Chargers takeaways: Defense is running hot; so is ground game

The Chargers defeated the Rams 31-10 at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, improving to 10-6 and — along with Baltimore’s loss to Pittsburgh — moving into the AFC’s No. 5 playoff seed.

They can secure the best wildcard position of the conference with a win in their regular-season finals in Denver.

Some observations from their fourth straight win:

Defense continues to shine: The Chargers suffered a significant meltdown when they gave up a 42-yard run to Cam Akers after 10 minutes of the game.

In the second quarter, they let go of Van Jefferson for a 39-yard reception and allowed Malcolm Brown to roar through the middle for a 23-yard touchdown.

They also largely held the Rams at bay, with Baker Mayfield getting past for just 132 total yards. In the last eight quarters, the Chargers have given up just one touchdown and 215 net passing yards.

“I was very happy with our performance in the second half,” said coach Brandon Staley. “I thought we rolled over the passers-by really well. I thought we matched very well… I felt like we were connected. We took part in competitions.”

The Chargers limited the Rams to third place on four of 11 and sacked Mayfield three times. In the last five games, the Chargers have only been allowed to convert 13 of 53 third downs.

The Rams reached the red zone only once – on their second possession – but had to settle for a field goal thanks to a third stop by Michael Davis.

KVN plays like MVP: One of the Chargers’ sacks was a career-high from veteran Kyle Van Noy, who now has sacks in four straight games.

“Just be healthy and be on the field,” said Van Noy. “It takes a while coming from a different place to get comfortable in the role and stuff like that.”

In his ninth year, Van Noy signed with the Chargers as a free agent in May after stints in New England, Miami and Detroit. He won two Super Bowls with the Patriots.

His sack on Sunday in the third quarter also resulted in a Mayfield fumble that Van Noy regained. It was the only turnover of the game.

“I think he’s comfortable,” Staley said. “He played in the same system for a long time. It’s just little things [to adjust to]. Football is football for him, but I think he’s comfortable.”

The Chargers’ other two sacks — from Morgan Fox and Sebastian Joseph-Day — also came from players added during the offseason.

Chargers tight end Gerald Everett (7) catches a touchdown pass in front of Rams cornerback Troy Hill.

Chargers tight end Gerald Everett (7) catches a touchdown pass in front of Rams cornerback Troy Hill in the third quarter.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

A TD in Q3…finally: For the first time since Week 5, the Chargers scored a touchdown in the third quarter. The end of that drought was just one of the notable moments for an offense that rediscovered some rhythm on Sunday.

“It was a big lift for them, like, ‘We hit this thing, and now that kind of fell off us,'” Staley said. “That led to a complete performance in my opinion, that third quarter led to an even better fourth quarter.”

After receiving the opening second-half jab, the Chargers went for 75 yards in 11 games.

Justin Herbert converted a third and one with a quarterback sneak. The touchdown came third and third from the six-yard line, Herbert hit Gerald Everett.

“All four quarters I thought we moved the ball pretty well,” said Herbert. “We did a lot of good things up front. We made some plays on the field. Overall I thought it was a great achievement.”

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. (89) catches a touchdown pass despite coverage by Rams safety Taylor Rapp.

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. (89) catches a touchdown pass despite coverage by Rams safety Taylor Rapp.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Big score for big tight end: After a season fraught with health issues and missed time, tight end Donald Parham Jr. finally made it back to the end zone, scoring early in the fourth quarter with a three-yard pass from Herbert.

“The first time I knew it was going to be cute,” Parham said. “Being out all season… it sure took a long time.”

In just his fifth game and after playing limited snaps when available, Parham also scored in the same end zone where he suffered a scary concussion in December 2021 against Kansas City.

He kept the ball after his catch on Sunday. Parham said he would send it home to his family in Florida. It was his first touchdown since November 7, 2021.

“This one was a little bit more special,” said Parham, “a little bit more personal.”

For the record: Austin Ekeler has 103 receptions for the season. Only one NFL running back — Christian McCaffrey — has had more in a single season. McCaffrey had 116 catches for the 2019 Carolina Panthers and 107 for the 18 Panthers. … Herbert reached 100 career touchdowns — 92 passing, eight rushing — with his two scoring throws. In his first three NFL seasons, he had the most combined touchdowns for a player with Dan Marino.

In his own words: “It’s cool. I don’t know how the hell he does it. It’s really neat. As if you can see it.” — Center Corey Linsley on Mike Williams’ one-handed catch

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2023-01-02/chargers-takeaways-defense-rushing-game-hot Chargers takeaways: Defense is running hot; so is ground game

Emma Bowman

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