What we learned in Chargers’ 20-17 loss to Cowboys: Big problems at right tackle
The Chargers lost to Dallas 20-17 on Sunday to fall to 1-1. A few takeaways from their defeat:
Right tackle is, well, an issue: When the Chargers signed Storm Norton in April 2020, the plan wasn’t for him to be their next starting right tackle. Norton most recently had played for the XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats and was considered a candidate to provide depth.
He ended up playing well enough in six appearances — including three starts last season — that he remained with the Chargers as they rebuilt their offensive line in the offseason.
But when Bryan Bulaga went down with a back injury in the season opener at Washington, Norton again was called upon to play in the second half and played fairly well despite surrendering a sack.
Then he started Sunday and the results weren’t nearly as encouraging.
Norton has size at 6-foot-7, 317 pounds but lacks quickness, particularly when matched up against the likes of Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons, who played a good amount of defensive end Sunday.
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.
With their two starting ends — DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) and Randy Gregory (COVID-19 list) out — the Cowboys moved Parsons and often positioned him in front of Norton.
The Chargers love the way Norton competes and his work ethic, but this is the NFL and eventually it’s all about performance.
Behind Norton, the Chargers have Trey Pipkins, a 2019 third-round pick who remains a project.
They have been unwilling so far to move left guard Matt Feiler to right tackle, a position he has played, and give rookie Brenden Jaimes at shot at guard.
The Chargers also signed veteran offensive lineman Michael Schofield III last week when Bulaga was placed on IR. Schofield played mostly inside during his previous stint with the Chargers.
Most every NFL team has a weak link somewhere along the offensive line, and the Chargers’ is clearly at right tackle. The search for a solution continues.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was sacked twice and hit eight times as the offensive line struggled to contain the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.
The defensive line has to improve: Coach Brandon Staley blamed the problems against the Cowboys on execution. The Chargers too often were blown apart upfront, Dallas totaling 198 rushing yards.
Jerry Tillery, a 2019 first-round pick, finished with a career-high seven tackles and split a sack with safety Derwin James Jr., but he also was out there for most of the damage.
The Chargers were without lineman Justin Jones (calf) and defensive back Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder), but neither absence should have been this troublesome. Veteran Christian Covington replaced Jones.
“Overall, we have to play better at the first and second level,” coach Brandon Staley said. “We have to play more physical at the point of attack so the ball doesn’t get to the second level as often as it did. When the ball does get to the second level, we have to be where we need to be and we need to tackle. We need to tackle physically.”
The Chargers’ inability to stop the run helped Dallas convert six of 10 third downs. Eleven of the Cowboys’ 25 first down came on the ground.
Staley coordinated the Rams defense a year ago and that unit finished third in the league against the run.
Justin Herbert remains a good show, even in defeat: As good as Herbert continues to play, the Chargers are now 7-10 in his starts. Sunday, he was 31 of 41 for 338 yards and a touchdown. He already has 10 300-yard games for his career. One more and he breaks Dan Marino’s record for most in a player’s first two seasons.
“I felt like Justin Herbert was outstanding in the game,” Staley said. “I felt like he gave us a real chance. I felt like he made some premium throws, some premium plays in that game. … I feel like if some of those penalties don’t happen this is going to be a monster day.”
Herbert lost a 31-yard completion to Mike Williams because of a penalty. He had a pair of touchdown passes — to tight ends Donald Parham Jr. and Jared Cook — wiped out by penalties.
Herbert also threw two interceptions. One came when Keenan Allen fell. Staley said the other happened when Allen felled to properly flatten his route.
“Those things happen sometimes, but I thought he was fantastic in the game,” Staley said of his quarterback. “I thought he was the best player on the field.”
Asante Samuel Jr. continues to emerge: The Chargers’ rookie corner had his first career interception, picking off an errant Dak Prescott attempt in the first quarter. He ran it back 26 yards.
In the second quarter, Samuel was defending Amari Cooper on a fourth-down play that resulted in an incompletion. He was blanketing the veteran wideout.
Samuel is undersized but plays bigger than his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame.
The home team didn’t feel much more at home, losing 20-17 to the Cowboys on a last-second field goal that caused three-quarters of the 70,240 fans to bounce gleefully in their seats.
Mike Williams is going to be a rich young man: In the final year of his rookie contract, Williams, it appears, just needs to stay on the field this season to cash in big time.
He finished Sunday with seven receptions — on 10 targets — for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Williams already has been targeted 22 times this season. In the Chargers’ previous offense, he occasionally would disappear. That doesn’t seem likely under new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.
Always considered a deep threat because of his ability to win 50/50 balls, Williams is proving very effective in the short-pass game. He turned a quick toss from Herbert into an unlikely 12-yard score Sunday.
Next Gen Stats gave Williams only a .8% chance of reaching the end zone when he caught the ball, but he eluded cornerback Anthony Brown and safety Damontae Kazee before diving across the goal line.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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