Chargers seek solution for struggling offense

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler carries the ball against the New England Patriots.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler carries the ball against the New England Patriots on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

The Chargers’ 2020 offense showed its first real burst in the opening half at Tampa Bay in Week 4, scoring 24 points.

Early that afternoon, lead running back Austin Ekeler tore his hamstring and missed the next six games, during which the Chargers averaged 29.5 points.

Since Ekeler’s return two weeks ago, the offense has produced just two touchdowns in 23 possessions.


“Before I got back, we were scoring like 30 points a game,” Ekeler said Wednesday. “I come back, I was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ Now we’re struggling. The NFL, it’s a hard sport, man.”

It was especially hard for Ekeler and the Chargers on Sunday when they lost to New England 45-0.

The only other time a Chargers team had been shut out this century was a 37-0 Week 9 defeat at Miami in 2014. No Chargers team ever had lost by as many as 45 points in 61 years of existence.

Gurley was the Rams’ franchise back for five seasons until they released him in March. He will play at SoFi Stadium on Sunday as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Dec. 9, 2020

“To not be able to have any success or even score any points, I was like confused,” Ekeler said. “That was kind of the feeling. Like, ‘What’s going on?’ ”

The Chargers missed a field goal on their first drive and punted the next three times they had the ball. Then they had a field goal blocked and went to halftime down 28-0.

The struggles have turned very real for the offense and quarterback Justin Herbert, who was productive and efficient — particularly for a rookie — through his first nine starts.


But in losses to Buffalo and New England, Herbert completed just 54% of his passes (57 of 105) for 525 yards and one touchdown. He had only two rushing attempts for minus-two yards and was sacked six times.

Part of the problem has been the Chargers’ issues with protection. Herbert was hit eight times by the Bills and 11 times by the Patriots.

“At the end of the day, we gotta block the man that’s in front of us,” Lynn said. “We haven’t done a very good job of that.”

The Chargers’ offensive line has been wildly inconsistent during a season when center Dan Feeney and the left side — guard Forrest Lamp and tackle Sam Tevi — have been mostly healthy.

Right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Bryan Bulaga have dealt with multiple injuries and been sidelined for significant stretches. The Chargers have started four players at right guard and two at right tackle.

Against New England, Tevi missed his first game of the season to be with his wife for the birth of their child. He has rejoined the team and is expected to start this weekend against Atlanta.


“A lot of it is the continuity on the offensive line,” Lynn said. “I mean, from week to week, we’ve got different guys playing and starting. We need more continuity there, and the ones that do show up and play we gotta execute.”

Lynn also indicated that Herbert is holding the ball too long and, rather than taking advantage of what the defense offers, focusing too much on specific receivers.

Herbert has relied heavily on Keenan Allen, who leads the NFL with an average of 11 targets per game.

“The ball’s got to come out on time,” Lynn said. “The ball’s got to come out quicker. We’ve got to stop looking for certain targets and get back to our progression. We can’t start trying to force the ball to certain people and expect the offense to get back in the rhythm it was in earlier.”

Starting in Week 4, Herbert threw at least two touchdown passes in seven straight games, an NFL rookie record. But his lone scoring pass the last two weeks came on a five-yard connection with Allen in the first quarter at Buffalo.

Herbert has thrown for no touchdowns over the last seven quarters. Going back to the end of the Chargers game Nov. 22 against the New York Jets, the offense has two touchdowns in 25 possessions.


Against the Falcons, the Chargers will face another attacking defensive front that likes to send extra pressure.

Defeating the New England Patriots on Thursday would not alleviate the Super Bowl loss for the Rams’ Aaron Donald, but that memory serves as a motivator.

Dec. 8, 2020

That’s a scheme against which Herbert and the offense excelled early this season, when the Chargers were scoring more and building leads their defense struggled to hold.

“It’s nothing that we haven’t done before,” Lynn said. “We just have to get back to the basics.”

Lynn takes over special teams

Lynn said he will take over coaching the Chargers’ problematic special teams for the final four games.

They have committed numerous penalties, had three punts blocked and last weekend gave up a punt return for touchdown.

Michael Badgley has missed 10 attempts but will remain the team’s kicker. JJ Molson was on the practice squad but was released Wednesday.



Running back Justin Jackson (knee) has been designated to return from the injured reserve list and rejoined practice. ... Linebacker Kyzir White (COVID-19 list) is expected back this week. ... Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (foot), linebacker Denzel Perryman (back) and running back Josh Kelley (foot) did not practice. ...The Chargers signed wide receiver Manasseh Bailey to their practice squad.