Takeaways from Chargers’ preseason loss to Cowboys

The Chargers lost their second preseason game Saturday night, falling to Dallas 32-18 at SoFi Stadium.

Here are some observations from a rough night for the home team:

The biggest takeaway was the postgame mood of coach Brandon Staley, who was as blunt as he was honest.

“A really poor first half for us, about as poorly as you can play,” Staley said. “I don’t like the way that first half felt or looked.”

The Chargers had the game’s only two turnovers and surrendered two kick returns for touchdowns — all in the first two quarters.

During an eight-minute stretch just before halftime, the Cowboys scored three touchdowns to open a 29-10 lead.

“When you have two turnovers and you give up two special teams touchdowns,” Staley said, “that’s the way the score’s gonna look.”

The Chargers were so disappointed in their special teams last season that they changed their punter, long snapper and kick returner. They also hired a new coordinator in Ryan Ficken and assistant in Chris Gould.

The special teams units have been an issue for this team for some time, and Staley committed to fixing the problem this offseason.

Then Saturday night arrived and Dallas’ KaVontae Turpin returned a first-quarter kickoff 98 yards and second-quarter punt 86 yards for scores.

“I think it was disappointing because that’s not the way we practiced this week,” Staley said. “To come out there and play that way, they’re going to learn a lot from that.”

While it’s true the Chargers didn’t have their full projected starting kick coverage teams on the field Saturday, there were still plenty of players out there with plenty to play for.

The kickoff team that was victimized included Troy Reeder, Joshua Kelley, JT Woods, Deane Leonard, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Cole Christiansen, Kemon Hall and Raheem Layne.

The punt team included Leonard, Woods, Christiansen, Larry Rountree III, Zander Horvath, Hunter Kampmoyer and long snapper Josh Harris, who made the Pro Bowl last season.

Several of those players have been working with the No. 1 kick coverage teams in practice.

“They’re gonna learn that the entire NFL is watching and we’re watching the entire NFL,” Staley said. “That’s why these games are important when you’re playing and you need to make sure that you perform or else we’ll find someone else who can.”

By the way, Turpin was listed as Dallas’ third-string kick returner.

Easton Stick started at quarterback for the Chargers and threw an interception in the game’s first two minutes. He also fumbled late in the first half deep in Chargers territory, gifting the Cowboys a touchdown.

“Easton was up and down,” Staley said.

The interception was particularly forgettable, Stick throwing into Dallas’ two-deep zone when, Staley explained afterward, he should have checked down to a safer route.

“Just not good enough anywhere tonight, and it starts with me,” Stick said. “Obviously, the first drive can’t happen like that.”

Easton Stick rushes the ball for the Chargers.

Chargers backup quarterback Easton Stick rushes the ball against the Dallas Cowboys in the first quarter Saturday at SoFi Stadium.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Stick called his decision “hyper aggressive” and “just really poor.”

As for the “up” portion of his night, Stick completed eight of his next 10 attempts after the pickoff in leading the Chargers to a field goal and touchdown on their next two possessions.

The touchdown capped 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 finished 11 of 20 for 134 yards before giving way to Chase Daniel in the second half.

The brightest light for the Chargers was Joshua Palmer, the team’s No. 3 wide receiver. Entering his second season, Palmer caught three passes for 75 yards.

He made a contested catch over cornerback Nahshon Wright for a 41-yard gain and scored on an 18-yard screen.

“I felt like he played really well,” Staley said. “I felt like he had a really good week of practice against these guys… I think that he’s playing with confidence, and that’s why we wanted to get him in these games in the preseason. We know that he’s a starting-caliber player.”

None of the Chargers’ running backs did much to influence the battle to be Austin Ekeler’s backup.

Kelley rushed seven times for 18 yards and Rountree four times for 11 yards. Rookie Isaiah Spiller had three carries before leaving the game because of an ankle injury.

Staley said the injury “should not be anything serious.”

Michael Bandy continued his productive preseason, catching eight passes for 69 yards.

“He’s a competitor,” Staley said. “He’s doing a great job being friendly to our quarterback, getting open, making big catches. He’s a guy who is really taking advantage of his opportunities.”

In the Chargers’ starting right tackle competition, Storm Norton opened the game and played the first two series before Trey Pipkins III entered.

Leonard left the game in the second quarter and did not return because of a “soft-tissue” injury, Staley said.

Safeties Alohi Gilman (undisclosed) and Mark Webb Jr. (calf) did not play. Staley indicated both were held out in hopes they could return for the Chargers’ preseason finale Friday in New Orleans.

Brenden Jaimes started at left guard before rookie Jamaree Salyer replaced him after two series.

Chris Rumph II had another tackle for loss on Dallas’ third play from scrimmage. Joe Gaziano had a sack and a second quarterback hit.

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