NFL preseason: Takeaways from the Chargers’ loss to Cowboys

Not even two minutes into the game Saturday night, Easton Stick had thrown an interception.

But Stick recovered quickly and impressively, completing eight of his next 10 attempts and leading the Chargers to a field goal and touchdown on their next two possessions.

Vying with Chase Daniel for the job backing up Justin Herbert, Stick was one of the early highlights in the Chargers’ 32-18 preseason loss to the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium.

The early lowlights for the home team included two special teams touchdowns surrendered. The Cowboys’ KaVontae Turpin returned a first-quarter kickoff 98 yards and a second-quarter punt 86 yards for scores.

Special teams has been an issue the last few seasons, particularly for the Chargers, who again held out most of their starters.

SoFi Stadium had a notable glitch as the scoreboards weren’t functioning at the start of the game. The massive overhead video board remained dark throughout the first half.

KaVontae Turpin (2) celebrates with his Dallas Cowboys teammates after returning a punt for a touchdown.

KaVontae Turpin (2) celebrates with his Dallas Cowboys teammates after returning a punt 86 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Another early highlight for the Chargers was the effort of Joshua Palmer, the team’s No. 3 wide receiver. Entering his second season, Palmer made a nice catch over cornerback Nahshon Wright for a 41-yard gain and then scored on an 18-yard screen.

The touchdown came on the Chargers’ third series, a 12-play march during which Stick hit Jalen Guyton to convert one third down and Jason Moore Jr. to convert another.

Then, on third and 13, Stick kept the drive going by scrambling for 25 yards.

Stick’s night soured a bit late in the first half when he fumbled on a sack, leading to a Dallas touchdown as the Cowboys opened a 29-10 lead after two quarters.

In the Chargers’ right tackle competition, Storm Norton started and played the first two series before being replaced by Trey Pipkins III.

Entering Saturday, the Chargers had not publicly made a decision at the position.

“We’re going to continue to evaluate it until we feel like we’re ready,” coach Brandon Staley said Thursday. “But I will tell you that both of them are improved football players, and I’m really proud of the way they’ve improved.”

Norton has started 18 of the 24 NFL games in which he has appeared. Fifteen of those starts came at right tackle last season. Pipkins has 10 starts in 38 appearances over his first three seasons.

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick hands off to running back Larry Rountree III against the Cowboys.

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick hands off to running back Larry Rountree III against the Cowboys.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers coaches have consistently expressed confidence in both players and the idea that the offense will be improved at right tackle either way.

“I think we’re going to end up being a lot better there, regardless of who wins that position,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said early in camp. “I think that we’re going to feel real good about the depth, as well.”

The Chargers’ starting offensive front, including Norton and Pipkins rotating at right tackle, struggled early in joint practices with Dallas on Wednesday and Thursday before showing improvement.

Norton was a much better run blocker than pass blocker last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Based on PFF’s evaluation, only one NFL tackle gave up more sacks and pressures last season than Norton did.

Pipkins was a third-round draft pick in 2019, taken as a longer-term project out of Sioux Falls. He has shown potential but has lacked steadiness to his game, something Lombardi said is improving.

“I haven’t seen some of the dips maybe that we saw last year in his performance,” Lombardi said. “Just a lot of consistency. He’s a talented guy and he’s been playing more like you’d expect from him so far in camp.”

The Chargers also are trying to identify a second running back to complement Austin Ekeler.

Joshua Kelley started Saturday, with Larry Rountree III coming in for the second series and Isaiah Spiller making his first offensive appearance on the opening play of the second quarter.

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Mike Tafua sacks Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel in the fourth quarter.

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Mike Tafua sacks Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel in the fourth quarter.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Kelvin Joseph tackles Chargers wide receiver Jason Moore Jr.

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Kelvin Joseph tackles Chargers wide receiver Jason Moore Jr. during the first quarter Saturday.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The evaluation of the running backs won’t simply be totaling the yards gained. It will be more nuanced, factoring in minor details and considering the context of each play.

Against the Rams last weekend, Staley noted how Kelley converted a third and six on a check-down pass and how Spiller maximized a couple runs in heavy traffic.

Staley also praised Rountree’s toughness on one run that netted more yards than might have been expected.

“Larry had a really good contact run … where it was kind of mano a mano in the hole,” Staley said, “and he makes contact and falls forward two-and-a-half, three more yards.”

The Chargers will return to practice Monday at their training facility in Costa Mesa to prepare for their preseason finale Friday in New Orleans.

The deadline for the next round of roster cuts is Tuesday, when the NFL mandates that teams move from 85 to 80 players. The 53-man rosters are due Aug. 30.

The Chargers’ regular-season opener is scheduled to kick off at 1:25 p.m. Sept. 11 against Las Vegas at SoFi Stadium.

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