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NFL roundtable: Can Chargers' D take next step? How Rams reinforcements could help

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) is still playing with a bandage on his hand.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) is still playing with a bandage on his injured left (non-throwing) hand. (Associated Press)

The Chargers' defense stepped up with eight sacks and kept the New York Jets out of the end zone during a 27-6 win on "Monday Night Football." The Rams could not muster much offense, and nary a touchdown, in a 20-3 loss at the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller and NFL columnist Sam Farmer discuss what happened and upcoming prospects:

How many times did this cross your mind? If Aaron Rodgers had started at quarterback, the Chargers would have lost to the Jets. Zach Wilson seemed to be off target often and awkward in the pocket.

Miller: I actually never thought about it once, which is pretty much how the NFL works when it comes to injuries. Rodgers was on the field pregame firing balls around and looking like a guy who thinks he really can return to play this season. Who knows? The Chargers certainly took advantage of a wounded offense in this game. If Rodgers had played, this certainly wouldn't have been a three-touchdown decision.

Farmer: We didn’t even see Aaron Rodgers for a full series [in the Jets' opener], so this is stacking hypotheticals on hypotheticals. But yes, a future Hall of Fame quarterback would make a difference. These Jets have a championship defense and an offense that’s seriously lacking. They’ve scored eight touchdowns in eight games, and four of those touchdowns were on one-play drives. They’ve had only one game in which they’ve scored more than one offensive touchdown. The Jets have been blown out by two teams, the Cowboys and Chargers, and might have been 7-1 or 6-2 with Rodgers. Then again, as the saying goes, the best ability is availability.

Justin Herbert threw for a career-low 136 yards but some of that has to be attributed to the injury-ravaged receiving corps. Do the Chargers have any options other than hoping a sudden emergence by rookie Derius Davis and the return of Jalen Guyton can make a difference? Do they need to bring in another receiver?

Miller: The options on the street are significantly limited at this point. I think the heat on Herbert was the bigger issue Monday. The Jets pressured him on more than half of his dropbacks for most of the night. There were also a number of passes dropped. What the Chargers need, wide receiver-wise, is for rookie Quentin Johnston to be more of a consistent factor.

Read more: Chargers defense outplays vaunted Jets unit, keeping N.Y. out of end zone in road win

Austin Ekeler scored twice but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and had two catches on seven targets. Those are subpar numbers for the Chargers running back. Is he still not 100% healthy after his early-season injury or is this a product of a suffering offense?

Miller: The Herbert-Ekeler connection was clearly off Monday. He failed to hold on to a couple of passes he normally catches, and Herbert's ball placement to Ekeler seemed a bit askew. The Chargers look like they're going to be a team that simply struggles to run the ball with any sort of consistency, which has been a problem for most of the time since they moved to Los Angeles.

The Chargers' defense goes from facing the 31st-ranked passing offense in the NFL in the New York Jets to the Detroit Lions, who start Jared Goff at quarterback and are second in yards per game. Also the Lions have a strong defense. Do you think the Chargers' offense can keep up with the Lions' offense or does L.A. need another defensive gem?

Miller: Oh, they're going to need this sort of defense — against the Lions and the rest of the way — if they're going to realize anything close to their preseason potential. We know the Chargers can stop lesser quarterbacks, and they just added Zach Wilson to their list. The question that remains is if they can put the clamps on a quarterback like Goff. We'll all know the answer soon enough.

Farmer: A defensive gem would be helpful, of course, but the Chargers can’t rely on that. The Lions are a complete team with some serious momentum. It seems every NFL team, even the best ones, has had some letdowns this year. Detroit’s came in Week 6 with a 38-6 loss to Baltimore. Are the Chargers capable of keeping up on offense? Yes, they have Justin Herbert and some weapons. But he’s going to have to return to that precision down-the-field passing we were once used to seeing.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) calls out a play from behind the linemen.
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) returns to Los Angeles with a high-powered offense. (Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

Going into the off week, do you think the Rams have a more promising offense or defense? We’re talking with Matthew Stafford at quarterback.

Farmer: I would say their offense is more promising, but we haven’t really seen that offense at anything close to full strength in a while. With quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Kyren Williams and right tackle Rob Havenstein sidelined by injuries, and tight end Tyler Higbee banged up, we’re talking about a MASH unit. Coming out of the Week 6 win over Arizona, the Rams had the league’s fourth-leading rusher in Williams and the third-leading receiver in Puka Nacua. Since then, the training room has gotten a lot more crowded.

Klein: If Stafford is physically sound, the Rams' offense is more promising. But the Rams also need running back Kyren Williams to return from the ankle injury that put him on injured reserve, and for coach Sean McVay to figure out how to maximize the receivers combination of Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell.

With an extra week off to assess the damage, will the Rams have any reinforcements coming back from injury, and do you see lineup changes coming at any positions?

Farmer: Stafford and Havenstein should be coming back soon, as should nose tackle Bobby Brown and linebacker Ernest Jones. Cornerback Cobie Durant should be back after missing most of the Green Bay game. Williams probably won’t be back until the Week 12 game against Arizona. But that’s a start.

Read more: Sean McVay believes Matthew Stafford will be back in action after Rams' off week

Klein: Yes, Stafford, offensive lineman Rob Havenstein and linebacker Ernest Jones should be back. As you said, Williams and running back Ronnie Rivers cannot return until Week 12 against the Arizona Cardinals. Against the Packers, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris started Cobie Durant as an outside cornerback in place of Derion Kendrick. Whether that carries over going forward remains to be seen.

It’s a long way off, but next the Rams get Seattle at home after upsetting them on the road in the season opener. The Seahawks are currently 5-3. How have the teams changed since the opener?

Farmer: We know what’s happened with the Rams. Obviously the Seahawks have gone 5-2 since then, although they’re coming off an ugly loss at Baltimore. Geno Smith has been pretty erratic and unreliable lately, with six interceptions in four games. Sean McVay frequently has Pete Carroll’s number, so we’ll see.

Klein: The Rams scored 23 points in the second half against the Seahawks. Only once since did they come anything close to repeating that kind of production — when they scored 20 second-half points against the Cardinals. Before the trade deadline, the Seahawks added defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The Rams added no one.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford tries to outrun the Seahawks' Bobby Wagner in their season opener.
With Matthew Stafford at quarterback, the Rams upset Bobby Wagner and the Seahawks in their season opener. Seattle has gone 5-2 since and the Rams 2-6. (Stephen Brashear / Associated Press)

Football analysts have been saying the Rams have an easier schedule than most in the NFC after their off week. Do you think they still have a chance to contend for that seventh playoff spot, or was the Green Bay loss too devastating?

Klein: The defeat had to be deflating on multiple levels. But the NFL is crazy. Look at the end of that Eagles vs. Cowboys game. So anything is possible with eight games left.

Farmer: Seems weird to be contemplating the playoffs with a 3-6 team coming off a blowout loss to three-win Green Bay. The Rams would have to go on a whale of a run to play themselves back into the picture. Somebody’s probably going to get into the postseason at 9-8, and the Rams do have a chance to chip away at some of those teams ahead of them — Seattle, Washington, New Orleans, San Francisco. But that ultra-slim possibility doesn’t exist unless and until Stafford gets back. And soon.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.