Chargers Offense Anything but Electric Against Patriots
The scoreboard read 27-24 New England Patriots (4-4) as the victors and standing tall over the Los Angeles Chargers (4-3). It also means that the Chargers haven't beat Patriots head coach Bill Belichick since 2008, but it is deeper than that.
For weeks, the problem that was consistently pointed at was on the defensive side of the football. The defense couldn't stop the run, and that is why the losses to Dallas and Baltimore happened.
It may not rest on the rush defense.
The offense wasn't its usual self this Sunday afternoon.
"I loved the way that we started the football game, but I don't think we established any rhythm after that," Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said.
Quarterback Justin Herbert got it going early when he hit receiver Keenan Allen for a 41-yard catch and run to put the offense in the red zone. Four plays later, running back Austin Ekeler ran the football but suddenly was stopped, but he, along with the offensive line, kept pushing until he ended up in the end zone of the two-yard score.
Two series later, running back Justin Jackson received the handoff, waited patiently for a hole to open up, and hit for a 75-yard burst. Herbert hit Allen for a five-yard touchdown to go up 14-7.
"I thought we had s*** to work today," Allen said. "We shouldn't have lost for sure. Like I said, we beat ourselves. Penalties, turnovers, and drops, you name it."
This was the last time the offense could get a solid drive going until the final drive of the game.
"In the passing game, we weren't good enough today," head coach Brandon Staley explained. "We didn't protect the passer well enough at all. We had far too many drops. We didn't play with great timing at times because of those things. We just have to play better in the passing game against that team offensively in order to win. Certainly, the two turnovers were really big."
The following two drives stalled. On the third drive, the Chargers faced third-and-six after a Lawrence Guy sack on Herbert. The quarterback threw a pass to receiver Mike Williams, but he dropped it, and the offense had to punt.
"From an execution standpoint, that drops or protection issues; I felt like really held us back," Staley said.
On the ensuing drive, Herbert threw a pass to Ekeler on second and ten which he popped up, and former Charger safety Adrian Phillips intercepted it. It helped the Patriots because the ball was given back at the Chargers 40-yard line. Kicker Nick Folk hit a 48-yarder before halftime.
In the second half, the Chargers defense came up clutch when safety Derwin James punched the ball out of Kendrick Bourne's hands, which free safety Nasir Adderley recovered. The offense processed to punt twice and had a 48-yard field goal from new kicker Dustin Hopkins.
"The defense played well, and it's up to us to have those opportunities to drive down the field," Herbert said. "When they give it to us, we need to take advantage of it."
They faced third-and ten at the beginning of the fourth quarter, so Herbert threw to tight end Jared Cook in the flat, but he wasn't paying attention. Phillips made them pay by intercepting the pass and returning it for a 26-yard touchdown. The Patriots converted the two points.
"Just a miscommunication," Herbert said about the interception. "I got to be smarter about that, and I got to move on to the next read."
Herbert has had his two worst statistical performances against the Patriots. He threw for 209 yards and two interceptions last season. This year he threw for 223 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"Sometimes it is the way the cookie crumbles," Phillips said. "You play against certain teams that they might have your number sometimes, and it's still early in his career. So, there is no telling what's down the road, but he's a great quarterback, and you know he has a lot of good games left in him. I love watching him play."
The offense finished with 369 yards, but it wasn't the whole story. They gained 72 yards on that final drive, along with a great touchdown pass from Herbert to rookie Josh Palmer. They scored their two touchdowns in the first three drives. After that, the offense was not the same.
Allen mentioned that they had seen the Patriots defense run man-to-man coverage all season long. Sunday, they switched to zone.
"We knew they were going to do that because they can't cover us," Allen said.
For two weeks now, the offense hasn't looked the way it did during that stretch of Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Cleveland. They are struggling.
"I'm not concerned," Staley said. "I wish that we performed better today for sure. We got to do a better job coaching moving forward, we got to do a better job playing. But when you play against good teams, you're going to have games like this."
It doesn't get any easier from here for the Chargers. They play Philadelphia next week, who blew out the Lions, then a much-improved Vikings, and a hard-nosed defensive team like the Steelers on Sunday Night Football.
"I think it's just up to us on offense, I think we need to execute better," Herbert said. "We can't turn over the ball like that. I think we've had three or four turnovers the past two weeks, and I think that's a big part of it."
The offensive struggle is something to worry about especially given the history of the franchise because they have had games like this in the past. Allen knows it better than anyone being on this team for nine seasons.
"The frustration with me is every year," Allen said. "It's the same thing every year. Beating ourselves over and over. Frustrating."
After the two touchdowns, nothing went right for the offense. They punted four times, had two turnovers, one field goal, and three points (not including the final drive). Whether it was coaching or the players, things are not moving.
What was once the highlight of this Chargers team is now hurting them. They are hurting themselves.
"Today, I don't think they did anything that stopped us," Allen explained. "AP had a couple good plays on the interceptions one was a tip, the other one was a missed throw. Outside of that, it was penalties and us. I don't think they did anything. So, get back to it next week."