Chargers look like legitimate contenders

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The last two games of the season for the Chargers are get in, play, work hard, and get out without injuries. They are preparing for their first postseason run since 2018. Sunday afternoon, they took care of the L.A. Rams 31-10.

They have one final game to get through. The Chargers have a lot of things they need to tune up before they head to the postseason.

On Sunday, they showed glimpses of some good and some bad that they needed to fix.

 “I think that we’re playing better,” Staley said. “I think we’re improving every time we go out, I think a big thing that we’ve been emphasizing it’s just a finish in our football team and finding our best year down the stretch. I think that we’re finishing a lot better in all phases. I thought offensively today that was a step in the right direction.”

Here are three takeaways from Sunday:

1. Chargers still have things to fix

Some of the mistakes that the team made earlier in the season, they keep on making them. For example, they allowed 160 total rushing yards by the Rams. Running back Cam Akers added 123 yards on 19 carries and was all over the television.

The lone touchdown was was provided by Malcolm Brown on a 23-yard carry late in the second quarter.

“I was very pleased with our second-half performance,” Staley said. “I thought we rushed the passer really well today I thought we covered extremely well put a roof on the covers. I felt like we were connected.”

In the second half, the Rams offense scored zero points and didn’t move the ball as efficiently as it normally does, so that should please Staley.

The other thing the Chargers need to clean up is how they play offense in the third quarter. They hadn’t scored a touchdown in the third quarter since week five against Cleveland. They broke that streak coming out of the second half against the Rams.

Herbert led the team down the field and threw a nice pass between two Rams defenders against tight end Gerald Everett. 

“I think that our guys came out on a mission in that third quarter,” Staley said. ‘Finished the half with a field goal, a good two-minute drive. Would have liked to have seen a touchdown, but we were able to finish with a field goal. That middle eight is so important. You get the ball, and for us to go drive the ball, score the ball, it was really big for our offense. You just really felt like that group, it was a big lift for them,”

2. Chargers run game worked tonight, but it’ll be needed, especially in the playoffs.

It has been a strange season for the Chargers run game. They have had some rough patches, but Sunday against the Rams was exactly how they want to run the football heading into the playoffs.

They were balanced and showed aggressiveness up front with the offensive line.

“I really liked the way we ran the football today,” Staley said. “We rushed for 192 and we had the big splitter, but I really felt like we ran the football well in the red zone.”

Austin Ekeler started the year rough, barely getting into the end zone and having rough outings. That changed in week four against the Houston Texans when he scored a hat trick, and since then has been on a tear.

Ekeler scored his 17th and 18th touchdown of the season against the Rams. The first was a 10-yard run, while the second was a 72-yard gallop. 

“Shoutout to the O-line because it was blocked perfectly,” Ekeler said. “We were running power. Everything was kicked out, and was able to get through the corner. I got caught earlier in the year, and so that’s the only thing that was on my mind was, ‘All right, speed, speed, speed. Don’t get caught,’ and was able to get in there.”

They also mixed in Joshua Kelley pretty well, which has been the case since he returned from injury. If the Chargers can consistently run the football and get over 150-yards on the ground, it could help them become harder to predict on offense.

They need to be more of a threat on the ground moving forward.

3. Herbert and the offense do their job.

Herbert had a couple of games in a row with turnovers, but on Sunday, he had none, plus he threw for two touchdowns. He felt comfortable in the pocket for more than 98 percent of the game.

The running game was great, but it was Herbert. He threw for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and completed 75 percent of his passes.

Receiver Mike Williams had a strong day with 94 yards on seven catches. He had a ridiculous one-handed grab with 1:28 left before halftime.

“I don’t know, it was crazy,” Williams on what he was thinking after the catch. “I think it was more the reaction that me and the head coach had after the catch that was kind of amazing.”

Staley paused before he answered the question.

“It is more like a wink of total respect,” Staley said. “Total respect because as a pro coach, you get to witness a lot. You get to see a lot of special, but then there’s some that are just more special than the rest, and that was certainly one of them.”

Herbert was also impressed by Williams.

“He’s just about as special as it gets,” Herbert said.

This connection continues to grow and it will be counted on when the Chargers start the playoffs in two weeks.

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