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What we learned from Chargers’ loss in Denver: Too many blown assignments

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The inconsistent Chargers lost 28-13 Sunday to Denver to fall to 6-5 and into a three-way second-place tie in the AFC West.

Six takeaways from the defeat:

Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II (2) intercepts the ball in the end zone in front of  Chargers tight end Jared Cook.
Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II (2) intercepts the ball in the end zone in front of Chargers tight end Jared Cook.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
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Blown chances and assignments

Coach Brandon Staley was clearly frustrated afterward by the missed opportunities the Chargers had on defense. Denver converted eight of 11 third downs and many of those were killers. Only Washington has been worse on third down this season than the Chargers, who are allowing opponents to convert nearly 49% of the time.

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After Justin Herbert was intercepted in the end zone on the second play of the fourth quarter, the Chargers, trailing 14-7, had the Broncos in third and seven and third and 10 but couldn’t stop them either time.

The Chargers had a difficult start on offense, fell behind by two touchdowns and could not recover in an 28-13 AFC West loss in Denver against the Broncos.

Nov. 28, 2021

“We had a chance right there,” Staley said. “‘OK, it’s 14-7. Get the momentum back. Get the ball right back to Justin.’ We didn’t do it.”

Denver eventually scored on the possession and did so — quite naturally — on third down when Teddy Bridgewater escaped a potential sack by Joey Bosa and scrambled to find tight end Eric Saubert for a one-yard score.

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Misplays and miscommunication

Denver Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II, center, celebrates his interception against the Chargers.
Denver Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II, center, celebrates his interception against the Chargers.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

Herbert’s second interception — the one Patrick Surtain II returned 70 yards for a touchdown — bounced off the hands of running back Austin Ekeler.

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But the real mistake was in communication. Ekeler continued running inside on the route when Herbert expected him to stop. As a result, the pass was slightly behind its target.

“Just miscommunication, something we haven’t [practiced] enough,” Ekeler said.

“Just one of those plays we gotta be on the same page.”

Ekeler admitted that he had a drop earlier in the game, one of several that again plagued the Chargers, who have lacked consistency this season even in their hands.

Ekeler did score his 14th touchdown of the season. Entering Sunday, only Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor (with 15) had more.

4

Tacklers not tackling enough

Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) celebrates his touchdown run.
Broncos running back Javonte Williams celebrates his touchdown run. He also made a big play in the fourth quarter.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Among the glaring misplays for the Chargers was a short pass that Denver running back Javonte Williams turned into a 42-yard gain early in the fourth quarter.

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Cornerback Tevaughn Campbell and linebacker Kyzir White were in position to tackle Williams but failed. Linebacker Drue Tranquill also closed in, but Williams was able to outrun him down the sideline.

“I’m really disappointed in our tackling,” Staley said. “We’ve got three guys there at the point of attack against one ball carrier…We missed a tackle, missed two tackles, missed three tackles, and then he splits us.”

The Broncos received an extra five yards at the end of the play — half the distance to the goal line — because defensive tackle Jerry Tillery was called for roughing the passer.

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Veteran chosen over draft pick

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws the ball against the Denver Broncos in the second half.
The Chargers’ offensive line play in front of Justin Herbert (10) was far from stellar.
(Bart Young / Associated Press)

With Matt Feiler out because of an ankle injury, the Chargers needed a replacement left guard and Staley and his staff opted to go with veteran Senio Kelemete over rookie Brenden Jaimes.

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Kelemete, 31, is in his ninth NFL season. He was on San Francisco’s practice squad before the Chargers signed him to their active roster in October.

The Rams and Chargers are both suffering through slumps, although in different ways with the Rams unable to run and the Chargers unable to stop the run.

Nov. 28, 2021

Jaimes was a fifth-round draft pick out of Nebraska. His playing time to date has been limited to special teams.

“It’s just experience, nothing more, nothing less,” Staley said when asked about going with Kelemete. “We want to make sure that when we put Brenden out there, he’s ready. We’ll put him out there when he’s ready to play.”

Staley added that the Chargers hope to have Feiler back when they visit Cincinnati next weekend.

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Ekeler benched briefly

Broncos linebacker Kenny Young (41) tackles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

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Ekeler was forced to leave the game for a stretch of the fourth quarter in order to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

He was cleared and returned. But after the game, Ekeler expressed concern about how the situation was handled. He explained that a press-box spotter — per NFL guidelines — buzzed down to have him checked.

“I think they dropped the ball on that one because I think like three or four plays had gone by and then they called it down,” Ekeler said. “So I was a little confused about that…

“If you’re going to call down to get someone in the protocols, you get them in probably immediately so they can get back on the field as fast as they can. I was a little frustrated in that operation. I think they got to be better there.”

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Bradwell latest to get shot at RB2

Chargers running back Joshua Kelley (27) leaps over  Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Chargers running back Joshua Kelley (27) leaps over Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II. Kelley got just one carry for five yards, but did catch two passes.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

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In search of a second running back to spell Ekeler, the Chargers turned to Darius Bradwell.

A former undrafted free agent, Bradwell had spent the season on the Chargers’ practice squad. He appeared in two games last year.

“I felt like he earned an opportunity,” Staley said. “We’re just looking for dependability and production from that group. We’re going to keep the competition open at that position until somebody emerges.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 28-13 road loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

Nov. 28, 2021

Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III all have been used behind Ekeler with no consistent results.

Bradwell finished Sunday with no carries and dropped the only pass that came his way. Kelley ran once for five yards.

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The Chargers’ leading rusher was Herbert, who gained 36 yards in four carries.

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