COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has noticed a difference in Los Angeles Chargers pass-rusher Joey Bosa the past few weeks, one that may signal the return of a dominant defensive end who tormented the league last season.
"Every game that he plays, every series that he plays, you start seeing him come back to who he is," Bradley said. "... He can feel it from the game, the effects, and that tells you that he's not quite maybe in game, tip-top shape where he's at, but he's getting closer. So we really like the progress he's making."
After not recording a sack in his first game back after missing nine games with a foot injury, Bosa has four sacks in his past three games. He's starting to play to his immense potential and at just the right moment. The Chargers are on the verge of playing in the postseason for the first time in five years.
On Thursday night against the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, they could be playing for even more. The Chiefs (11-2) lead the Chargers (10-3) by one game in the division, and to beat the AFC's top team, the Bolts will need the best from Bosa.
"[It's] just getting back to my technique," Bosa said. "I'm missing on some [of my] timing. I'm fast and feel good physically, [but] it's just a little technique I'm having trouble with. So, I just need to get back in the office and get going."
Bosa said it wasn't easy watching the Chargers pile up wins without him on the field.
"It just gave me perspective on how much this game really matters to me," Bosa said. "... When you really miss practicing, you know that you miss football because practice just becomes such a grind throughout the year."
Bosa, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 draft, earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after totaling 10.5 sacks in 12 games. Last season, he earned first-team Pro Bowl honors after leading the Chargers with 12.5 sacks. He set an NFL record with 19 sacks through his first 20 games, and his 27 sacks since the start of the 2016 season is tied for 11th in the NFL.
He opens things up for the Chargers' defense. With Bosa in the fold, Bradley has been more reliant on using four down linemen to rush the passer. The Chargers blitzed (sent five or more rushers) 12 percent of the time through the first 10 weeks of the season without him. But with Bosa back, the Chargers have blitzed a league-low 6 percent of the time, which allows them to play more coverage against a dangerous offense like the Chiefs.
"If you simply look at his stats on paper the last four weeks, he's back," fellow defensive end Isaac Rochell said. "He's produced, and that production turns into winning games and playing championship defense. So I think it's been big."
Rochell, who is second on the team with 4.5 sacks, said having Bosa in practice and games has helped. Rochell, in his second year in the NFL, has picked Bosa's brain about technique and how opponents are playing him.
"Just having another person to talk to and try and get better as the game goes on, as far as understanding situations and formations -- that's been a big help," Rochell said. "Just being able to have those intellectual conversations while the game is happening is big."
Rookie safety Derwin James says Bosa brings energy to the field and teammates feed off of that.
"He has a motor," James said. "He goes every play. You see it in practice, so you already know he's going to go in the game.
"It's been good because the ball has to come out a lot faster. He's been making plays in the run game also, so I feel like it's been a big help to our defense."
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Bosa hasn't picked up where he left off from last season, but he can see the Ohio State product getting better this week.
Lynn said the Chargers will need Bosa at his best when they face Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his explosive offense.
"[He brings] pass rush but also in the run defense," Lynn said. "Joey, he's our big end. He can set the edge, get off the blocks and make plays. But the pass rush is going to be critical. We've got to get to this young man [Mahomes] because he can hurt you."
Bosa's re-emergence will not take the Chiefs by surprise. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has taken notice.
"He's making a ton of plays," Reid said. "He's good. He and No. 54 [Melvin Ingram] have a great connection there, so when they're dealing it up in passing situations, it's tough, so we get it. We understand it."