‘Connected’ Chargers defense can rest for now after besting Broncos

Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill (49) celebrates his sack of Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson.
Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill (49) celebrates his sack of Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson during a dominating second-half effort Monday night.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

After halftime Monday, the Chargers allowed Denver only 72 total yards of offense and five first downs during their overtime win.

Impressive numbers, but not as impressive as the numbers to which their defense limited Russell Wilson.

In the second half and overtime, the Broncos quarterback completed three passes. Total. Three completions on 11 attempts over the span of seven possessions.


Three completions for 15 yards, Wilson’s longest connection covering seven yards.

“We were really connected in that entire second half, and you saw the results,” coach Brandon Staley said Tuesday. “We’re a work in progress. But [Monday] night was definitely our best night for sure … that or Las Vegas [in Week 1].”

Since being hired in January 2021, Staley often has referenced the importance of his defense being and staying “connected.” The Chargers are 11 independent players all dependent upon one another.

Chargers-Broncos takeaways: Corner J.C. Jackson was the Chargers’ prize free-agent acquisition in the offseason, but has not played well and against Denver was benched at halftime after giving up several big plays.

Oct. 18, 2022

To understand what happens when there’s a disconnection, consider all the big-play collapses en route to the Chargers opening the season 4-2.

Their defense has surrendered 12 plays of at least 35 yards. That’s four more such plays than their offense — led by Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert — has produced.

The defense has given up 20 passes of at least 20 yards and 10 rushes of at least 15 yards.


Against the Broncos, the two longest plays yielded both involved cornerback J.C. Jackson, the Chargers’ biggest offseason free-agent addition who eventually was benched Monday.

In the first quarter, Jackson ran inside with wide receiver KJ Hamler, leaving tight end Greg Dulcich uncovered on a 39-yard touchdown. Then, just before halftime, Hamler streaked past Jackson for a 47-yard reception.

Also in the first quarter, Jackson was called for pass interference against Courtland Sutton, a miscue that cost the Chargers another 21 yards.

“We just need to stay patient,” Staley said. “[Monday] night wasn’t up to his standard or ours. We felt like we had to go in a different direction. We’re going to stay with him, keep coaching him and see if we can get him comfortable.”

Asked Monday if the Pro Bowl corner’s issues have been mental errors, Staley answered, “I think that’s fair to say.”

The Chargers signed Jackson in March to a five-year deal that guarantees him $40 million and is worth up to $82.5 million.

After missing two games because of the lingering effects of a surgical procedure on his right ankle in August, Jackson lasted just 3½ games before he was lifted in favor of Michael Davis.

The move coincided with the Chargers turning dominant against Denver and further highlighted Jackson’s struggles.

Last week, Jackson talked about his prowess as a press corner, calling it “my game” and adding, “I need to stick to my game.”

Staley on Monday reiterated that the Chargers aren’t asking Jackson to do anything different than what he did during his first four seasons in the NFL with New England.

“He came here to press,” Staley said. “That’s what he’s been doing most of the time for us, pressing. Now, there are times where you can’t press. ... Sometimes, you want to play off, just like every defense in the NFL. …

“He came here to do the job that he was designed to do. His performance, it has nothing to do with that, fitting in or scheme fit or any of that. He’s here to do what he does best. We need to make sure that we continue to work with him so that he’s focused, consistent and being the player that we know he can be.”

Hopkins out 2-4 weeks

The Chargers received encouraging news on Dustin Hopkins, with Staley announcing that the kicker has only a strained hamstring and that “his return to play is two to four weeks.”

Hopkins was injured early in the second quarter against Denver but still booted four field goals, including the game-winner in overtime. Afterward, he sounded concerned that his injury could be long term.

The Chargers have kicker Taylor Bertolet on their practice squad. In his NFL debut, Bertolet made three field goals and three extra points in the Chargers’ Week 5 victory at Cleveland.


In other injury news, Staley said tight end Donald Parham Jr. is in the concussion protocol. Parham suffered a season-ending concussion in Week 15 last year.

Running back Joshua Kelley has a sprained medial collateral ligament and is expected to miss two to four weeks. Staley said rookie Isaiah Spiller and Larry Rountree III will battle for Kelley’s game-day roster spot.

Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley is expected to return to practice this week after missing the game Monday because of an illness. His backup, Will Clapp, is dealing with a quadriceps contusion that isn’t considered serious.

Another Pro Bowler, wide receiver Keenan Allen, remains on track to practice this week. He has missed five games because of a hamstring injury.