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NFL roundtable: Is what you saw in opener what you’ll get for Chargers, Rams?

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws against the Washington Football Team.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had a good grip on the football through most of the opener against the Washington Football Team.
(Al Drago / Associated Press)

Now that the Rams and Chargers both won their season openers, Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller and columnist Dylan Hernández assess the teams’ situations. Moderated by NFL editor Athan Atsales.

What was the most surprising thing you saw about the Chargers in their opener?

Miller: The performance of the offensive line had to be startling, frankly, to anyone who has watched this team, particularly over the past couple seasons. They more than matched up well with Washington’s vaunted defensive front.

The Chargers might have drafted a gem in left tackle Rashawn Slater, who was fantastic by every available measure. Center Corey Linsley is a reigning All-Pro, and guards Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi played like pros. Right tackle will be the issue moving forward, given Bryan Bulaga’s ailing back and the lack of depth behind him.

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Hernández: It’s hard to say Justin Herbert’s performance was surprising, considering what he accomplished last year. Still, think of the number of physically gifted and mentally resilient quarterbacks who have failed to become elite players in the NFL. As much as was expected from him, there was no guarantee of him becoming the kind of quarterback who could orchestrate a six-plus-minute drive to seal a game, especially this early in his career.

What we learned from Chargers’ 20-16 victory at Washington. First off, Michael Williams is a big target for the offense.

Gary, the Rams seemed to go as many expected, but were you surprised by anything?

Klein: Well, I’ll start by staying I was not surprised at all by [Matthew] Stafford’s performance.

I was a little surprised that Sony Michel carried the ball only once. [Coach Sean] McVay said the flow of the game dictated using Darrell Henderson almost every snap. But Henderson has not finished the last two seasons because of injuries. I thought McVay might go for more of a 50-50, 60-40 or 70-30 distribution because it’s a long season.

Rams running back Darrell Henderson gets pushed out of bounds by Bears defensive back Kindle Vildor (22).
Darrell Henderson, pushed out of bounds by Bears defensive back Kindle Vildor, carried the load for the Rams in their season opener.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Pretty sure I haven’t seen such a fumble call on what looked to be an incomplete pass by the Chargers’ Herbert against Washington. I mean, this wasn’t the Tuck Rule. That ball went at least 15 yards ahead. What did you see?

Hernández: It didn’t look like a fumble to me. I don’t know what else to say.

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Miller: My opinion is that there might not be a longer fumble in the NFL over the next decade or so. Herbert “fumbled” from the 15-yard line and into the end zone! Personally, I thought his arm was moving forward clearly enough that the ruling should have been an incompletion. That’s also what Herbert and Chargers coach Brandon Staley thought, for the record.

The bigger issue here for me is whether a fumble that goes into the end zone like that should be awarded to the defense. I mean, neither team was able to gain possession, so why not make it an offensive touchback? Put the ball at the 20-yard line, make it first and goal, and allow the offense to remain on the field.

The strange thing for the Rams was their vaunted run defense from last season did not look stout at all. Luckily for them, their lead forced the Bears to throw. What do you think went wrong?

Klein: Some of that was probably first-game jitters. Or perhaps lack of tackling practice. Maybe just a missed assignment that helped David Montgomery break out for 41 of his 108 yards rushing.

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But as I’ve mentioned before in stories, I don’t think you can underestimate the loss of Michael Brockers. He was Aaron Donald’s longtime wingman. They knew each other’s every move.

It remains to be seen if A’Shawn Robinson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Greg Gaines and others can step up.

Matthew Stafford may be even better than expected in Sean McVay’s offense, Van Jefferson has taken another step and other takeaways from the Rams’ win over Chicago.

If you were a Chargers coach, what would concern you most going into the home opener against Dallas?

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Hernández: The Chargers had some trouble defending against the run in their season opener. Guessing that will be an area of focus this week, given Ezekiel Elliott’s presence in the Cowboys’ backfield.

Miller: Dak Prescott has thrown at least 47 passes for at least 403 yards in four of his past five starts. And the Cowboys are 1-3 in those four games. So, like you, I wouldn’t be as concerned about Prescott as Ezekiel Elliott.

A former All-Pro and three-time 1,300-yard rusher, Elliott might not be the load he once was, but he’s still plenty proud and is no doubt tiring of talk that Dallas is a passing team trying to find a run game.

Gary, what about with the Rams?

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Klein: Week 1 in the NFL is notoriously misleading. Are the Rams as good as they looked? Probably. Are the Colts terrible because they lost to the Seahawks? Probably not.

Back in 2017, McVay’s first season, the Rams routed the Colts in the opener at home and then lost to Washington at home. So, there is always concern about a letdown, but Stafford can make up for lot of issues.

Did anything strike you about what the Chargers’ Brandon Staley said Monday after his first game as a head coach?

Miller: Staley’s honesty and frankness continue to impress, and perhaps, amaze me. The guy is a dream for a beat writer because he really tells you how it is.

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On Sunday, safety Nasir Adderley gave up a 34-yard completion from Taylor Heinicke to Terry McLaurin early in the second half. Adderley was in position but had the ball pass through his hands.

Chargers rookie Asante Samuel Jr. grew up watching his dad play in the NFL, but father and son have harbored a contentious and complex relationship.

Staley was blunt in his assessment saying: “I would prefer for our defensive player to catch it or knock it down. Nas tracked it fine, in terms of getting over there. He had plenty of time to finish that play. You need to finish that play as a defensive player.”

Here’s hoping he remains open with the details and that his players are OK being held so publicly accountable.

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Hernández: When addressing the media, Staley has always appeared to be in control of his emotions. We still don’t know how Staley will turn out as a NFL head coach, but I think his openness and ability to connect with people on an emotional level will help him.


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