5 Takeaways From Chargers’ 32-18 Preseason Loss vs. Cowboys

What are the main takeaways we learned from the Chargers’ preseason loss to the Cowboys?

The Chargers dropped their second preseason game to the Cowboys Saturday night at SoFi stadium by the final score of 32-18. After two competitive joint practices during the week, the Chargers looked out of sorts throughout the game.

Here are five takeaways from the Chargers’ second preseason contest:

A visibly frustrated Brandon Staley during postgame press conference

Brandon Staley knows what’s at stake this season. The expectations for the Chargers are not just to reach the playoffs, but to get through the playoffs and contend for a Super Bowl. On Saturday night against the Cowboys, the Chargers did things that Staley knows are fundamental flaws that must get cleaned up in due time.

“It was a really poor first half for us, about as poorly as you can play, and that really put us behind, overall,” Staley said after the game. “I didn’t like the way that that first half felt or looked. It was really in all three phases.”

Staley was blunt about his team’s performance. While many of the foundational players who’ll be important contributions during the regular season didn’t play Saturday night, it’s still proves to be concerning in how poorly the operation went as a whole.

“When you have two turnovers and you give up two special teams touchdowns, that’s the way the score is going to look,” Staley said. “In the second half, we played better, so I was glad that we responded well. We’ll learn a lot from this tape, for sure.”

Special teams unit is far from where they need to be

Flaws on special teams isn’t anything new for the Chargers. This offseason the displeasure from the group led to overhauling the unit. Not only did they bring in new coordinator Ryan Ficken, but they signed Pro Bowl long-snapper Josh Harris, punter JK Scott and returner DeAndre Carter.

However, the issues on the field Saturday night stemmed from the kick and punt coverage units. They allowed a 98-yard kick return and a 86-yard punt return – both by Cowboys returner KaVontae Turpin, the MVP of the USFL last season.

“I think I was disappointed because that’s not the way we practiced this week. That’s not the way that those guys performed in practice,” Staley said of the special teams. “To come out there and play that way, they’re going to learn a lot from that. 

“They’re going to learn that the entire NFL is watching, and we’re watching the entire NFL, and 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. I think that there will be a lot of people that learn a lot from this.”

Many of the Chargers starters didn’t play. But for the kick and punt team, there were several players that serve on the top coverage unit who were out there when things went sideways on them.

Chargers running game struggled to get anything going

After last week’s showing when Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller showed encouraging signs for what’s ahead for the second running back role, the team struggled to get much of anything going on the ground in the second game. In fact, all five of the team’s rushers scuffled.

“It’s all 11 guys, but all five running backs didn’t do much tonight. I don’t think any of the five of them played very well,” Staley said. “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.”

Across 23 rushing attempts from the running back group, they averaged 2.3 yards per carry. The Chargers’ leading rusher on the night was quarterback Easton Stick, who scrambled twice on the night for 24 yards.

Chargers run defense gets gashed

The Chargers made their defensive line a priority this offseason after stopping the run proved to be the team’s Achilles heel just a season ago. Against the Cowboys in the joint practices, it looked to be paying off. They stopped the run well against Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

But with their reinforcements added this offseason not playing in the preseason, they showed signs of their old self. The Cowboys ran at will against the Chargers, including handoffs on the goal-line that resulted into two touchdowns.

The Cowboys running back group handled 30 carries for 108 yards and two scores.

One lone bright spot was second-year edge defender Chris Rumph. He flashed in last week’s preseason game and picked up right where he left off, logging three tackles and one tackle for loss in his limited action.

“Chris really tried to go inside on one play and about made it, and it bounced. We missed a crack-replace outside of that run,” Staley said. “They had 3.5 yards per carry, which is not great. We played the run really well for both joint practices. Tonight, they’re going to get 35 runs when they’re up by 19 points at halftime.”

Joshua Palmer looks poised to take a jump in his second NFL season

Joshua Palmer, who’s turned in a strong training camp thus far, ignited the Chargers offense early on in the first half. Unfortunately for the Chargers, there wasn’t much outside of Palmer that went in their favor.

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. I felt him tonight. I thought that on the long one on the left sideline competing for a contested catch like that, then the run-after-catch on the screen, I felt like he played really well,” Staley said. “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.”

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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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