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Chargers paying penalty for untimely mistakes from strong defense

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97) grimaces after jumping offsides against the Panthers.
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97) grimaces after jumping offsides on a third down and giving the Panthers a first down on a second-half drive.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Joey Bosa crunched his facial expression in anger and grabbed his helmet as his skin turned red.

With the Chargers trailing the Carolina Panthers by eight points at the start of the fourth quarter, the defense forced a third-and-three near the edge of the red zone. Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater initiated a hard count, which prompted the overeager Bosa to jump offsides in his pounce-like stance near the line of scrimmage.

The five-yard penalty gifted Carolina a fresh set of downs. The defense still held firm, only allowing a field goal, but the extended drive chewed up about three minutes — precious time that might have made a difference.

The Chargers can blame a lot of things on the 21-16 loss, but the defense shouldn’t be one of them. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit allowed the Panthers only one touchdown in six trips to the red zone and also thwarted nine of 12 third-down conversion attempts.

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Three games into this young NFL season, however, sloppy penalties and an inability to generate turnovers give Chargers coaches and defenders areas to aim for improvement.

“I have to do a better job with this football team of getting us to play smarter,” coach Anthony Lynn said.

In games decided by a touchdown or less, the Chargers have had little success since the start of the 2019 NFL season.

The Chargers have allowed 337 yards per game and ranked ninth in the NFL entering Monday night’s game. Their stinginess shined brightest against the Kansas City Chiefs, containing the Super Bowl champions’ high-powered offense to 23 points in an overtime loss.

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With every up, however, seems to come a down. Through three games, the Chargers lead the league in defensive offsides penalties with three and are tied for third in neutral-zone infractions with three.

Bosa is the main culprit, with two offsides penalties and two neutral-zone infractions (one offsides didn’t count against his official tally because the Chiefs declined). Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery has one offsides penalty and one neutral-zone infraction.

The frustration among fans is bubbling. A Twitter user suggested the Chargers fine Bosa, who signed a lucrative contract extension before the season, $5,000 for every flag. Bosa said he knows he needs to be better.

“It’s just me. It’s my fault completely,” Bosa said. “We got to get it fixed, all of us on the line. It’s not a problem. I just have to be more attentive and drill them more in practice.”

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Opposing offenses fear Bosa for his speed off the snap. Hard counts serve as a way to keep him honest, and Lynn suggested the lack of crowd noise can be influential in quarterbacks mixing up their cadences across the league.

“Those have hurt us,” Lynn said. “We have to make that adjustment to not having crowds in the stadium and not letting the quarterback’s voice affect us.”

Chargers rookie Justin Herbert already has more 300-yard passing games than 10-year veteran Tyrod Taylor, but the rookie has yet to win an NFL game.

Bosa said he needs to be more aware, particularly in crucial moments, and perhaps take more chances on first and second downs to jump snaps. But other penalties prove costly too.

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With three minutes left in the first half, referees blew the whistle and flagged Tillery for an illegal-formation penalty because he lined up over the long snapper on a Panthers field-goal attempt. On the sideline, Lynn put his hands on his hips in frustration. Lynn called it “inexcusable.”

“The player has to have the discipline to line up where he’s supposed to line up — the way he’s been lining up,” Lynn said.

Blessed with another set of downs, Bridgewater tossed a screen pass to running back Mike Davis on the next play for a 13-yard touchdown. On his way to the end zone, Davis broke through an arm tackle and weaved through a path of Chargers diving at him.

Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward breaks up a pass intended for Panthers wide receiver Seth Roberts.
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward breaks up a pass intended for Panthers wide receiver Seth Roberts.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Cornerback Casey Hayward said the penalty was demoralizing, but the defense still should have met the moment.

“We have to do a better job of coming out there after adversity and hold them to another field goal,” he said. “That was a blow for us, especially on the defensive side. We can’t have those guys score there.”

Hayward noted that group still needs to generate more turnovers, a category in which it finished last in the NFL a season. ago. Though early, the Chargers aren’t doing much better, with one interception and one fumble recovery.

Despite losing safety Derwin James to injury before the season, Hayward said he believes the team has enough playmakers to create takeaways. Bosa said the defense needs to be more aggressive punching the ball and he will put more of an emphasis in causing strip sacks. Hayward said the team is confident in Bradley’s coaching and scheme.

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It’s been a while since the Chargers’ Super Bowl hopes were dashed by Tom Brady. The Chargers play the 43-year-old quarterback and the Bucs in Week 4.

“They will come,” Hayward said of turnovers. “You play the calls, and Gus is going to keep calling an excellent game and have good game plans. As a player, we have to go out there and execute.”

The defense also can’t ignore the offensive situation. Both Bosa and Hayward said they want the defense to put rookie quarterback Justin Herbert in ideal situations.

“Anytime you want to complement your offense, you want to put them in good position,” Bosa said. “It doesn’t really matter who’s at quarterback. But especially with him being a rookie and being out there for [what’s] only going to be a third game, it’s great to give him help, obviously.”


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