NFL roundtable: Will Chargers ever be accepted in L.A.?

·8 min read
Los Angeles, CA - September 19: Los Angeles Chargers cheer during a tied game in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. The Chargers lost 20-17. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers fans were quite boisterous in their home opener against Dallas, but estimates are that SoFi Stadium was filled with two-thirds Cowboys fans. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers blew some big opportunities, and the Rams nearly did the same. Both would seem to have some concerns going into Week 3 with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town to play the Rams and the Chargers headed to Kansas City to play the AFC champion Chiefs. Kansas City is coming off a loss and has not lost two in a row since 2019.

L.A. Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, NFL writer Sam Farmer and columnist Bill Plaschke address what’s ahead in a discussion moderated by NFL editor Athan Atsales. But first, let's address what home field means for football in Los Angeles:

A LOT of Cowboys fans in SoFi for the Chargers' home opener. Do you think the Chargers will ever be accepted in Los Angeles?

Plaschke: Everything is finally in place for the Chargers to find their place in this city’s sports landscape. They have the quarterback. They have the stadium. They have the cool unis and that bad bolt. They need just one thing. Wins. Plenty of wins. Marquee wins. Playoff wins. If they keep stumbling like they did against the Cowboys, people will never pay attention.

Miller: Bill's right ... and then some. The Rams were just in the Super Bowl in 2019. Does anyone think they've completely entrenched themselves in L.A.? From what I read, there were a bunch of Chicago Bears fans at the Rams' most recent home game. This is a long-term — like, generations long-term — process for both teams.

Farmer: The Chargers, who struggled to build a fan base when they played games in Carson, were the beneficiaries of good timing and good favor from the NFL this season in terms of their non-division home games. They play host to Dallas, Cleveland, New England, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and the New York Giants, all of whom have robust national fan bases. There's not a Houston, Jacksonville or Cincinnati in the bunch. That's good for putting people in seats, but it's a double-edged sword because your own fans are going to be greatly outnumbered. It was a landmark moment Sunday, however, when the noise got so loud for the Dallas offense that the Cowboys were flagged for a false start. That's growth.

What happened to the Rams' key signing, DeSean Jackson? Sure, the Matthew Stafford-Cooper Kupp connection has been outstanding, but wasn’t DeSean supposed to be the one making room for these other guys?

Klein: That seemed to be the plan when they signed him. But after catching two passes in the opener against the Bears, Jackson played only three snaps and was not targeted against the Colts. During his news conference on Monday, McVay blamed himself for not getting Jackson more involved and he said that would change. We’ll see. The mere threat of Jackson, when he is in the game, is enough to panic a defensive coordinator.

Farmer: Even if you were to keep Jackson on the sideline, Matthew Stafford would be overflowing with options. It’s clear that Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are his primary options, and the Rams are going to bring along second-year Van Jefferson. It’s just a numbers game for Jackson at the moment.

Rams wide receiver Robert Woods catches a pass against the Indianapolis Colts.
Rams wide receiver Robert Woods makes a catch against the Indianapolis Colts. Woods caught five passes for 64 yards. (Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

The Chargers’ front seven was not great, particularly against the run. Were there signs that the Chargers would be so porous against the run?

Miller: The short answer is “no.” I don’t think anyone saw this coming, including the Chargers themselves. They were awful Sunday, no question, with coach Brandon Staley blaming the issues on poor execution.

This could be part of the growing pains of adjusting to a defense that’s vastly different than what the Chargers ran under Gus Bradley, their previous defensive coordinator. There were multiple blown assignments up front and several examples of poor tackling all over. Staley also said the secondary failed on one play to provide the proper support, leading to a big gain.

Plaschke: The Cowboys' dominance on the ground was stunning and should be scary for Chargers fans moving forward. Isn’t their new head coach a defensive guru? How can this happen? The Cowboys were so confident in their run game that they showed zero urgency on their final game-winning drive. They knew they could get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. The Chargers just couldn’t tackle [Tony] Pollard or [Ezekiel] Elliott, and that’s a problem.

Cowboys running back Tony Pollard celebrates a touchdown against the Chargers.
Cowboys running back Tony Pollard celebrates a touchdown against the Chargers. He ran for 109 yards in 13 carries. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Playing air-happy Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes poses much different problems for the Chargers' defense. How do you think they will have to adjust?

Miller: The Chargers actually had decent success in recent meetings with K.C. and Mahomes under Bradley. At least success relative to the rest of the league. Chris Harris Jr.’s availability next week will be a story worth watching closely. He was sorely missed against Dallas. He provides experience and leadership and can be a calming influence on the field. He also is versatile enough to play cornerback and safety, which allows the Chargers to maximize their options.

Harris didn’t practice at all last week because of a shoulder issue and wasn’t even on the field during the time when media could view the workouts. If he remains out of sight this week, it could be a problem against the Chiefs.

It’s not the same as playing against Mahomes, but no one wants to face Tom Brady either. The guy has seen it all. Where should the Rams’ focus be?

Klein: The easy answer is finding ways for Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd to get in the 44-year old Brady’s ageless face, which appears more youthful than when he came into the league at 23. Brady passed for five touchdowns [Sunday] in a 48-25 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. That would be pretty concerning for the Rams even if he wasn’t a seven-time Super Bowl champion and one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. And Brady has loads of weapons: running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones; receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown; and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, among others.

Farmer: One concern for the Rams will be all those big receivers. With targets like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski on the field, that will limit the range of ways the Rams can use Jalen Ramsey. They won’t be able to move him around with that Troy Polamalu-style abandon the way they did in their last home game against Chicago, for instance. But one way that teams have been effective against Brady is by pressuring him up the middle, taking away his ability to climb the pocket. Aaron Donald is excellent at that.

Rams head coach Sean McVay points instructions from the sideline.
Head coach Sean McVay must not have been pleased with his Rams' special teams play against the Colts. (Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

Even though the Rams survived, barely, how concerned should fans be about their special teams? It would be disheartening to have a solid offense and defense and then lose games because of inconsistent special units, which often have to rotate different players.

Klein: Rams fans — and coach Sean McVay — should be very concerned. At the risk of sounding nostalgic, Rams special teams have just not been the same since the heyday of their former coordinator John Fassel, who left for a job with the Cowboys after 2019. John Bonamego was not the answer in 2020. New coordinator Joe DeCamillis is highly regarded but is certainly off to a rough start. The botched punt snap that resulted in a Colts touchdown reminded me of one of my favorite college classes: Theater of the Absurd.

Farmer: The Rams have one of the league’s best special teams weapons in Johnny Hekker, and I think it’s too early to push the panic button. There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement, and that could come at home Sunday against Tampa Bay. Even Fassel, in the conversation as the best currently in the business, has had bad days with his units. My hunch is this isn’t going to be a persistent problem.

The Chargers signed Byran Bulaga before last season to solve their issues at right tackle, but he can’t seem to stay on the field. Now he’s on injured reserve. What’s next? Because they’ve suffered without him. Is recently signed Michael Schofield III in the picture?

Jeff: If this situation is deemed serious enough, the Chargers could move Matt Feiler from left guard to right tackle as soon as this week, but who knows right now? Schofield played guard during most of his previous stint with the team. Rookie Brenden Jaimes would be another option at guard.

The guess here Schofield probably needs more time, but this situation felt pretty dire during stretches on Sunday. The Chargers continue to praise [Storm] Norton publicly, and he really did play well in the opener other than giving up a sack. The game against the Cowboys looked like a different story.

Plaschke: Finding a suitable replacement for Bulaga should be the Chargers' number one priority, because their entire playoff hopes hinge on keeping Justin Herbert safe.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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