Chargers will need their defense to continue to come through if they want to get back to playoffs

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The Chargers have one of the league's best quarterbacks in Justin Herbert.

Yet, if Los Angeles is going to make the playoffs for the second straight season it will be up to the defense to hit its stride.

Because if one thing has become apparent during what has been a rollercoaster first half of the season for the Chargers, it is this — they can mostly adjust when Herbert and the offense struggles, not the other way around.

Brandon Staley's defense had one of its best games since he became coach in 2021 during Monday night's 27-6 victory over the New York Jets. The Chargers held the Jets to a pair of field goals, forced three turnovers, sacked Zach Wilson eight times and held New York to only three third down conversions in 17 attempts.

During the Chargers' 4-4 start, the defense was unable to hold late leads in losses the first two weeks against Miami and Tennessee. Kenneth Murray Jr. made a pivotal interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter in the Sept. 24 win against Minnesota.

They won on Monday night despite only getting 191 yards. It is only the fifth time in franchise history, and first since 2007, the Chargers have won a game when gaining fewer than 200 yards.

The only person who might not be wondering if the Chargers are hitting their stride is Staley.

“There’s no stride to be hit. This is just one week against the Jets in November,” he said.

While the wins against the Bears and Jets the past two weeks have been with Tyson Bagent and Wilson at quarterback — not Justin Fields and Aaron Rodgers — there are some signs that the Chargers may be able to carry some momentum on defense with Detroit's Jared Goff, Baltimore's Lamar Jackson and Denver's Russell Wilson looming over the next four weeks.

A healthy Joey Bosa — something that has rarely been said over the past couple of seasons — has 3 1/2 sacks in the past two games. The Chargers and Miami Dolphins are the only teams in the league to have four players with at least four sacks.

Khalil Mack is tied for third in the league with nine, Bosa has 6 1/2 followed by Morgan Fox's 5 1/2 and rookie Tuli Tuipulotu's four.

The run defense has also improved, allowing only 89.8 yards per game, sixth best in the league.

“The reason why we’re able to rush the way we are is because of the way we’re playing against the run and that’s been the secret, that’s been the formula to our success.” Staley said.

The steady play of the front seven also takes the pressure off cornerbacks Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr., who have struggled.

WHAT’S WORKING

Third down pressure. The Chargers have a league-leading 18 sacks on third down, including six against the Jets. The six takedowns of Wilson on third down are tied for the third most in a game since 1991.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Finding a second receiver. Mike Williams' season-ending knee injury in Week 3 was a huge blow, but Joshua Palmer being sidelined for at least the next three games is another hurdle the Chargers need to overcome. Herbert needs to develop more confidence in first-round pick Quentin Johnston while Jalen Guyton made his season debut on Monday night after missing 13 months with a knee injury. Johnston had only two catches for 14 yards Monday night, but was in for a season-high 83.9% of the offensive plays (47 of 56 snaps).

STOCK UP

WR/PR Derius Davis. The fourth-round pick leads the league in punt return average (16.6 yards per return) after his 87-yard touchdown during the first quarter to give the Chargers a 7-0 lead. Taking out the touchdown, Davis is averaging 11.2 yards, which would be sixth in the NFL. Nine of his 14 returns have gone for at least 10 yards.

STOCK DOWN

RT Trey Pipkins III. The fifth-year pro has allowed five sacks after giving up only three last season. Pass protection is starting to become a concern after Herbert was sacked five times for the second time in the past three games.

INJURIES

Center Corey Linsley (non-football injury) and Palmer are on injured reserve with no timetable to return.

KEY NUMBER

2 — Players that have at least 10,000 receiving yards with the Chargers. Keenan Allen joined Antonio Gates on Monday in style, with an tremendous 23-yard catch during the fourth quarter. The ball was over Allen's head, but he spun and grabbed it with one hand as he was going to the ground.

“The catch was fire. I felt pretty good about it on the field,” said Allen, who has 10,007 yards on 858 catches during his 11-year career.

NEXT STEPS

The Chargers are 2-0 against the NFC North this season, but face a difficult test on Sunday when they host Detroit. The Lions are the first of three current division leaders the Bolts will face during the second half of the season.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL