With QB Philip Rivers sitting out Saturday's preseason game against Arizona, there wasn't much to see on the offensive side of the ball. Good thing the defense -- and rookie kicker Josh Lambo -- put on a show as the Chargers beat the Cardinals, 22-19. Lambo hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired to lift San Diego to 2-0 in preseason play.
The Chargers' pass rush, which ranked No. 29 in the NFL in 2014, looked much improved, harassing quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton with six sacks in the first half.
The Chargers only produced 26 sacks all of last season.
"I thought Melvin Ingram was on fire," said head coach Mike McCoy of the 2012 first-round pick, who lead the team with two sacks. "He was flying off the edge."
Starting linebackers Donald Butler and Jeremiah Attaochu also added a sack each, as did 2015 sixth-round pick Darius Philon and undrafted rookie middle linebacker Nick Dzubnar, who led the Bolts with seven total tackles Saturday.
Still, the defense has some work to do entering the third week of the preseason. The Chargers' starters were not especially stout against the run, allowing rookie running back David Johnson to rumble for 66 yards on only 13 carries (5.08 ypc). In the fourth quarter, former Chargers running back Marion Grice scored a 1-yard touchdown against his old team to cut San Diego's lead to 19-16. It was the lone highlight of the night for Grice, who finished with zero yards on six carries.
Also, with safety Eric Weddle leaving the game early (and already down cornerbacks Jason Verrett, Steve Williams and Chris Davis) the secondary struggled to contain Palmer. A part-time San Diego resident, Palmer lit up the Chargers' secondary during Arizona's second drive, finding rookie receiver J.J. Nelson for a huge 57-yard gain. Palmer capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown to John Brown to put the Cardinals up 6-0.
However, the Bolts' secondary settled in and started making plays once Stanton replaced Palmer at the end of the first quarter.
Rookie cornerback Craig Mager deflected a Stanton pass intended for TE Darren Fells in the end zone to prevent a touchdown. On the Cardinals' next possession, reserve middle linebacker Kavell Conner intercepted Stanton and returned it 29 yards the other way. This set up a three-yard touchdown run by Branden Oliver, the Chargers' only touchdown in the first half.
While the starting defense was making big plays, the starting offense was doing anything but. Quarterback Kellen Clemens, who started the game in place of Rivers, never looked comfortable against the Cardinals' starting defense. The veteran backup was a pedestrian 9-of-15 passing for 88 yards, with a fumbled snap and multiple poor passes downfield.
With Clemens under center the entire first half, the Chargers' offense was able to muster all of six first downs, the same amount of sacks San Diego's defense had in the same span.
McCoy admitted after the game that "we got off to a slow start offensively."
Clemens wasn't the lone contributor to the the offensive futility. Receiver Keenan Allen, who has been outstanding in training camp, did little to bail Clemens out, dropping two easy catches, including one on third-down.
Also, with rookie first-round pick Melvin Gordon out with an ankle injury, the Chargers' running backs never gained much ground against the Cardinals' defensive front, running for only 43 total yards and averaging just 2 yards per carry.
The offense finally picked up a bit in the second half against Arizona's second- and third-team defenses.
Third-string quarterback Brad Sorensen started the second half and was almost immediately picked off by Cardinals safety Harold Jones-Quartey. However, Sorenson went on to lead the Bolts' backups on three scoring drives, including an 11-play, 57-yard drive that set up the game-winner by Lambo as time expired.
McCoy said he was "pleased with how we finished," and that "Brad [Sorensen] did an outstanding job of staying poised."
Undrafted rookie receiver Tyrell Williams, who led the team with 36 yards receiving, kept the game-winning drive alive with an impressive catch on 3rd-and-12. Receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Davis also looked good in the second half, with 30 and 28 yards receiving, respectively.
The usually automatic Nick Novak missed an extra point after the Chargers' first touchdown, ending the night 1-for-2 on PATs. Lambo, on the other hand, had three touchbacks on kickoffs and made field goals from 53, 43 and 47 yards out. If there wasn't a kicker controversy before, there may be one now.
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A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter @TrentNotDilfer