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Chargers Mailbag: Why Monday Night is the Bolts Biggest Game of the Year


Welcome back to the Chargers Mailbag!

We'll be running one of these every week during the regular season, so send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go...

What a difference a week makes, huh?

One of the things I love most about the NFL is that each game carries such magnitude, and how the storyline and vibe surrounding a team can change each Sunday.

This time last week, the Bolts were 2-4 and desperately needed to get back on track. They did just that with a convincing double-digit win over the Bears on Sunday night.

Now the Chargers are 3-4 and have a chance to once again get a win in primetime at the Jets. A victory gets the Bolts to 4-4 and right in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race.

If you missed last week's Mailbag, I wrote that the Chargers likely needed to get to 10 wins to be in the AFC playoff conversation.

On the surface, winning eight of 11 games at that point seemed like a daunting task.

But when you broke the schedule down into chunks, it seemed a bit more manageable:

—Win two of three against the NFC North (one down there)

—Win three of four against the AFC West

—Win two of three in primetime against the Jets, Ravens and Bills

—Beat the Patriots on the road

Step 1 of that plan is complete. Can the Chargers now go on a long winning streak as Ed suggested?

That remains to be seen, but it's evident that the Chargers have the talent to do so.

Sunday's win featured contributions from all three phases, a formula that is likely to help the Bolts win more games than lose them over the final 10 weeks of the season.

I'm not going to predict some crazy win streak for the Bolts. Because that shouldn't be their focus right now.

Instead, it should be to carry over the momentum into Monday night in New York. Getting a win there would mean two in a row, but it would also mean the Chargers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with New York.

So, if both teams eventually do finish with 10 wins, it would be the Chargers who possibly get into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

Monday night is a big one. If all goes well, the aura around the Bolts will be on a strong track this time next week.

Pretty close.

Wide receiver Jalen Guyton and defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia both continue to make progress.

Both players were limited in last Wednesday's practice but were full participants Thursday and Friday. Both players were listed as questionable for Sunday night's game but were not activated off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List.

All of that means that we wait and see if the two are activated off PUP this week. I do not know if either player will play against the Jets.

But players in this scenario are usually activated after the week of practice, so in this case we might not know until Monday (because it's a Monday game) if both players will play.

Given the fact that both players practiced in full for two days last week, they are headed in the right direction. And three days of full participation later this week means that a return to the field seems likely either this week or next.

The battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball will be fascinating to watch Monday night.

But when the Jets have the ball, the Chargers will hope to take advantage against a unit that has been besieged by injuries this year.

New York currently has four offensive linemen on Injured Reserve, including multiple players who were starters at the beginning of the season.

If you're the Bolts, you know that the edge rusher group of Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Tuli Tuipulotu and Chris Rumph II could potentially wreck the game if they get going.

And that group seems to be peaking at the right time as we hit the midway point of the season.

Mack has been solid all season, even if he doesn't have the sack numbers outside of the Raiders game. He consistently generates pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Bosa is coming off his best game of the season against Chicago. He's healthy after battling through a few things earlier in the season and was a monster against the run and the pass in Week 8.

Tuipulotu has been outstanding all season for a rookie and Rumph provides quality depth to give one of the three above a spell if they need it.

Given the state of the Jets line, we could see a big night from the Bolts front seven. But they have to do their part here, too.

As for Quentin Johnston…

It very well might have been.

Again, as I've written here seemingly every week so far this season, building trust between a quarterback and rookie wide receiver takes times.

We are still only seven games into Johnston's first season in the NFL.

And while he and Herbert didn't connect much in the first six games, they did in a big way against Chicago.

Johnston had five catches for 50 yards, with four of his catches moving the chains and two coming on third downs.

Was it a 100-yard performance with 10 catches? No. But it was clearly progress that coaches and players have been mentioning of late.

"He's a stellar athlete," Herbert said postgame. "He's one of those guys that whenever you get the ball to him, something special is going to happen.

"I knew that it hadn't gone our way, connecting with him, the first couple of games, but I knew if we were patient, we were going to get him the ball and something good is going to happen," Herbert added. "He stepped up big-time today and we're expecting big things from him."

Johnston has the skills and work ethic to shine in the NFL. He simply just needs to continue working and building that rapport with Herbert as the games continue.

As for the offensive performances in recent second halves, that's certainly something that needs to improve.

The Chargers have scored just 16 total points in the past four games after halftime.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was asked about the topic Monday and said that the entire offense needs to be better, but said the ability to run the ball when holding a second-half lead is paramount.

"We just weren't able to get anything going in the run game in the second half," Staley said. "We didn't have very many positive plays.

"We're trying to shrink the game, but at the same time, activate play calls that are going to keep us going because our goal isn't just to shrink the clock, it is to score the football — possess the ball, and then end with points," Staley later added. "We just didn't execute well enough in the second half in that phase. Any specifics, same comments as before, just position group here, position group there. Overall, just not clean enough in the second half."

The Chargers currently rank fourth in the NFL with 16.7 points per first half. But they are 27th in the second half at 8.1 points per game.

Finding some juice in the second half will be critical over the second half of the season, especially as the playoff race heats up.

I do!

How much? I don't know, but it was a fun wrinkle to see Sunday night.

If you missed it, McFadden — a 2023 fifth-round pick out of Clemson — lined up at fullback for three snaps Sunday and run blocked on each rep.

He did well enough there that perhaps Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore gets him involved a bit more going forward. Remember that the Bolts don't have a traditional fullback on their roster.

Moore is scheduled to chat with reporters Friday and you can bet this will be a topic that gets brought up. We'll hit more on it then and try to get McFadden's thoughts, too.

Well, McFadden at fullback technically counts as an extra lineman in the run game.

But I think you're alluding to having a sixth offensive lineman on the line of scrimmage, which I think is definitely something we could see going forward.

The best candidate for this in my eyes would be tackle Foster Sarell, who could line up in a Jumbo package and provide some extra pop up front.

We'll see if Moore has any more wrinkles in his playbook as the season goes along.

We'll finish off the Mailbag with yet another question about the offensive line.

Center Corey Linsley, for those that missed it, is currently on the Non-Football Illness List with a non-emergent heart-related issue.

Staley was asked about Linsley on Monday and said the following when asked for an update.

"He is doing well. Really glad that he's with us, really glad that he's with the team," Staley said. "Our players would tell you, our coaches will tell you, he means a lot to our team and our organization.

"Certainly, since I've been here, he has helped me tremendously," Staley added. "I just can't say enough good things about him."

Staley was then asked specifically about Linsley's health and where that stands.

"He's in a good place. He's in a good place mentally and he's doing a heck of a job helping our team out in a new way," Staley said.

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