Chargers enter bye atop AFC West, but run defense among concerns to address

BALTIMORE -- The Los Angeles Chargers' season is almost half over -- well, okay, a little more than a third -- going into their bye and they are 4-2 and on top of the AFC West, as they're currently tied with the Las Vegas Raiders but own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Chargers aren't entering the bye feeling too content, though, as they're fresh off a 34-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. But not all players are hanging their heads. When they hit the bye last season they were 1-4, having blown multiple double-digit leads as they were getting to know rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and Herbert was learning about the NFL.

Now they're 4-2 with signature wins over the Kansas City Chiefs, Raiders and Cleveland Browns and Herbert is in the MVP conversation, even after the loss to the red-hot Ravens.

"I think we have played some really good teams," said Herbert, who threw 11 touchdown passes without an interception in the three games prior to Sunday's loss. "You know, I think the bye comes at a really good time. [It] allows our guys up front to get their legs back and have a week of rest. It is enough weeks to watch the film and go back over it because there is a lot of good film. Like I mentioned earlier there is a lot of learn from, so it is going to be a good teaching lesson for us."

And nobody is extremely upset, at least outwardly, although it probably felt like a long flight home to California from Baltimore.

"Today let us know what we need to work on," said safety Derwin James Jr. "But, like you say, being 4-2, we're not mad at the world, and there's a lot of football still left to play. We learned a lot from this game, and we are going to be better."

The main thing they need to work on is run defense, which has been the sore spot in the Chargers' fast start. The Chargers are allowing 162.5 yards per game on the ground thus far this season, the worst total in the NFL by 21.2 yards per game.

They've been gashed on the ground multiple times this season. In their Week 5 win against Cleveland, they gave up 230 yards and three touchdowns and they gave up 187 yards and three more scores on the ground to the Ravens. The Dallas Cowboys got the Chargers for 198 rushing yards in Week 2.

"Competition in the first six weeks has given us a real accurate look of where we can go," Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said Sunday. "I think in our two losses that we had are to two really good quality football teams. I think that in both of those losses we can learn something from why it happened, and I think in those four wins we can learn why that happened. Today, what it was about for me, was we weren't good enough in all three phases."

That said, the Chargers have been without defensive tackle Justin Jones since the opener, linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. the past three games, and linebacker Drue Tranquill this past Sunday, three big guys who can make a big difference.

So it's back to watching film and resting. The bye actually couldn't have come at a better time for the weary Chargers, who should get Murray and Jones back in time for their game against the New England Patriots, who come to SoFi Stadium in Week 8. They're especially excited for Jones, who has been out with a calf injury since the season-opening win over the Washington Football Team.

"Yes, that is going to be a big key, for sure," said linebacker Kyzir White, who picked off Lamar Jackson twice on Sunday. "Justin Jones is a great player. He is going to help us. [I'm] looking forward to it."

It was a very quiet locker room after the Baltimore loss. The Chargers know that 5-1 was in reach, either with a win over Dallas -- which beat the Chargers 20-17 on a last-second 56-yard field goal in Week 2 -- or by showing up with a better effort against Baltimore.

Said Staley: "We got beat today by a team and that's why the score was what it was, because in all three phases of the game they beat us. I think that's what we can learn from it. We have to execute better. Our guys are playing plenty hard enough, but they [Baltimore Ravens] beat us today. They out-executed our guys and our coaches and we need to learn from it."