Here’s what we learned, what we heard and what comes next after the Chargers’ 30-28 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, their second consecutive win on the road heading into a date with the AFC West rival Denver Broncos on “Monday Night Football” at SoFi Stadium:
Admit it, you love it when Chargers coach Brandon Staley goes for it on fourth-and-short situations and it works out, as it did during their victory over the Houston Texans earlier this month. Admit it, you hate it when Staley goes for it and it doesn’t work out, as was the case on Sunday against the Browns.
The man is nothing if not consistent.
“No surprise,” running back Austin Ekeler said Monday during a video conference call when asked if he was surprised by the latest decision. “It’s still Brandon Staley we’re talking about here. … I like the call. He believes in us. I love that. I love anybody who believes in us. I back him. Let’s go.”
The Chargers faced a fourth-and-1 situation at their own 46-yard line. They had preserved their 30-28 lead thanks to safety Alohi Gillman’s interception of a Jacoby Brissett pass into the end zone. Gillman returned the ball to the Chargers’ 17, where they started with 2:44 left.
Justin Herbert drove the Chargers to the 46, but a third-down run by Joshua Kelley was stopped for no gain. After the Browns called a timeout, Staley sent the offense back onto the field. Herbert’s fourth-down pass on a slant pattern to Mike Willimas was broken up.
“He gave us an opportunity to go get one yard and we came up short,” said Ekeler, who one week earlier caught a fourth-and-one pass from Herbert on a bootleg from their own 45 to keep a drive going that would eventually produce a game-clinching touchdown and a 34-24 victory.
The Chargers’ defense then held the Browns to 10 yards on their ensuing possession and Cade York’s 54-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right with 11 seconds left. York’s kick had the distance – plenty of it, in fact – but it went wide of the mark to the Chargers’ great relief.
Ekeler laughed on Monday when asked about the Chargers’ offseason investments in special teams players such as punter JK Scott and their many additions to their defense, including and especially edge rusher Khalil Mack, cornerback J.C. Jackson and lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day.
“If we’re talking about salaries, then no it’s not surprising at all because there’s a lot more money in the offense than there is in special teams,” Ekeler said. “Those guys held up. They held up their job (Sunday) and then it was up to us. We’re trying to seal up the game, leave no doubt by getting one yard.”
FILLING KEY ROLES
There were serious questions about the depth of the Chargers’ offensive line after last season, so they drafted Zion Johnson in the first round to play right guard and Jamaree Salyer in the sixth round to play left guard. Then they saw Trey Pipkins III win a training camp battle for right tackle.
When standout left tackle Rashawn Slater was sidelined for the rest of the season because of a ruptured left biceps in Week 3, Salyer moved into Slater’s spot for last week’s game against Houston. The results across the offensive line have been winning for the past two weeks.
“Zion has come in and filled a role where we had a gap in our offense,” Ekeler said. “We didn’t have a right guard, so we came out and drafted one. Now, we’ve got Zion coming in here. He’s been killing it, man. He’s been solid in pass, run – all of it. Trey has continued to develop and has been holding it down.
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“They have definitely been doing something that’s helping us out. The zero sack column is a beautiful thing. We know our identity relies on Justin being able to deliver for us. Any way we can help him out by getting the running game going is great, but we’re going to keep that guy standing up back there.
“They’ve been doing a great job.”
ALLEN INJURY UPDATE
Wide receiver Keenan Allen sat out for the fourth consecutive game Sunday because of a hamstring injury sustained in the first half of the Chargers’ season-opening victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 11. Staley said Allen is still considered day-to-day and “trending positive.”
“It’s a day-to-day hamstring, it’s not an injured reserve hamstring,” Staley said.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Broncos. “Monday Night Football” at SoFi Stadium.