest respect for."
Mahomes had plenty of praise for the Bolts this week, too, saying of Herbert:
"He throws some passes that I don't think anyone can throw in this league and that includes myself."
Herbert responded in kind Friday:
"I appreciate the kind words. I don't think there is a throw that he can't make. I think he is being humble there," Herbert said. "He's, obviously, one of the best to ever do it. We have a ton of respect for him, but there is not a throw on the field that he can't make. He's able to do everything."
One thing the Bolts know about Mahomes is his ability to spread the ball around to others not named Travis Kelce.
The Chiefs have five different players with at least 25 receptions this season. However, two of them — JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) and Mecole Hardman (Injured Reserve) — won't play in Week 11.
"His distribution of how he is getting those guys the ball, I think he is spreading it around to all of those guys," said Chargers Defensive Coordinator Rebaldo Hill. "When it's on the line, whether that is red zone or third down, he know he still has 87 [Kelce] in his back pocket. I think he is really utilizing the other threats that he has around him to really make it work.
"He's doing a good job of spreading the ball around and making sure that when it is clutch time, he gets the ball to [Kelce]," Hill added.
Kelce leads the Chiefs with 63 receptions for 740 yards and eight scores.
"You're defending an entire offense," Staley said. "When I think of their system, I think of players, coaches, scheme, I think all of it. That's why they produce the way they do.
"We've had some really good matchups with them in my time here," Staley added. "It's great for the game when you have a rivalry like this with coaches and players like this. It's great for the game."
5. Other news and notes
Staley said Friday that the Bolts will elevate defensive tackle Joe Gaziano for Sunday's game with Christian Covington and Otito Ogbonnia on Injured Reserve.
Tyeler Davison, who was added to the roster this week from Cleveland's practice squad, will also be in the mix, too.
"He's just a pro. He's been through it. He has confidence. He's fit right into our group," Staley said of Davison, who has played in 100-plus career games. "Really proud of Sebastian [Joseph-Day], Foxy [Morgan Fox], and Breiden [Fehoko], those guys leading the way of getting him onboarded. We expect him to play well on Sunday."
Hill added: "We're going to need him to be present this week. Hopefully, we can move the bodies around so we don't get tired down up front."
In other injury news, DeAndre Carter (ribs), Gerald Everett (groin), Trey Pipkins III (knee), Chris Rumph II (knee) and JK Scott (illness) all practiced in full and are good to go Sunday.
Finally, Dustin Hopkins was limited but participated in his first practice since tearing his hamstring in Week 6.
Staley said the kicker could return to game action against Arizona in Week 12.
"Trending positive," Staley said. "He's been out there working out. Very close to returning."
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