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After blowout loss to Ravens, what could be worse for Chargers? Patriots a reminder

 Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert lets go of a pass against the Ravens.
The Ravens defense gave Justin Herbert and the Chargers different looks in Week 6, which seemed to slow the offense.
(Terrance Williams / Associated Press)

Coming off his poorest game of the season, Justin Herbert next faces the defense that led to his poorest game of last season.

New England visits SoFi Stadium on Sunday to catch Herbert and the Chargers attempting to bounce back from a 34-6 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 17.

“When you have a day like that, you don’t think anyone really did anything great,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. Later, he added, “Those days happen sometimes in the NFL.”

Indeed. One of those days happened to the 2020 Chargers, as well, when they fell to the Patriots 45-0 in December at home.

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That remains the only game in which Herbert failed to complete 50% of his passes. He finished 26 of 53. He also had a career-low quarterback rating of 43.7 and threw two interceptions, something he has done only two other times.

The Chargers have had one of the worst return games in the NFL, so adding Andre Roberts during their off week should help since he has gone to three consecutive Pro Bowls.

New England has had some personnel turnover on defense, but the Patriots still possess Bill Belichick, whose shadow envelops the franchise after 22 seasons and six Super Bowl victories.

“They’ve always been good,” Lombardi said. “They’ve always been smart. They don’t beat themselves. They’re very specific to each team they play. They’ve got a structure and a philosophy. But there’s a lot of nuances to how they play each defense.”

During the loss to the Ravens, Herbert looked unusually unsure of himself as the Chargers failed to find any consistency. He and his receivers repeatedly appeared to be out of sync.

Afterward, the second-year quarterback admitted Baltimore’s defense did some things the Chargers hadn’t seen in their preparations. He lamented an inability to properly adjust during the game.

“Defenses are smart,” Lombardi said. “Sometimes they’ll give you some unscouted looks. You hope your rules take it into account. … As a coach, you’re always kind of saying, ‘Well, we didn’t give them that look [in practice]. So part of that’s on us.’ ”

Herbert struggled particularly with a few of the Ravens’ pressures. He was sacked twice and officially hit two other times. One of the sacks, Lombardi said, was the result of a blown blocking assignment.

But he also said the Chargers’ game planning and his play-calling probably weren’t good enough.

Coach Brandon Staley and the Chargers believe this week’s outcome against the New England Patriots will be vastly different than last year’s ugly loss.

“Everyone had their hand in it,” he said. “You don’t expect that’ll be a trend. But we got to work hard to make sure it isn’t.”

Part of Herbert’s lack of production against Baltimore, Lombardi explained, came when he made decisions for the sake of avoiding disaster. Rather than risk calamity, Herbert stayed conservative.

The Chargers ended with only one turnover but also had just two plays that netted more than 18 yards.

“I really do trust his instincts in the pocket,” Lombardi said of Herbert. “Knowing when to escape, when to throw the ball out, when to just protect it and maybe take the sack. … [There was] nothing there that I was critical of him for throwing the ball away or taking a sack in that game.”

Now, Herbert and the Chargers have to try to get well against a defense that ranks sixth in the league, giving up 20 points per game. The statistic does include two victories over the New York Jets during which the Patriots surrendered a combined 19 points.

During his team’s off week, coach Brandon Staley said he identified the need for the offense to be more productive on first and second down.

The Chargers are seventh in the league in third-down conversions at 45%. But Staley said they simply are encountering too many third downs to sustain offensive rhythm.

“We’re throwing the football a lot on first down,” he said. “So that’s not a lack of aggressiveness. It’s just a level of execution. … It’s maximizing your players and then really trying to stay ahead of the defense.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 8 of the 2021 NFL season.

“I think that us throwing the football at a high level is always a big factor in first- and second-down success. And then being able to run the ball effectively and making sure you have good solutions in the run game.”

All of that will be tested again Sunday when Herbert tries to rebound from an off game and against an opponent that already has made him look off once.

Etc.

The Chargers added Austin Ekeler to their injury report Thursday, saying the running back didn’t practice because of a hip problem. Under Staley, the Chargers have been particularly cautious regarding injuries. When there has been any uncertainty, they’ve frequently chosen to hold out players. So it remains unclear if Ekeler’s injury is a concern for Sunday. ... Linebacker Drue Tranquill (chest muscle) was a limited participant.


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