Chargers need to clean up penalties, turnovers to compete with Chiefs

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley hasn't minced words this week about his team's performance against the Dallas Cowboys.

"We had two 40-plus-yard passes taken off the board because of penalties," he said. "We were a little off with out mechanics and our technique. That's going to be a point of emphasis moving forward."

Because going forward means going into Arrowhead Stadium, arguably the loudest stadium in the league, to face the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS). And even though the Chiefs and the Chargers both lost last week, this should be a whopper. But not if the Chargers continue the penalty barrage that's plagued them their first two games.

"Technique," Staley said. "Technique and putting the emphasis on the Chargers. We could have avoided every single thing that happened in that game (vs. Dallas) by playing either cleaner from a fundamental standpoint. ... It hasn't been clean enough through the first two weeks for sure."

The Chargers committed 10 offensive penalties against the Cowboys. Two touchdowns and six first downs were taken off the board, giving up what Staley estimates was 150 yards of offense and 20 points ("by our count," he says) after penalties. Officially, the Chargers were flagged for 12 penalties totaling 99 yards and committed two turnovers.

Illegal man downfield, double shift, holding, red zone interceptions. Nothing good.

"We just had some, some calls and some penalties that got brought back and some turnovers," quarterback Justin Herbert said. "I can't turn the ball over in the red one and expect to win."

Ten red zone appearances through two games. And not nearly enough points -- 37, to be exact.

Not that Herbert hasn't been exceptional between the 20s, as he's thrown for 675 yards on 62-of-88 passing (70.5%).

"His arm talent is crazy," said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who knows about such things.

"He's incredibly smart," Herbert said of Mahomes. "I think he's able to make every throw on the field. You can never outrun his arm."

So, is it an arms race or a race to see who can play "clean football," as Staley likes to say?

This week the Chargers have been focusing on just that. Playing clean football and concentrating on what they can control. That goes beyond the offense, as it means defensive tackle Jerry Tillery figuring out where he needs to be on defense to find the "sweet spot of how do I really want this to be played," as Staley says.

And Storm Norton, who will start again at right tackle for the injured Bryan Bulaga, picking up his game to better protect Herbert. Norton allowed nine of the teams 18 pressures against the Cowboys, primarily against rookie linebacker Micah Parsons.

"We need to find completions, we need to run the ball more," Herbert said. "We need to do all these things to better our game. Whether that's finding check-downs or whether that's handing the ball off, being smart or throwing it away. That's what we have to do in the red zone."

The Chargers have the No. 5 offense in the NFL, averaging 416 yards per game. They play well at times, but just can't keep, "shooting themselves in the foot" as Staley says, whether it's penalties, the red zone interceptions Herbert threw in each of the first two games or the fumble he lost deep in Washington territory in the opener. Against a Chiefs team that scores points in bunches -- they're the No. 3 scoring team in the NFL through two games -- the Chargers can't squander scoring opportunities with mistakes.

"We're doing a good job moving the ball," Herbert said. "We just need to execute better."

As for playing in front of the KC fans and all the ruckus they can cause, Herbert said, "It's a great opportunity. That's what you dream of. They've won Super Bowl [championships]. It's a great opportunity for us to go out there, to a hostile environment and play our football."