What else would you expect from the San Diego Chargers? This is what they continue to do, year after year. They will rise to the occasion of playing the defending Super Bowl champions, and let you down weeks later by looking like a completely different team. This season they beat the Seattle Seahawks, then everyone wanted to label them as paper champions.
What happened after that 31-0 pounding they gave the New York Jets? As someone that goes to Chargers Camp every offseason, this team hangs onto every high and low. They are extremely talented at the skill positions. Back in camp, I was telling people about no-names like Branden Oliver and Marion Grice. Oliver got a golden opportunity to start after injuries to the top three running backs on the depth chart. He also got some help from the Arizona Cardinals, who nabbed Grice off the practice squad when they moved on from Jonathan Dwyer.
For years, the media would tout the Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys as the most talented teams. And for years, they supposedly underachieved. San Diego did some damage in the playoffs by winning at Cincinnati. How did the 8-8 Bolts make the playoffs? They were neck and neck against the rival Kansas City Chiefs, who played their second and third stringers to rest starters after clinching a playoff spot. It came down to the final seconds, where the Chiefs missed chip shot field goal.
As for the 3-game skid against AFC opponents, you can give their rivals a lot of credit. Sure, the Chiefs already beat them, and so did the Denver Broncos. Last week the Miami Dolphins blew them out 37-0. The problem derives from that dominating win against the struggling Jets. Call it being overconfident or cocky, but they absolutely overlooked their next opponent, the Oakland Raiders. Sometimes when you’re the better team, you can get away with sloppy football and escaping with a win at the end. That is what they did against the Silver and Black 31-28.
The defense had been playing so well, and perhaps the handful of injuries on that side of the ball caught up to them. They allowed rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, to shred them with four passing touchdowns. Receiver Andre Holmes went off for over a hundred yards, and Darren McFadden picked up over five yards per carry. Granted the Raiders were coming off a bye week, it was also the first game playing for interim head coach, Tony Sparano. Philip Rivers only got sacked once, statistically, but the line was pressure throughout the game.
That’s what the other AFC West rivals saw on film. Rivers has been harassed every since. Opponents have been focusing on the ground game and applying pressure. It’s worked, taking Oliver out of games and actually forcing Rivers to throw. The Chargers haven’t invested in the O-line and it’s showing. The Chiefs got to Rivers twice, recovered a fumbled off of him, and picked him off. The pocket was swarmed. They weren’t even competitive against the Broncos on Thursday Night Football. Again, they were only to get a pair of sacks on him, but they did force a couple interceptions and completely took away the running game. The numbers finally jumped out in the box score, when the Dolphins sacked him four times, recovering his fumble, and snagging three picks. The ground game was stacked against and nonexistent.
Is it the receivers not getting enough separation? Was Oliver on the practice squad for a reason? Is the defense too banged up? When there’s a load of questions, the answer is usually all the above. That includes the stubborn play calling, and stubborn quarterback. The bye comes at a great time but schedule gets no easier. I just flat out, don’t believe this is that talented of a team, even when healthy. They rely on a ball-controlling, clock-chewing gameplan, to disguise flaws on both sides of the ball. Keenan Allen is having a sophomore slump. Oliver hasn’t been the problem, but Ryan Mathews will give them a boost when he returns after the bye.
It’s easy to point the blame, what about solutions? I’ve been a fan of receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, a special teams contributor and fill-in receiver. They continue to ignore his 20 yards per catch impact. Without Mathews, they have given up on the run too early. Rivers is starting to stare his targets down and looks like he only looks at his first two options. Maybe Malcolm Floyd has earned ore targets. When you know the line is struggling, and receivers aren’t giving Rivers wider windows, put Ladarius Green in there with Antonio Gates, to help block and make plays downfield.
The defense isn’t all-world, but they did just claim defensive lineman, Damion Square off waivers. He started for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, and was the odd man out with a new regime. Square was playing god football, shedding blocks to get a hand on running backs. He was even drawing occasional double-teams because he made his way into the quarterback’s face. If they put him on the field, he can only help a lifeless D-line. They are definitely built to feed off the offense’s controlling style. They’re better in the secondary too, when healthy, despite using several draft picks in the front seven. John Pagano is one of the better defensive coordinators, he just doesn’t have that much talent to work with up front.
I wouldn’t bet on who clinches a wildcard playoff spot in the AFC. You would think the Bolts would be favorite to get in, but as of right the they have stiff competition. They are behind nine AFC teams, including the Chiefs, Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Buffalo Bills. Along with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, the Chargers have the better QB out of the bunch. I don’t think the Browns and Bills will keep winning, but I do think the Steelers, Chiefs, and Dolphins, all have better outlooks. That’s why they play the came. SD has a chance to steer things in the right direction coming out of their much-needed bye week.