COSTA MESA, California. “Khalil Mak knew he was using the old cliché, but the Los Angeles Chargers All-Pro crash rusher backed it up anyway.
“You can never get too high,” he said. “Never stoop too low.”
A tiresome phrase, but one that fits the Chargers after an uneven 2-2 start to the season.
Mack, in his very even demeanor, does not seem to be bothered by early ups and downs.
“Whatever you put into it,” he said of the season’s expectations, “you will come out of it.”
The Chargers invested heavily in their offseason roster, trying not only to earn their first playoff bid in four seasons, but also to win a conference title for the first time since 1994.
They upgraded the porous defense by trading Mac, defenseman JC Jackson and linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Morgan Fox. They bolstered an offense already considered one of the best in the NFL by drafting right back Zion Johnson with the 17th overall pick and signing tight end Gerald Everett.
However, the rate of return on their investment remains unclear as the Chargers approach the quarter-of-season mark on Sunday in a Week 5 game against the Cleveland Browns (2-2) at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“We ran into some difficulties,” said running back Austin Eckeler, who led the NFL in touchdowns (20) in 2021 but held out of the end zone until he scored three goals in a 34 win over the Houston Texans. -24. Week 4. “This is the best way to start the season in my opinion because it will tell you a lot about your team.”
They oscillated between dominance—five sacks against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr—and a lousy 38-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at Sophie Stadium.
“For one game and three quarters, we played really well,” head coach Brandon Staley said, referring to a 24-19 win over Las Vegas earlier in the season and a 27-point loss to the Chiefs. -24 in the second week. “Really high standard.”
After quarterback Justin Herbert with a league-record 1,250 passing yards, the offense ranks ninth in the league, averaging 23 points per game. But the defense is in 30th place, missing an average of 27 points per game.
“We haven’t played our best football yet,” defenseman Derwin James Jr. said, frustrated that they nearly let the Texans close a 20-point lead last Sunday. “There is definitely a place where we can get better and keep growing.”
The Bolts’ roster is star-studded – the most in the NFL, according to Sportzshala’s predicted top 100 – but it’s also suffered from injuries.
“To lose a couple of guys here and there and be able to replace them, and some guys who maybe didn’t expect to play a ton, will play for high stakes in some big games,” said Herbert, “it’s great to see and we will continue to do so.”
Herbert continues to play despite pain after breaking his costal cartilage at the end of week two against the Chiefs. He also didn’t have outstanding wide receiver Keenan Allen from Week 1 (hamstring) and played behind an impromptu offensive line. Veteran center Corey Linsley is battling a knee problem, and left tackle Rashon Slater had surgery late in the season to repair a torn left bicep.
Allen, the Chargers’ receiving leader since 2017, is considered an “everyday” comeback, according to Staley. Linsley, who missed Week 3, returned last Sunday in a 34-24 win over the Texans, with Georgia’s sixth-round pick Jamari Salier replacing Slater.
“Poised, strong, confident,” Staley said of the rookie after his debut.
Defensively, Jackson has been in and out of the lineup since undergoing ankle surgery in August, and forward Joey Boza has been placed on injury reserve following week three surgery to repair a torn groin.
Jackson, for his part, said after Sunday he was fully recovered and ready to move forward. “It was very nice to win with my team,” he said.
According to Staley, Boza will be out for six to ten weeks. Meanwhile, the Bolts have reached out to a players’ committee that includes veteran Kyle Van Noy, pro sophomore Chris Rumph II and recently signed Derrek Carcass.
“Our wingers, all four of them, played at a high level,” Staley said after defeating the Texans.
Despite uneven performances and injury problems, the Bolts remain in the thick of the race in the AFC West. They are 2-2 tied for second with the Denver Broncos, but are 3-1 behind the top-seeded six-time division champion Chiefs.
“We faced many challenges,” Herbert said. “And I thought we handled it pretty well. It’s a long season.”