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Chargers

Chargers offense is off to a frustratingly slow start

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Chargers running back Andre Williams turns the corner for a short gain against the Saints at StubHub Center on Aug. 20.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The words “ground and pound” have been used to describe Chargers coach Anthony Lynn’s offensive philosophies, and through two games, they’ve been pretty accurate descriptors.

Once the Chargers hand the ball off, the runner has been quickly forced to the “ground.” And after two full games of failing to fix the issues, the frustration is making people want to “pound” their heads against the wall.

“It’s very frustrating because all it takes for one guy to not do his job and the play falls apart,” Chargers starting guard Kenny Wiggins said after a 13-7 loss Sunday. “We had good blocks out there and one guy didn’t do his job here and there. Even I didn’t do my job a couple times tonight.”

If it’s the job of the Chargers’ offense to run the ball effectively, a lot of people are going to be in trouble come job evaluation time.

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Through two preseason games, the Chargers are averaging a paltry 2.7 yards per rushing attempt — better than only the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Washington Redskins. Of those teams, only the Jets have tried to run more.

Lynn, a longtime running backs coach who has helped develop some of the best ground attacks in the NFL, said he’s confident his team will be able to move the ball once they fully open the playbook. But, even with the vanilla play calling, the Chargers should be better.

“We’re running our basic stuff,” Lynn said after the loss Sunday. “And, we have to be better at our basic principles. I’m not going to show everything in the preseason, but we have to be better at what we’re doing. Period.”

The Chargers were without Joe Barksdale and Russell Okung, the typical starting tackles Sunday and lost tackle Tyreek Burwell and guard/center Max Tuerk during the game, testing the group’s already thinning depth.

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The offense, which has produced only two touchdowns in the first two games including a Philip Rivers-led drive on the only series he played, has failed to be as explosive as the team hoped. No running back has more than two rushing attempts and a per-carry average greater than 2.2 yards per carry. And the passing game has struggled to get into rhythm, thanks in part, to 11 allowed sacks.

Asked for a common thread in the offense’s unsuccessful drives, tackle Chris Hairston, who started in Barksdale’s place Sunday, had a one-word response.

“Blocking,” he said.

“Communicating and being one o-line instead of being just five guys — that’s something you see a lot, especially in the preseason,” Hairston said. “It’s just a different feel… the jelling process brings a different familiarity and we’re right in the middle of it.”

Quarterbacks and receivers can develop timing during offseason workouts. Defensive backs can work on positioning and coverage. But, offensive linemen can’t really get in the necessary work until the team begins practice in full pads, which didn’t happen until Aug. 1.

Making the issues even more frustrating, starting guard Kenny Wiggins said the team’s moved the ball well in joint practices with the New Orleans Saints and the Rams. Against New Orleans, the Chargers offense looked good enough in practice that Lynn decided Rivers didn’t need to play Sunday.

“I felt like we did well. We were running the ball well. We were protecting well,” Wiggins said of the team during the week.

But Sunday, the Saints blitzed more effectively, blowing up plays in the backfield such as the Chargers’ first of the game, a delayed handoff to Melvin Gordon that eventually lost nine yards. Gordon would run for a first down on the team’s next possession, but the Chargers never could control the game along the offensive line.

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“We really have to be a lot more communicative. It’s having five guys on the same page,” Hairston said. “There are a whole lot of four-man blocks. A lot of four-man things going on where the fifth man breaks down. We’ve got to be able to talk those issues out right before the snap.”

Etc.

After the loss, Lynn said middle linebacker Korey Toomer was among the Chargers with stock on the rise. Toomer, who missed a handful of tackles in the team’s first preseason game, played well in the second half against New Orleans. He’s competing for the starting middle linebacker job with Nick Dzubnar while Denzel Perryman recovers from ankle surgery. … Drew Kaser averaged 12 yards more per punt than undrafted rookie Toby Baker, whom the team signed to compete with the second-year punter. … The Chargers will practice at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa for the final time Tuesday, ending their first training camp since moving.

dan.woike@latimes.com

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports


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