Saints defense steps up in a victory over the Chargers

In their second preseason game of the season, the Los Angeles Chargers fell to the New Orleans Saints, 22-17. The game was played on Sunday evening, August 20th, at SoFi Stadium despite heavy rainfall and flooding as a result of tropical storm Hilary.

With both teams resting their top players, the contest was an opportunity for the younger players to get a chance to play and prove they belong on the 53-man roster. As was the case in the Thursday and Friday scrimmages against the Saints, the Chargers struggled on offense in the game. The Saints have one of the top defensive units in the NFL and it showed against the Chargers. The Saints ranked 5th in the NFL in 2022 in total defensive yardage allowed per game.

In Sunday's game, backup quarterback Easton Stick had an up-and-down performance. Stick completed 21 of 41 passes for 233 yards. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack in the second quarter. Stick was sacked five times in the game. The constant pass rush pressure forced Stick to become a runner, and he led the Chargers with 63 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns. For the game, the Charger lost the turnover battle, 3-0.

Charger head coach Brandon Staley was not pleased with the offensive performance. "I think that it was an uneven performance in the passing game for us," Staley said. "We didn't protect the passer very well. I didn't think that we threw it with accuracy. I just thought that it was inconsistent throughout the night. Certainly, the three turnovers, that really told the story tonight."

The turnovers did not tell the whole story on offense. Tight end Donald Parham dropped a pass from Stick in the flat that could have resulted in a touchdown in the second quarterback. The Chargers settled for a field goal. Running back Elijah Dotson dropped two passes on the last drive, the second of which cost the Chargers a first down and forced a fourth down play, which resulted in an interception.

The running game produced 120 yards rushing, 63 of which came from Stick. Parham and his fellow tight end Tre' McKitty were not involved in the passing game, with neither coming up with a reception, and neither helped much in the running game. In the second half, tight end Stone Smart had 4 receptions for 32 yards and tight end Hunter Kampmoyer had 2 receptions for 25 yards.

The production from the tight end position has been lacking in training camp, but both Smart and Kampmoyer looked and played like tight ends that could make the roster. After Tuesday's practice, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore talked about Smart.

"Certainly, for a guy going into a position where he hasn't played a ton of tight end over his lifetime, he gets better each and every day," Moore said. "I thought the New Orleans game was an awesome game for him, the contested catch down the middle where he took a hit as he was catching that, it was phenomenal. Really excited with where he is going."

The 2023 draft picks continue to show that they belong. First round draft pick Quentin Johnson had three catches on three targets for 43 yards. Fourth round draft pick Derius Davis also had three receptions on three targets for 24 yards and added three kickoff returns for 70 yards.

Second round draft pick Tuli Tuipulotu, 3rd round draft pick Daiyan Henley, and 6th round draft pick Scott Matlock all made key plays on the defensive side of the ball in the game with New Orleans. Henley, an inside linebacker, moves from sideline to sideline very well. Staley was impressed with Henley on Sunday night. Henley led the Chargers with nine tackles and a sack.

"I liked the way that Daiyan [Henley] played," Staley said. "I thought that he was aggressive. I think you see what an outstanding tackler he is. He can really feel the run game. He is physical. He's outstanding in the blitz game. He just needs to keep improving because he'll learn a lot from it. He had the green dot a lot tonight, so I thought he communicated well."

The Saints improved to 2-0 in preseason and the Chargers fell to 1-1 in preseason play. Winning or losing in preseason is not that important, but it is important to see which players are developing or improving. The Chargers look good on defense and their depth on defense has improved. The offense has plenty of stars, led by quarterback Justin Herbert.

The questions arise at tight end, on the depth of the offensive line, and at backup quarterback. Stick made some nice plays and his scrambling really helped, but he had a few horrible throws, including an interception off a play-action bootleg to his left on a first down play in the second quarter.

On the play, there did not appear to be an open receiver and Stick should have run for whatever yardage he could get or throw it away, since it was a first down call. Instead, he threw a pass right to Saints cornerback Isaac Yiadom, which led to three points for the Saints.

Stick is in his fourth season with the Chargers and will be a free agent after the season. He has thrown one regular season pass in his first three seasons and the Chargers need to find out if he can fill in if Herbert gets hurt. They need to decide if they should bring him back in 2024 and Stick may want to go to a team that gives him a chance to start, or at least compete for a starting job.

The Chargers end the preseason Friday night, August 25th, in Santa Clara against the San Francisco 49ers. The game starts at 7:00 pm PST and will be televised on KCBS Channel 2 in Los Angeles. The Chargers current 90-man roster will need to be down to 53 players by Tuesday, August 29th by 1:00 PM PST. The 49ers game will be a battle for a roster spot for many players. Some will have an opportunity to return on the 16-man practice squad which will be selected shortly after all NFL teams have reduced their rosters to 53 players.


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