The Chargers’ 2-3 start is tied to shaky defense early in halves

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97) closes  on Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) during third-quarter action at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They gave up an 18-point second half, necessitating overtime in order to beat Indianapolis.

They surrendered 20 points after halftime and ended up losing to Houston in a game they once led by double digits.

When it came to the second half, the Chargers’ defense seemed to have a problem restarting.

Then Denver came to Carson on Sunday and the Chargers’ issue was the start, their defense opening so poorly that it cost them a game in which the offense failed to gain any traction.

The Broncos’ first play netted 26 yards and their second 21. To understand that magnitude, realize that the Chargers offense wouldn’t gain as many as 21 yards on a single play all day.


Denver scored two touchdowns and generated 156 total yards on its opening two possessions, going up 14-0 before the game was barely 10 minutes old.

“Sometimes, you look at it, it’s one or two guys,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said Thursday. “The other guys are doing things right. If you have a blemish and you make a mistake, it can turn into a big play.”

The Chargers gave up only 23 points combined in a victory at Miami and a loss at Detroit.

The Chargers placed center Mike Pouncey on injured reserve Wednesday because of a neck injury he suffered during a loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Oct. 9, 2019

In their other three games, the defense has been the definition of half bad, two quarters of general excellence mixed with two quarters of genuine misfires.

“It really is just everybody doing their responsibility,” Bradley said. “Take care of that. Don’t do too much. Don’t guess. Don’t overanalyze. Just do your job. That’s what we’ve been preaching.”


Against the Broncos, the Chargers permitted only two field goals after those first two series.

The defense played well enough — even producing two turnovers — to give the offense a chance. But, on this day, the offense wouldn’t manage a touchdown in what became a 20-13 loss.

As it was, the defense also had a notable failure in the game’s closing minutes. On the first play of Denver’s final full possession, Phillip Lindsay broke a 32-yard run, helping set up a clinching field goal by Brandon McManus.

“That was a pretty simple play, but we overanalyzed it, jumped out of a gap and, next thing you know, it goes for a long play,” Bradley said. “It can happen when you’re trying to make plays.”

This weekend, the Chargers defense will receive a break when it faces a backup quarterback as Pittsburgh visits Dignity Health Sports Park.

Ben Roethlisberger has been lost for the season because of an elbow injury. The Steelers will start either Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges, depending on Rudolph’s health. He has been under concussion protocol since being knocked unconscious Sunday by Baltimore safety Earl Thomas. Rudolph practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday.

Regardless of who starts for Pittsburgh, the Chargers defense understands it needs to start better, and that’s in both halves.

“It’s not anything major,” Bradley said. “But a minor thing can turn into something big. If we just play consistent … we’ll be in good shape.”

Lamp to start

With center Mike Pouncey out for the season because of a neck injury, Forrest Lamp will make his first career start Sunday. A second-round pick in 2017, Lamp will be at left guard with Dan Feeney moving to center.

Lamp missed most of his first two NFL seasons because of a knee injury. He had played sparingly until Pouncey left the game last weekend after the first series of the second half.

“You’re always prepared for it,” Lamp said of having to replace an injured teammate midgame. “But you never think it will happen. All the guys around you are big, strong, tough guys. You never think one of them is going to go down.”

Melvin Gordon did not boost the offense as expected in his return as the Chargers finished with a season-low 246 yards.

Oct. 8, 2019

Tranquill setting

After the Chargers couldn’t stop the Broncos in the first quarter, rookie linebacker Drue Tranquill replaced veteran Denzel Perryman. Tranquill ended up playing 20 defensive snaps in the game while Perryman played 32.

Because Tranquill can play in the middle and on the weak side, Bradley said he will rotate moving forward with Perryman and Thomas Davis.

Bradley explained that the plan will allow the Chargers to remain better rested and help protect Davis, a 15-year veteran who recently has been dealing with a sore groin.

Mental block

Among the many things that went poorly for the Chargers against Denver was a failed goal-line play when backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor entered the game. Taylor replaced Philip Rivers late in the third quarter with the Chargers facing second down at the Broncos’ two-yard line.

Taylor had a clunky exchange while handing off to Melvin Gordon and the result was no gain. Rivers threw an interception on the next play.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt defended the call Thursday and said the play didn’t work because it was blocked incorrectly.

“We didn’t execute the way we needed to execute,” he said. “It’s maddening for us. It’s maddening for our fans. It’s disappointing. But it doesn’t change that we believe in the play, the scheme.”

Injury updates

Tight end Hunter Henry (knee) practiced for the second consecutive day on a limited basis. He has been out since getting hurt in the season opener.

Defensive end Melvin Ingram (hamstring) did not practice Thursday and it appears unlikely he’ll play against the Steelers.

Wide receiver Andre Patton (quadriceps) was limited in practice after missing Wednesday’s workout.