The Chargers got back on the winning track on Sunday in Houston, pulling out a 34-24 victory over the Texans.
The game shouldn’t have been as close as the final score indicates, primarily due to a few poor performances in the second half.
Here’s who came through and who disappointed in Week 4.
Stud: Jamaree Salyer
Give this kid all the flowers you have, man. Salyer hadn’t played left tackle as a pro even in practice until this week and then got thrown out as a starter against a Texans team with four pass rushers with a pass rush win rate of at least 12%. Yet, by my count, Salyer didn’t give up much, and the offensive line only allowed one sack to Houston’s defensive front. The rookie hardly had his name called all morning, generally a fantastic sign for an offensive lineman. Salyer also made his mark as a run blocker the same way he did in the preseason, proving to be a key cog in getting the rushing attack going for the first time this season.
Dud: Kenneth Murray
Murray has improved since last season, but it’s becoming clearer that he’s simply not a viable option in coverage. LA used him primarily as a blitzer in the second half against Houston, a role in which he could find effectiveness as a power rusher. But in coverage, Murray frequently found himself on the wrong side of plays. While it’s not fair to expect him to hang with slot receivers like Brandin Cooks, he’s being asked to at least share that responsibility at a clip that simply does not make sense. At some point, I think the Chargers need to consider taking him off the field in clear passing situations unless he’s going to be rushing the passer.
Stud: Khalil Mack
There was a bit of concern about Mack’s ability to make an impact on this game with Joey Bosa out, considering Houston was likely going to send extra help his way all morning. Despite that, Mack had his usual fantastic day, regardless of whether he was on the left or right side. Tytus Howard was bullied by the former All-Pro, while left tackle Laremy Tunsil committed at least two penalties trying to keep Mack contained. A key fourth and one sack, a pressure on Davis Mills’ interception to Nasir Adderley, and two QB hits made for another standout game.
Dud: Nasir Adderley
Speaking of Adderley, that interception was the only positive play of the day for the safety. Mills’ pass floated right to him on that play, so it’s hard to even give him that much credit for being in the right place at the right time. For the rest of the game, Adderley struggled with the thing he’s always struggled with: taking the correct pursuit angles. He overran Dameon Pierce on the rookie’s 75-yard TD run, expecting Pierce to cut inside. Instead, Pierce caught him flat-footed and beat him to the outside, outracing everyone else to the end zone. Adderley also overran a few routes in the flat; when the Chargers adjusted by making Derwin James the flat defender, Houston found no success with such plays.
Stud: Mike Williams
Williams finally had the type of game we’d been clamoring for him to have since Keenan Allen went down in Week 1. While he had the stats in Week 2 against Kansas City, he primarily won the ways he usually does: deep, contested catches down the sideline. Today, we saw the $60 million man win at every level of the field. Williams was consistently open on slants because rookie corner Derek Stingley Jr. was playing off coverage to hedge against the deep route. He won on crossers in intermediate areas because LA got the running game moving and forced Houston’s linebackers to account for the possibility of a ground attack. It resulted in a seven reception, 120-yard performance on 11 targets. This is what LA needs if Keenan Allen can’t go.
Dud: JC Jackson
Maybe Jackson still isn’t quite right. It’s only his second game as a Charger because of his ankle surgery, and in that first game against the Chiefs, it was obvious that he wasn’t 100%. But this week, Jackson was off the injury report by Friday, indicating that he’s supposed to be full go. Yet he was consistently Davis Mills’ favorite corner to target today, giving up a big catch to Nico Collins and committing a pass interference penalty. His tackling effort on tight end Jordan Akins was also poor, forcing his teammates to recover to bring Akins down by his ankles inside the Chargers’ five-yard line. Again, it’s early, and Jackson still gets his legs back under him. But the contract LA gave him to be their version of Jalen Ramsey is beginning to look like a painful mistake.
Stud: Austin Ekeler
We talked this week about how something had to give between Houston’s league-worst run defense and LA’s league-worst run offense. Although Ekeler still only had 60 yards on the ground, it was a massive improvement over the 27 yards a game he had been averaging through the first three weeks. The Chargers also made it a point to get Ekeler more involved in the short passing game, giving him seven targets for six receptions, 49 yards, and the game-sealing touchdown. Ekeler’s hat-trick will be a big confidence-building performance for him and this new-look offensive line without Rashawn Slater. And yes, it’s against Houston. But maybe this is LA’s spark to get the rushing attack back on track.
Dud: Finishing ability
This Chargers team is built to play a 30-minute game. It’s that simple. There is zero reason they should have let an inferior Texans team get back into the game after going into halftime up 27-7. You cannot score 27 points in the first half and then punt on your first three second-half drives while the Texans score two touchdowns. You cannot fumble a kickoff return and lose further momentum by allowing Houston to kick a field goal to bring it to 27-24. The Chargers went away from everything that worked in the first half until late into the fourth quarter when they had to. Perhaps the most egregious example was Joshua Kelley’s usage. Kelley looked like LA’s best rusher in the first half, consistently getting 6, 7, and 8 yards per carry. Yet in the second half, it was all Sony Michel, who continues to be ineffective. I understand you want to get Michel going in a game that should be all but won when you’re up 20. But at some point, you must ride the hot hand, which goes for the entire team. Learn to play a 60-minute game, otherwise, better teams than this can and will beat you.