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Easton Stick struggles in a game he ‘needed’

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick scrambles during the second half of a 22-17 preseason loss to the New Orleans Saints at SoFi Stadium on Sunday night. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Chargers lost to the New Orleans Saints 22-17 Sunday at SoFi Stadium in their second preseason game. Here are the highlights:

Easton Stick struggles to produce

A week after a solid performance against the Rams, No. 2 quarterback Easton Stick was less consistent, finishing 21 of 41 for 233 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble.

Stick, who is entering his fifth season but first as the backup, also scored two touchdowns while running for 63 yards on seven carries.

He played the entire game, coach Brandon Staley explaining that the increased snaps were significant at this point in Stick’s development.

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Jack Heflin.
Chargers quarterback Easton Stick is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Jack Heflin (95) in the second half Sunday. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

“Easton needed to play in a game like this,” Staley said. “He was able to fight through some things. He was able to give us a chance to win in the two-minute drill.”

The Chargers had the ball at their own 40-yard line with 2:35 remaining. Stick moved the offense to the Saints’ 28 — converting a fourth-and-23 along the way — but his final, desperate pass on another fourth down was picked off.

For the second consecutive week, Stick did put together an impressive two-minute drive at the end of the first half. He marched the Chargers 74 yards in six plays and scored on a six-yard run.

Overall, however, the offense largely sputtered, the Chargers converting only three of 15 third downs and two of five fourth downs.

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“We didn’t protect the passer very well,” Staley said. “I didn’t think we threw it with accuracy. It was inconsistent throughout the night.”

Said Stick of his showing, “Up and down, to say the least.”

Until the final minute of the first quarter, this game featured more earthquakes than Chargers’ first downs. The offense started with three consecutive three-and-outs, all after a 5.1 quake near Ojai shook the stadium about 90 minutes before kickoff.

“I was told that,” Staley said. “I did not feel it.”

JT Woods rallies

Chargers safeties Raheem Layne and safety JT Woods celebrate after Woods broke up a pass against the Saints.
Chargers safeties Raheem Layne (41) and safety JT Woods (22) celebrate after Woods broke up a pass against the Saints. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Safety JT Woods bounced back from a rough first-quarter play with a string of notable moments in the second quarter.

He provided snug coverage on tight end Lucas Krull to force an incompletion. He then had a pass breakup on Krull over the middle and followed that by fighting off a blocker to drop Krull well short of a first down on third-and-20.

Those plays forced New Orleans to settle for a 35-yard field goal following Stick’s first interception, which gave the Saints the ball at the Chargers’ 15-yard line.

Woods started the game by taking a bad angle on a screen play and allowing Saints’ wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. to turn a short toss into a 32-yard gain.

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“In a situation like that, you’ve got to keep yourself alive,” Woods said. “You’ve got to get the play down.”

Woods continues to work on his tackling, something that has been a project for him since his time at Baylor. He said he made the greatest jump in his development as a tackle between his junior and senior seasons.

“The biggest thing is just confidence,” Woods said. “I’m really just emphasizing putting my body on somebody, keeping my head up and taking an extra step when trying to wrap up someone.”

Woods explained that he needs to “trust my speed” when it comes to taking better angles when pursuing the ball.

“I’m trying to learn and develop that a little more,” he said.

Daiyan Henley causes problems for Saints

Chargers linebacker Daiyan Henley celebrates a sack against the Saints.

Chargers linebacker Daiyan Henley celebrates a sack against the Saints. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Third-round pick Daiyan Henley started at linebacker and had an active game, finishing with a team-best nine tackles, including a split sack.

The sack came in the second quarter when Henley came on the blitz to get to Jameis Winston. Carlos Kemp finished it off as the Chargers forced a punt.

“He was aggressive,” Staley said. “You see what an outstanding tackler he is. He can really feel the run game. He’s physical, outstanding in the blitz game. He just needs to keep improving.”

Henley, who relayed the defensive signals in the huddle for most of the game, was stout at the line of scrimmage on a second-quarter play to stop running back Kendre Miller for no gain.

A short time later, he brought down fullback Adam Prentice on a pass play, limiting him to a two-yard pick up.

“The biggest thing for me is flowing to the ball,” Henley said. “That’s what I’m trying to showcase out there. Today, I felt like I was able to get to the ball because of the past few weeks of practice.”

Quentin Johnston makes an impact

Chargers wide receiver Quentin Johnston runs with the ball against the Saints.

Chargers wide receiver Quentin Johnston runs with the ball against the Saints. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Rookie wideout Quentin Johnston finished with three receptions for 37 yards, snagging each one of his targets. In the Chargers’ preseason opener, Johnston had a pair of drops.

His first catch went for 16 yards and a first down. Johnston then caught a ball in tight coverage for a six-yard gain.

After drawing a holding penalty on New Orleans cornerback Isaac Yiadom, Johnston had a 15-yard reception for another first down.

Tuli Tuipulotu shows his skills

Chargers linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu tackles New Orleans Saints running back Kendre Miller in the first half.

Chargers linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu (45) tackles New Orleans Saints running back Kendre Miller in the first half. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Among the other defensive highlights, Tuli Tuipulotu beat Saints starting left tackle Trevor Penning on a four-yard tackle for loss in the first quarter.

Fellow rookie Scott Matlock had a tackle for loss in the first half. Then, in the third quarter, Matlock had his hands on running back Ellis Merriweather in the backfield but couldn’t bring him down.

Also of note: In the battle for the kicking job, Dustin Hopkins made a 25-yard field goal and an extra point and Cameron Dicker hit his only extra-point try… Tight end Stone Smartt, battling for more playing time this season, had four receptions for 32 yards… For the second consecutive preseason game, starting guards Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer both played. They remained in for four series before being replaced by Jordan McFadden and Zack Bailey… Wide receiver Jalen Guyton, who remains on the physically unable to perform list because of a knee injury, worked out lightly on the field before the game… Reserve linebacker and special teams player Amen Ogbongbemiga didn’t play because of an undisclosed injury. Staley said he hopes Ogbongbemiga can return to practice this week.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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