Chargers must take a run at Titans by solving red-zone failures

There were two runs that netted just a single yard, a sack, a false-start penalty and a fumbled snap.

Four red-zone trips each came up short of six points Sunday for the Chargers against Miami for four different reasons.

That has been a theme throughout 2022 for this team, an offense that features Justin Herbert’s arm and intellect struggling to finish drives.

The Chargers have scored touchdowns on only 47.9% of their trips inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. That ranks 27th in the NFL. Last season, the Chargers were fifth at 64%.

Entering their game Sunday against Tennessee, the Chargers are trying to fix an issue that has been particularly troubling of late.

They scored touchdowns only twice in six red-zone trips against the Dolphins and are just two of nine over the last two weeks.

Asked Thursday what needs to improve, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said, “Overall, running the ball better, calling better plays and executing better.”

Running the ball has been a shortcoming for this offense all season. The Chargers rushed for 238 yards in Week 5 at Cleveland. They’ve reached as many as 115 yards on the ground in one other game.

In their four failed red-zone trips Sunday, the Chargers ran the ball four times. One of those plays picked up 12 yards. The other three gained two, one and zero.

The ability to run the ball when deep in the opponent’s end is crucial because of the condensed nature of operating in the red zone. The closer the goal line, the less room there is to work.

“Running the ball is different, in terms of how people do it,” coach Brandon Staley said. “Some people get in big groupings. Some people spread you out. To be able to hand the ball to your back, I think that is a great way to do it.

“Just finding that consistency, for us, in how we run the football down there, I think is important. We’re continuing to work hard at it, and it needs to improve for our team.”

The Chargers’ red-zone numbers in 2022 no doubt have been impacted by all their injuries. Wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both have missed extended stretches.

Herbert’s mobility also was noticeably diminished in the weeks following the fractured rib cartilage injury he suffered in mid-September. With no chance of the quarterback running, an offense loses a significant red-zone threat.

Williams returned from a high-ankle sprain Sunday and, early in the second quarter, caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Herbert for one of the Chargers’ two successful red-zone trips.

Donald Parham Jr., the team’s No. 2 tight end, is set to return against the Titans after being limited to 37 snaps all season because of concussion and hamstring issues. At 6 foot 8, he can be a red-zone weapon.

“With the guys that we have, we definitely should be performing better there than we have been,” Lombardi said. “It is certainly something we are working on, and it wouldn’t shock me if we go on a run and all of a sudden do really well in the red zone moving forward. We have to do it.”

With the Chargers trying to play their way into the postseason over the next four weeks, scoring touchdowns instead of field goals could be the difference in advancing deeper into January.

“I deserve as much criticism as anybody,” Staley said. “We need to score the ball better down there. Last year, we were a top-five unit in the red area, and I was jacked about that. It’s something that’s very core to me, how we play in the red zone.”

Etc.

Pro Bowl safety Derwin James Jr. remains out because of a quadriceps injury. He hasn’t practiced this week and is unlikely to play Sunday. … Right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee), defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle) each were limited in practice Thursday.

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