Rams quarterback Jared Goff dropped back to pass from the Chargers 10-yard line on a second-and-five play early in the second quarter on Sunday. He looked right and saw no one open. He looked left. Nothing there.
Four or five seconds into the play, Goff drifted to his left, moving the pocket ever so slightly. He stood tall for another three or four seconds, scanning the horizon for an open receiver.
Seeing none, Goff smartly fired the ball over Cooper Kupp’s head and out of the end zone, one of only seven times in the game that Goff did not connect with one of his receivers.
In all, Goff spent a good seven or eight, maybe even nine, seconds in the pocket without being touched, the play a prime example of the minimal pressure the Chargers defense applied to the quarterback in a 35-23 loss to the Rams in the Coliseum.
Goff completed 29 of 36 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked only once, by Brandon Mebane, for a loss of four yards in the second quarter. He was hit only two other times.
“You’ve got to do something to get the quarterback on the ground, period — that’s all I can say about that,” Chargers nose tackle Damion Square said. “That’s me and everybody else up front, man. We’ve got to get the quarterback on the ground. There’s nobody in the country that can hold a man that long.”
The Chargers beat a mediocre Buffalo Bills team with rookie quarterback Josh Allen making his first NFL start last week, but they gave up 521 yards in total offense to the Rams on Sunday and were burned for 256 yards passing and four touchdowns by Patrick Mahomes in a season-opening loss to Kansas City.
The Rams converted eight of 11 third-down plays.
It is clear that the Chargers defense, one of the NFL’s most stingy units in 2017, is not the same without star defensive end Joey Bosa, who has missed all three games because of a bone bruise in his left foot and is not expected back until at least mid-October.
Also, defensive lineman Corey Liuget is three games into a four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.
“Yeah, we’re feeling it,” Square said of the loss of Bosa, who had 23 sacks in the previous two seasons. “He’s a Pro Bowler, a big-time guy, a guy who is serious about his work, and he affects the game somehow. I can’t wait to get him back.”
Second-year pro Isaac Rochell, rookie Uchenna Nwosu and third-year pro Chris Landrum have filled in at defensive end. No knock on them, but none is in the class of Bosa, who teamed with fellow defensive end Melvin Ingram to give the Chargers one of the most dynamic edge-rushing duos in the league.
The defensive linemen were unable to get much of a push or infiltrate the backfield on Sunday, putting pressure on the linebackers and defensive backs to provide blanket coverage of a talented fleet of Rams receivers and tight ends and running back Todd Gurley.
They could only do so much. Robert Woods caught 10 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for 90 yards. Gurley caught five passes for 51 yards, and Kupp caught four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, a 53-yard catch-and-break-a-tackle-and-run in the third quarter.
Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft out of California, is blossoming into one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks, and his offensive line, led by center John Sullivan and tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, kept the third-year quarterback out of harm’s way on Sunday.
“Yeah, they don’t get enough praise,” Goff said of his line. “They were incredible today, as they have been the first three games. I mean, I don’t know if I got hit maybe once, maybe. Jersey was clean.”
The Chargers sacked Allen five times last week, giving rookie safety Derwin James the freedom to blitz from all over the field.
James, who blitzed about 10 times against the Bills, dropped back into a free safety spot on Sunday in an effort to defend against the deep ball and to provide more coverage in the middle of the field.
Until Bosa gets back, the Chargers will have to find ways to unleash James more often and to get more creative with their blitz calls. They might not be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks enough with four-men rushes.
“We have to figure out a way to get pressure on the quarterback — that’s what’s missing right now,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “I’ve got a great defensive coaching staff. I’m telling you, we will get this figured out.”