Special Teams Miscues Haunt Chargers in 32-18 Preseason Loss to Cowboys

The Chargers dropped their second preseason game to the Cowboys.

INGLEWOOD – After two competitive days of joint practice with the Cowboys on Wednesday and Thursday this week, the Chargers looked out of sorts against Dallas in their second preseason contest, falling by the score of 32-18 Saturday night at SoFi Stadium.

The lone bright spot for the Chargers was the performance from second-year receiver Joshua Palmer. He played the first two quarters, totaling three receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown.

On the second offensive series, Palmer hauled in a 41-yard grab down the left sideline from Easton Stick. Four plays later, Stick looked Palmer’s way once again, connecting for 16 yards to move inside the 10-yard line before tacking on the first points of the game with a Dustin Hopkins field goal.

Palmer’s biggest play of the night came early in the second quarter on a screen pass caught three yards behind the line of scrimmage before navigating through traffic and scoring on a 18-yard touchdown.

“I thought that Josh played well tonight,” Staley said of Palmer. “I felt him tonight. … I felt like he had a really good week of practice against these guys. Separation, moving around, I think that he’s playing with confidence, and that’s why we wanted to get him in these games in the preseason — we know that he’s a starting-caliber player, but I think that he can gain a lot of confidence.”

However, aside from Palmer’s success early on, there weren’t many other things the Chargers did well in their second preseason showing. 

The special teams unit allowed a 98-yard kick return and a 86-yard punt return – both by KaVontae Turpin, the former MVP of the USFL.

“It was a really poor first half for us. About as poorly as you can play and that really put us behind. I didn’t like the way that the first half felt or looked. It was really in all three phases,” Staley said. “When you have two turnovers and you give up two special teams touchdowns, that’s the way the score is gonna look.”

After the miscues on special teams that the Chargers endured last season, they turned the page this offseason by hiring Ryan Ficken as the new coordinator. Since his arrival, they’ve spent significant time working on kick and punt coverage, making it an emphasis over the last three weeks of training camp.

“They’re going to learn that the entire NFL is watching, and we’re watching the entire NFL. That’s why these games are important when you’re playing. You need to make sure that you perform or else we’ll find someone else who can,” Staley said of the special teams unit. “I think that there will be a lot of people who learn from this tonight.”

Staley was visibly frustrated after the game, and his comments indicate that players on the roster bubble better prove their worth to special teams or their days could be numbered once the rosters are reduced.

The Chargers running game also couldn’t get much going. Across the 23 rushing attempts from the running back group, they averaged 2.3 yards per carry.

Joshua Kelley led the running backs with seven carries for 18 yards. Collectively, they totaled 53 yards on the ground.

“It’s all 11 guys, but all five running backs didn’t do much tonight,” Staley said. “I don’t think any of the five of them played very well. We’ll have to look at it, but just being out there on the field, I didn’t think any of the five played very well tonight.”

Rookie running back Isaiah Spiller injured his ankle late in the second quarter. Staley said after the game that they don’t know the severity of the injury, but it shouldn’t be anything too serious.

The Chargers must make five roster cuts ahead of Tuesday’s NFL deadline. They’ll hold three practices from Monday to Wednesday before taking flight to New Orleans where they’ll face the Saints for their final preseason contest.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.

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