NFL preseason: Takeaways from the Chargers’ loss to Cowboys

Easton Stick had thrown an interception less than two minutes into Saturday night’s game.

But Stick bounced back quickly and impressively, completing eight of his next 10 tries and leading the Chargers to a field goal and a touchdown on their next two possessions.

Stick vied with Chase Daniel for the job backing Justin Herbert and was one of the early highlights of the Chargers’ 32-18 preseason loss to the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium.

Early lows for the home team included two surrendered touchdowns by special teams. KaVontae Turpin of the Cowboys returned a first-quarter kickoff from 98 yards and a second-quarter punt from 86 yards to score.

Special teams have been an issue in recent seasons, particularly for the Chargers, who again held back most of their starters.

SoFi Stadium had a notable glitch with the scoreboards not working early in the game. The massive overhead video board stayed dark for the first half.

KaVontae Turpin (2) celebrates with his Dallas Cowboys teammates after returning a punt for a touchdown.

KaVontae Turpin (2) celebrates with his Dallas Cowboys teammates after returning a punt 86 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

Another early highlight for the Chargers was the performance of Joshua Palmer, the team’s No. 3 wide receiver. Early in his sophomore season, Palmer made a nice catch over cornerback Nahshon Wright for a 41-yard gain and then hit on an 18-yard screen.

The touchdown came in the Chargers’ third series, a 12-game march that saw Stick hit Jalen Guyton to convert a third down and Jason Moore Jr. to convert another.

Then, in third and 13th place, Stick kept the ride going by climbing 25 yards.

Stick’s night turned a bit sour late in the first half when he fumbled with a sack, leading to a Dallas touchdown as the Cowboys extended a 29-10 lead after two quarters.

In the Chargers’ right tackle competition, Storm Norton started and played the first two series before being replaced by Trey Pipkins III.

As of Saturday, the Chargers had made no public decision on the location.

“We’ll continue to evaluate it until we feel like we’re ready,” coach Brandon Staley said Thursday. “But I can tell you they’re both improved footballers and I’m really proud of how they’ve improved.”

Norton has started 18 of the 24 NFL games in which he has appeared. Fifteen of those starts came with the right tackle last season. Pipkins has 10 starts in 38 appearances in his first three seasons.

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick passes to running back Larry Rountree III against the Cowboys.

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick passes to running back Larry Rountree III against the Cowboys.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

Chargers coaches have consistently expressed confidence in both players and the idea that offense will always improve with proper tackle.

“I think we’re going to be a lot better there in the end, no matter who wins that position,” said offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi at the start of camp. “I think that we will also feel very comfortable in depth.”

The Chargers’ beginning offensive line, including Norton and Pipkins spinning in right tackle, struggled in joint practice with Dallas on Wednesday and Thursday before improving.

According to Pro Football Focus, Norton was a much better run blocker than pass blocker last year. Based on PFF’s tally, only one NFL tackle gave up more sacks and pressure than Norton last season.

Pipkins was a 2019 third-round draft pick, carried over from Sioux Falls as a longer-term project. He has shown potential but lacked stability in his game, which Lombardi said is improving.

“I didn’t see some of the dips that we may have seen in his performance last year,” Lombardi said. “Just a lot of consistency. He’s a talented guy and has played more like what you’d expect him to do at camp so far.”

The Chargers are also trying to find a second running back who could complement Austin Ekeler.

Joshua Kelley started Saturday, Larry Rountree III came on for the second series and Isaiah Spiller made his first offensive appearance in the opening game of the second quarter.

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Mike Tafua fired Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel in the fourth quarter.

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Mike Tafua fired Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel in the fourth quarter.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Kelvin Joseph tackles Chargers wide receiver Jason Moore Jr.

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Kelvin Joseph meets Chargers wide receiver Jason Moore Jr. in the first quarter of Saturday.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

When evaluating running backs, the yards gained are not simply added together. It will be more nuanced, considering smaller details and considering the context of each piece.

Against the Rams last weekend, Staley noted how Kelley converted a third and six on a check-down pass and how Spiller maximized a couple of runs in heavy traffic.

Staley also praised Rountree’s toughness on a run that hauled in more yards than expected.

“Larry had a really good contact run … where it was kind of a mano-a-mano in the hole,” Staley said, “and he makes contact and he drops another two and a half, three yards forward.”

The Chargers will return to practice Monday at their Costa Mesa training facility in preparation for their preseason finale in New Orleans on Friday.

The deadline for the next round of roster cuts is Tuesday, when the NFL mandates that teams move from 85 players to 80 players. The 53-man rosters are due August 30.

The Chargers’ regular season opener is scheduled to begin on September 11 at 1:25 p.m. against Las Vegas at SoFi Stadium.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-08-20/easton-stick-chargers-special-teams-cowboys-recap NFL preseason: Takeaways from the Chargers’ loss to Cowboys

Emma Bowman

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