May 27, 2024

They’ve lost to teams that are a combined 5-3 and beaten teams that are a combined 2-6.

They’re top 10 in total yards, passing yards and points offensively and bottom 10 in total yards, passing yards and points defensively.

They are one of seven AFC teams that are 2-2.

Through four weeks and four wildly entertaining, exhausting, maddening games, the Chargers basically add up to being average, their .500 record a tailor fit.

“It’s not where we wanted to be,” cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. said, “but we’re trending in the right direction.”

The trend certainly has improved after the Chargers opened with losses to Miami and Tennessee, defeats that weighed prominently on a team facing a daunting schedule.

Victories over Minnesota and Las Vegas brought needed stability as the Chargers headed into their off week before readying for a 13-game stretch that will offer no breaks but plenty of angst.

When they return, they’ll play Dallas on “Monday Night Football” on Oct. 16 and then travel to take on Kansas City, both those opponents considered Super Bowl contenders.

If the Chargers play well enough to remain relevant, they almost certainly will need to close strong over a final four-week stretch that features AFC West games at Las Vegas and Denver and home dates against Buffalo and the Chiefs.

“Coming out 2-2 after you started 0-2 is huge,” defensive lineman Morgan Fox said. “Next we have Dallas, and they’re a really good team. We’re going to have to get our minds right and be ready to go.”

The Chargers weren’t forecast to be average. They weren’t built that way, either, with ownership sinking heavy cash into the defense and management pushing the roster toward the uglier edges of the salary cap.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) calls teammates to the sideline before a game against the Miami Dolphins.

The Chargers have missed injured running back Austin Ekeler but hope to have him back for their Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This is a team constructed to win now, with pricey veteran stars such as Khalil Mack, Keenan Allen and Joey Bosa, a franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert and an ultra-productive running back in Austin Ekeler in the final year of his contract.

As difficult as it is to predict what will happen over the next three months, it’s equally tough to project the events thereafter if this season goes sideways.

But, if that is the case, this much seems clear: Unlike the 2023 offseason, the 2024 version will promise more volatility.

All of that, of course, remains in the relatively far-off distance as the Chargers slow their pace, heal their bodies and reset their minds for the next wave of NFL-mandated chaos.

“We have some things we know we definitely have to get better at moving forward,” Fox said. “We have some tough challenges coming up. We have to take a deep breath now.”

For starters, the Chargers’ defense has to be more consistent and less filled with open space. Even with consecutive late win-sealing interceptions, this defense simply has been too vulnerable against the pass.

The sorting-out process began Wednesday when the Chargers traded J.C. Jackson to New England in a deal that also included a swap of late-round 2025 draft picks.

Jackson’s time with the team looked to be running short when he was inactive for Week 3 against Minnesota and then dressed but didn’t play in Week 4 against Las Vegas.

The Chargers ended up paying Jackson about $38.5 million for seven games, one interception and 18 tackles as his free-agent signing in March of 2022 turned into an unmitigated failure because of injuries and ineffectiveness.

The summation of Jackson’s tenure with the Chargers illustrated why NFL teams tend to acquire players with whom the coaching staff and/or front office is familiar.

The Chargers had little history with Jackson — wide receivers coach Chris Beatty was at Maryland during Jackson’s time as a Terrapin — and the partnership never seemed a good fit.

Offensively, the Chargers sputtered in the second half against the Raiders until Herbert and wide receiver Joshua Palmer made the one play necessary — a 51-yard, third-down-converting completion — to clinch the victory.

Such droughts only highlight the absence of Ekeler, who has missed the last three games because of a high-ankle sprain. Known for his ability to reach the end zone, Ekeler also offers Herbert a vital receiving option.

In the opener, he caught four passes for 47 yards. In the three games since, Chargers running backs have five receptions for 33 yards.

Ekeler is expected back after the break, his return one step toward this group being closer to complete.

The Chargers will need to be as whole as possible once they resume their season, this so-far so-so team harboring expectations well above average.

“The start of the season can be tough because everyone is still sorting things out,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “Now, we have a better idea of who we are. But we need to keep getting better. There are a lot of challenges ahead.”

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