It wasn’t pretty, to say the least. There were some shaky moments in the Los Angeles Chargers 34-24 victory over the Houston Texans, but it was a victory no less.
This was a game of two halves. In the first half, the Chargers looked like the team everyone expected to be blowing out Houston 27-7 at the half. The Chargers punted three times in the second half and fumbled a kick return while allowing 17 unanswered points.
Quarterback Justin Herbert had another clean performance passing for 340 yards and two touchdowns, while receiver Mike Williams had another big game catching seven passes for 120 yards.
The defense allowed Davis Mills to complete 74% of his passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns. They couldn’t slow him down at times, but they forced him to commit two turnovers.
Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s game:
The offense ran the football
It has been a hard start to the season for the Chargers on the ground. Running back Austin Ekeler came into Sunday’s game rushing for a little over 80 yards and not having reached the end zone.
They faced the worst run defense in the NFL in the Texans, so Sunday was the game to get it going. Joshua Kelley gets it started on their third offensive drive with runs of six, five, and five yards. An Ekeler 10-yard touchdown run finished off the drive.
“I loved our commitment to it,” coach Brandon Staley explained. “I thought that allowed our line to really get into rhythm, which I think helped our passing game. We didn’t get any big splitters today, but I thought we had a lot of productive runs.”
Next drive, the Chargers got in the end zone in three plays. A 50-yard catch and run from Mike Williams set up a 20-yard touchdown run from Ekeler.
It won’t look pretty on the stat sheet with them running the ball 27 times for 81 yards, but they did try to establish the run. The Chargers need to give Kelley more reps moving forward because he is an energizer bunny for the run game.
Kelley is patient and hits the hole at the correct time, which is something he seems to have fixed from his mistakes years prior.
Run defense needs some work
The Chargers run defense has improved from last season to this one, but Houston they still have a problem.
Running back Dameon Pierce was the only running back to run the football, and he took advantage of it. He ran for 131 yards on 14 carries and added a touchdown, scoring on a 75-yard run late in the second quarter.
“I think we got off schedule a little bit,” Staley said. “We got out of rhythm. We had a couple of communication issues, but then in the fourth quarter, I just felt like we tightened up.”
It is not just the run game, the defense needs to do a better job against running backs in general. Rex Burkhead and Pierce had 25 touches for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Burkhead did his damage through the air with five receptions for 39 yards and one touchdown.
The Chargers got to get that fixed because next weekend, they face two lethal running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in Cleveland.
Salyer passes his first test
It was the first career start of Jamaree Salyer, and he passed his first test.
“He’s a stud,” Staley said.
Staley mentioned that Salyer passed the eye test but that the young left tackle is such a student of the game that he will look at the film and immediately see the mistakes. He didn’t give up any sacks and helped with the run game.
“He did an outstanding job,” Herbert said about his new left tackle. “He stepped in there. And, you know, I felt the time that I had back in the pocket and forgot to be able to step up first NFL game first time playing. I thought he did an incredible job.”
It got shaky, but the Chargers closed it out
The offense did well in the first half, racking yards and scoring 27 points. The third-quarter offense showed flashbacks against the Raiders and Chiefs in the second half.
Houston scored 17 unanswered points, but the Chargers were able to relax even after a fumble on the kickoff return and went on a 12-play drive. The big play was on 4th and two from the Chargers 45-yard line. Herbert rolled out and threw a pass to Ekeler, who took it 21-yards for the first down.
“In the fourth quarter, I thought the way we finish that game, you can’t ask for anything more than coach,” Staley said.
Herbert finished it with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ekeler to give him the hat-trick to give them a 10-point lead. The game ended after a Bryce Callahan interception on fourth down.
“I think the fact that we’re 2-2, certainly not satisfied with that record, but definitely proud of our response today as a team, and now we got to keep improving,” Staley said.