Winter of the Bolt?
We all know they are on a 6-game losing streak and the signs point to yet, another disappointing season. There is no evidence from this season that could tell us they will make a run in these last 5 games. It may be a reach to go to the past, considering that they missed the playoffs last year. The games still have to be played, but it is way too early to quit on these guys.
The Chargers are known for their December football, and this year they have struggled after an unusual hot start. Look, any team can turn things around, it’s just a matter of “will they?” The opportunity is realistic and it’s right there, because they don’t really get beat by other teams. Meaning, the wounds are self-inflicted and most importantly, correctable. The Bolts are 4-7, but they are only 2 games out of first place behind the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos in the AFC West. The momentum is clearly in favor of the rival counterparts, but San Diego has experienced the most recent success throughout the years and are battle-tested which indicates they are still alive and have 5 games to turn things around.
Can Philip Rivers play any worse? This is obviously his worst season at the helm and he leads all quarterbacks in turnovers. That is not Philip Rivers football. Yes, passes are being forced but the receivers are quitting on plays and the signal-caller is getting hit and sacked often. Vincent Jackson goes awol and has us scratching our heads on some plays, but Malcolm Floyd can’t even play 3 games in a row. Antonio Gates was off the field for half the season, and immobile when he was on the field, until these past couple weeks.
But as a whole, the offense is a mess. The offensive line can’t stay healthy, but every team gets injuries and that is just not an acceptable excuse. What’s up with the running game between Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert? Well, you can point to their inexperience, the playcalling, and even go back to the lack of an offensive line. It takes a team to run the football.
Looking at the numbers, Mathews averages 4.7 yards per carry, and Tolbert has 3.9 . They have 7 combined rushing touchdowns. Tolbert also leads the team with 45 catches, so the Sproles argument can go out the window. We can all agree Darren Sproles is a vital part to any offense, but considering Tolbert’s involvement running and receiving, it appears to be a product of a Norv Turner offense.
Speaking of Norv Turner, it is widely known that he is one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The issue lays in his head coaching abilities and decision making. Take former Chargers defensive coordinator and former Dallas Cowboys head coach, Wade Phillips, for instance. Phillips brought San Diego’s defense into the upper-echelon and took the Cowboys to the playoffs. Now? He is the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, whom have the best defense in the NFL.Is that necessarily a good thing? For Bolts fans, probably not. But don’t be surprised if Turner goes elsewhere and reaps success as a coordinator.
Takeo Spikes. He is a leader on and off the field, and leads this team in tackles. What hurts this defense, is the regression of Quentin Jammer and Eric Weddle. Sure, tally some tackles and you get noticed. Unfortunately, most tackles are at least 5 yards down the field. Linebacker Donald Butler has been a bright spot. He has his share of mistakes due to his inexperience, but like young players do he is developing and is 2nd on the team in tackles. I’ll tell you one thing though, without the team’s access to game film, it is much harder to grade and analyze defensive players beyond statistics (in comparison to the offense).
It amazes me how Antonio Garay has 43 tackles as a defensive tackle. He has notched 2 sacks this season, and countless double teams in the trenches. Perfect, no. But he has quickly become a force and an unsung hero in this defense. It hurts not to have Luis Castillo, but I believe Tommie Harris has a bit left in his tank to play better along the defensive front. Corey Liuget is legit, he just needs to keep playing snaps and he can be a difference maker hopefully these 3 players can get it together for the stretch run.
The addition of Takeo Spikes was huge, especially for the players int he huddle, but there has to be more help than just Butler. Shaun Phillips continues his magician ways, “now you see me, now you don’t!” He only has 27 tackles and 3 sacks this season.
The secondary has been disappointing and ugly all season long. Bob Sanders has always been an elite player that, unfortunately, can’t finish a season. So you couldn’t expect the world from him, that was a low risk/high reward move there. Gregory can get tackles, but he got even more last season before he was suspended for substance abuse. Cason just hasn’t panned out to be the player the Chargers thought they were getting in the 1st round 3 years ago. He does have 9 passes defended, slightly above the league average for a starting cornerback. Weddle makes some plays and Jammer has his moments, but these guys are supposed to be the glue. They very well could be affected by the front-7 and the lack of consistency, but Jammer hasn’t been covering as well as recent seasons and Weddle is getting picked on and tested frequently.
It started with Kaeding and Novak has taken over after yet another injury , and has been outstanding (overall). He will be kicking for someone next year if it’s not in San Diego. And Scifres continues to be one of the elite punters in the league, those guys are often overlooked. The coverage teams and return game are sub-par, but there are literally only a handful of “special” returners (Devin Hester, DeSean Jackson, Patrick Peterson, to name a few).
All in all, this team is injury-riddled, but we saw what Green Bay was able to do last year (win the Superbowl with 15 players on I.R.). The only thing I would blame on the coaching, is the playcalling on critical downs (like those 3rd and shorts or 4th and goals). The players have to step up and play, they get paid to do this and they need to do their jobs. All the X’s and O’s in the world can’t transfer to the field if the individual players don’t do their jobs. And the team cannot succeed as a unit. The Raiders are having a good turnaround season and the Broncos have come back from the dead (no pun intended), but the Bolts just need to focus on the boring and the cliche “one game at a time” and “focus on themselves.” And yes, boring beyond the cliches and onto the field by running the ball even more. A run game is a quarterback and a defense’s best friend, and will certainly cut down the turnovers and keep opposing offense off the field.
Don’t let me ruin your hopes if you root for the Bolts because they are still alive and anything can happen. I’m not counting this team out by any means because I know what they’re capable of, but I see them finishing behind both the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos. I think the Raiders win the division, and the Broncos surpass the Cincinnati Bengals to clinch a wildcard spot in the postseason.