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Chargers look to keep run game going at home against unbeaten Raiders

The Chargers' Austin Ekeler (30) celebrates a touchdown in Kansas City.
Running back Austin Ekeler celebrates his touchdown against the Chiefs. Chargers coach Brandon Staley says he liked how the run game worked down the stretch in Kansas City.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

The Chargers rushed for only 77 yards Sunday in hot and hostile Kansas City, where a crowd of 72,980 was dominated by red.

But 39 of those yards came in the decisive fourth quarter, during which the Chargers overcame a field-goal deficit by scoring twice in the final three minutes for a 30-24 victory.

Coach Brandon Staley said Thursday that his offense “got into a rhythm” on the ground in the fourth quarter and noted the significance of that development.

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“We’re trending positive in that direction,” he explained. “And you need to because, when you go on the road in a place that’s loud, running the football helps you.”

The ground component could be vital again Monday, even though the Chargers will be playing at home.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season.

Las Vegas visits SoFi Stadium, with fans dressed in silver and black expected to occupy much of the 70,000-seat venue.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who is 4-3 playing the Chargers on the road, said trips to Southern California — be it Los Angeles or San Diego — haven’t felt much like trips at all.

“It was always looked at as another home game,” Carr told reporters in Las Vegas. “And that’s no disrespect. It’s a fact.”

So the Chargers could be facing another home-field disadvantage, something this franchise has dealt with repeatedly in recent years.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) runs for a touchdown against the Chargers in 2019.
Quarterback Derek Carr (4), shown running for a score against the Chargers in Carson, says Raiders games in Southern California are always like home games.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The need to run the ball effectively Monday would keep the burden on a rebuilt offensive line that was one of the Chargers’ main uncertainties entering the season.

Four new starters were brought in and then the only returnee — right tackle Bryan Bulaga — was injured during the Chargers’ Week 1 win at Washington.

So far, the group has performed well enough to allow quarterback Justin Herbert the time and space to operate an offense that ranks fourth in passing yards and ninth in total yards.

The Chargers are tied for 19th in points, scoring 22.3 per game, same as the 0-3 Detroit Lions. But penalties already have wiped out three touchdowns. Their running game is 25th league-wide.

Moderated by NFL editor Athan Atsales, let’s open the roundtable for Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, and columnists Bill Plaschke and Helene Elliott.

Staley began preaching a desire to be “a line-of-scrimmage team” the day of his introductory news conference. He said he likes where his offense is heading but added the Chargers are still searching for their identity.

Center Corey Linsley, who signed as a free agent in March after an All-Pro season in Green Bay, said Herbert’s calming, confident presence has helped set the offense’s foundation.

“He’s not sitting there freaking out about something or maybe putting too much pressure on something else,” he said. “He’s just a good dude. I feel like that helps out our offensive operation as a whole.”

Through three games, Linsley, left guard Matt Feiler and left tackle Rashawn Slater rank in the top 20 at their position, according to Pro Football Focus.

Right guard Oday Aboushi is closer to the middle and right tackle Storm Norton ranks at the back end.

Norton, who is filling in for Bulaga, had a particularly rough game in Week 2 against Dallas. He was beaten several times by a much quicker Micah Parsons.

Linsley praised Norton for his work ethic and commitment to improve. He said he believes Norton has emerged “in a huge way.”

“Storm’s the kind of guy that will come in, put his head down and go to work,” Linsley said. “He doesn’t really care about any outside noise. He doesn’t care about anything other than just getting better and being one of the guys.”

Staley said Bulaga, who is dealing with a back issue, had a “procedure” recently that went well. Bulaga remains in the injured reserve list and will miss his third game Monday.

Here’s a look at three games in Week 4 of the NFL season that are already presenting some interesting lines and odds after Sunday’s action.

Slater, the No. 13 overall pick in April, has stood out at the start of his NFL career. He has permitted just five pressures and one quarterback hit on 149 pass-block snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

Linsley said Slater’s first-round ability is obvious. But he cited even more the rookie’s dedication to working on his feet and hands before practices and on the sidelines.

“That’s the type of little stuff that’s going to carry him a long way, especially with a talented player like him,” Linsley said. “His ability to set his foundation like that has been phenomenal. He’s got a bright future.”

Etc.

Defensive tackle Justin Jones (calf) and defensive back Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder) returned to practice on a limited basis. Staley said he’s “optimistic” about Jones’ availability this week and said Harris is “trending positive.” ... Veteran cornerback Ryan Smith (core muscle) also returned to practice. He remains on IR. The Chargers have three weeks to activate him. ... Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the month. He had two interceptions and four passes knocked away in becoming just the third Charger to win the award, joining Joey Bosa (2016) and Paul Bradford (1997).


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