Chargers’ offense is yards better but so far that’s somewhat pointless

Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) sprints past  Chargers tackle Storm Norton.
Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) sprints past Chargers tackle Storm Norton, who was starting in place of injured Bryan Bulaga.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Entering Monday night, only four teams had gained more yards than the Chargers had through the first two weeks of the season.

And yet, they were 25th in points scored, an offense led by the giant right arm of Justin Herbert producing only three touchdowns.

“We’ve got a lot of guys on offense who have played a lot of football in the NFL,” coach Brandon Staley said. “But they haven’t played together.”


The Chargers are operating a new scheme under a new coaching staff and coming off a preseason in which many of their starters didn’t play for the sake of safety.

They’ve been excellent advancing the football but not so great as they get closer to the end zone. Seven of the Chargers’ 10 red-zone trips have failed to result in touchdowns. That 30% success rate ranks 30th out of 32 teams in the NFL.

“I think that’s coming together as an offense,” Staley explained, “and really understanding all the details of every play and the continuity that it takes, the chemistry that it takes to truly score the ball like we’re capable of.”

The Chargers didn’t punt against the Dallas Cowboys, but their problems with penalties proved costly in a 20-17 loss decided on a game-ending field goal.

Sept. 19, 2021

The issues on Sunday in a 20-17 loss to Dallas included the struggles of reserve right tackle Storm Norton, who was beaten several times, particularly by Micah Parsons, a linebacker playing defensive end.

The matchup always was going to be a difficult one for the Chargers. Norton was undrafted out of Toledo in 2017 and played in the XFL last year. Parsons was the third defender selected in April, taken No. 12 overall.

Staley called Norton’s performance “a little up and down.” In the Chargers’ season-opening victory at Washington, Norton played better and with more consistency.


“I know that he had a tough day,” Staley said. “But that’s not the reason why we lost that football game. He competed.”

Norton’s problems resulted in Herbert being pressured from the pocket, something the young quarterback has proven he can do with success. Herbert completed several throws against the Cowboys while scrambling.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was born in Inglewood and played an integral part in pushing the NFL to return to Los Angeles.

Sept. 19, 2021

Staley said he remains confident in Norton and has no plans of replacing him this week as the Chargers prepare to play at Kansas City on Sunday.

Veteran left guard Matt Feiler also has played right tackle in the NFL and is the next primary option. Rookie Brenden Jaimes is the team’s backup guard. The Chargers also signed veteran Michael Schofield III last week.

Tackle Trey Pipkins, a third-round pick in 2019, has appeared in 28 games for the Chargers but has been unable to unseat Norton this season.

Norton is starting in place of Bryan Bulaga, who is on the injured reserve list because of a back problem. Staley has said he doesn’t believe Bulaga’s injury is a long-term one. Bulaga, by rule, has to miss at least two more games.


Despite the concerns at right tackle, Herbert and the Chargers have been on the move, averaging 416 total yards. Herbert is fourth in the NFL with 675 yards through the air.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert scrambles against the Dallas Cowboys.
Despite lapses on the offensive line, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was able to scramble and complete passes against the Cowboys.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

He has two 300-yard games. Keenan Allen has two 100-yard receiving games. Mike Williams has touchdown catches in back-to-back weeks. Austin Ekeler gained 115 yards from scrimmage Sunday.

Still, the Chargers have fewer touchdowns than Rob Gronkowski. Eight other players have equaled the Chargers’ three touchdowns.

“We’re still at the beginning of the process,” Staley said. “But I’m really pleased with how we’re moving it. Now we got to finish drives with touchdowns.”

Penalties were another problem for Herbert and the Chargers. Ten of the 12 infractions that the Cowboys accepted came when the Chargers were on offense, including three false starts.


An illegal shift call and a holding penalty negated touchdowns. An ineligible man downfield flag wiped out a 31-yard completion to Williams.

“As you saw offensively we had a really productive day,” Staley said. “If those 10 penalties don’t occur, who knows what type of day it’s going to be?”

The illegal shift came when Williams and Jalen Guyton were adjusting their positioning on the right side of the formation as Jared Cook was in motion on the left.

Staley said there were grounds to call the penalty, noting that it was “kind of a judgment thing.”

Here are some of photos of Sunday’s showdown between the Chargers and Dallas Cowboys from photographers Gina Ferazzi and Allen J. Schaben.

Sept. 19, 2021

“There are a lot of teams who shift in motion a lot, where that can be sort of excused,” he said. “But we got to do a better job from an operational standpoint of getting set and then send the motion once our guys are set so we don’t give them any room to make a call like that.”

The ineligible man downfield was called on right guard Oday Aboushi, who appeared to be very close to being in a legal position.


“That’s one that’s certainly a tough one for us,” Staley said.

After the game Sunday, the Chargers were last in the league with 193 penalty yards. Only two teams — Philadelphia and Tampa Bay — had committed more accepted penalties.

“We just have to always be in that process of rules education,” Staley said. “We’ve been penalized far too much. That’s a big mission statement of ours, to play clean ball. It hasn’t been clean enough through two weeks.”