INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers fell to the Detroit Lions, 41-38, on Sunday, in a game that saw the Bolts defense allow 533 net yards — the most yards given up by the team since Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, and a far cry from the apparent improvement shown from the unit in the last two weeks.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley took responsibility for the sub-par defensive effort that led to the loss.
“Yeah, I didn’t do a good enough job on defense for us today, that was the story,” Staley said in his postgame news conference. “On run and pass, didn’t do a good enough job on the run game in the first half, and then in the second half there were far too many [explosive plays]. So I didn’t do a good enough job for us today.”
Los Angeles came into the game as one of the top rushing defenses in the league, but Detroit tested that by repeatedly going to the run early on, and finding success.
Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs scored two touchdowns in the first half, and David Montgomery contributed a 75-yard touchdown run, seemingly avoiding being touched by any of the Chargers defenders around him as he burst up the middle before running along the sideline and into the end zone. The tandem combined for 193 rushing yards on the day, by far the most allowed by Los Angeles this season.
Even as the Lions leaned more on their passing game in the second half, the Chargers continued to struggle to stop drives and limit chunk gains, allowing Detroit to score on three of its four second-half drives.
Sunday’s disappointing defensive performance was a turn away from what had appeared to be indications of improvement by the Chargers defensive unit in the past few weeks. Players were getting healthy, and the team held the Bears to 13 points and the Jets to seven in back-to-back weeks, allowing fewer than 300 total yards in both efforts. But the Lions were a much tougher test with their 12th-ranked offense, and the Chargers couldn’t keep up.
“I thought that we played better the last two games. I thought today they came out and played with more energy in the first half, and it looked like a fresh team, and just didn’t do a good enough job against the run game in the first half. The 75-yard run leveraged missed tackles, and you give up a play like that it takes a lot of air out of you,” Staley said. “And so, the story of the first half was the run game, and I thought we did some good things in the second half, but ultimately not good enough for us to get the stops when we needed to. It wasn’t a good day for us.”
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The loss was all the more frustrating because it wasted a high-quality outing from quarterback Justin Herbert and the offense. Despite missing multiple key pieces once again, Herbert was 27-of-40 passing for 323 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, with Keenan Allen his most targeted receiver with 175 yards and two touchdowns. Los Angeles scored on six of its nine drives, but with the Lions getting ahead early and the defense unable to get stops, the offense was forced to constantly play catch-up, tying it up four times before time ran out without any more chances left.
“I thought Justin was fantastic in this game, I thought he gave us a chance. We started off slow, but then we scored on our last five drives of the football game,” Staley said. “So, it was a good enough offensive performance for us to win today, and Justin was at the front of it. I thought Keenan was fantastic, and again, just didn’t do enough on defense today.”
With the second half of the season underway and the postseason approaching, L.A. now sits at 4-5, firmly out of playoff contention, and Staley will need to find a way to get consistent play from his defense to climb back into the race, much less succeed in a playoff environment.
Staley still expressed his belief that his defense has the pieces in place to compete with the best teams in the NFL, and is looking toward another week of practices to get back on track before the team’s next test.
“I know the players that we have on this team, I know the group that I’ve been coaching for nine games, and it is good enough to beat anybody we play,” Staley said. “We’ve played the very best teams in the NFL, and we’ve been in every single football game. The very best teams in the NFL have been down to the wire. We’re 4-5, we’re still a work in progress. But we’ve got the right men in that group. … We’re going to go back to work, we’re going to stay together, we’ve got our season in front of us, and we’ve got to get on to Green Bay.”
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