As part of our mid-season analysis, RealSport are looking at reasons why the fans of the cellar-dwellers of each division still have reasons to be optimistic about their futures. First up: the San Diego Chargers. See the other editions below:
After a fifth straight loss on Monday night, the San Diego Chargers sit dead last in the AFC West at 2-7. Injuries are once again piling up across the offensive line and receiver corps, limiting the offense. The defense continues to be a work in progress, and if that wasn’t bad enough, it seems like the Oakland Raiders have finally got their house in order and will make this division tougher to win in future. So just where is the optimism to come from? Well, let’s start with a look at the cold, hard numbers from this season.
The Chargers have a points differential of -39, or 25th in the league. It’s not good, but it’s far from horrific. Their Pythagorean (this is a formula using points scored and conceded) record has them as a 3.6 win team. In all but one of their losses, San Diego have been within a touchdown at the final whistle. They have a 2-6 record in games decided by 8 points (a TD & 2 point conversion, so one possession) or less. This number looks bad, but the typical team will break even in such games. Even elite teams like the Patriots will only just stay above the 50% mark. For example, the Chargers were 9-9 in such games across the ’13 & ’14 seasons, indicating there is some bad luck involved in their poor win-loss record.
Fortunately for them, bad luck never lasts. Unfortunately for the Chargers, I think we’re at the point where the offensive line injuries can’t be put down to bad luck. Year after year there is a revolving door of linemen protecting Phil Rivers – it’s kind of amazing the Chargers keep being able to replace the ones that get hurt. Last season they had 4 different centers due to injury; this season Chris Watt and Johnnie Troutman are done for the year while Orlando Franklin missed the last 3 games with a knee sprain and King Dunlap missed Monday’s game with the Bears with an ankle injury.
However, Philip Rivers doesn’t seem to mind. He has become the NFL’s most vocal quarterback at the line of scrimmage, calling all the protections, moving receivers around in their slow no-huddle offense. His influence and importance is easy to see, and he’s the main reason to be optimistic.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league – if you don’t have one you’re not going anywhere fast; for all the Chargers’ faults they still have one of the best on the planet. They also have the perfect tool for him in Danny Woodhead. He might be completely atypical of the NFL running back mould but Woodhead is a brilliant receiver out of the backfield who compliments Rivers’ ability to diagnose the play and find the best match-up available. He’s a better runner between the tackles than you’d think and even a threat around the goal line. He’s on pace for a massive 107 targets, 1,335 yards fom scrimmage and 9 touchdowns which would all be career-highs. He’s the perfect player for this offense to ease the burden on Antonio Gates as a go-to receiver on short routes and take pressure off of the disappointing Melvin Gordon on the ground.
On the defensive side things look grim. They have the worst run defense in the NFL and the pass defense isn’t much better. The main culprit is the poor front seven who lack the ability to make plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, but there have been some signs of life. Melvin Ingram, a first round pick in 2012 has started to generate pressure. Last year’s first rounder, Jason Verrett, has done well as the team’s #1 cornerback, highlighted by his performance on Monday against Alshon Jeffery. Eric Weddle and his magnificent beard continue to roam around at safety making plays, but as a unit there’s no doubt the Chargers defense drags down the team and needs investment up front. 2015 might be done for the Chargers but 2016, be it in San Diego or Los Angeles, should be far brighter as their record in one score games normalises and the gap to their Pythagorean expectations narrows.
They’ll also be facing the tyre-fire that is the AFC South next season and the always difficult-to-predict NFC South, so a play-off place, providing Rivers survives behind this line of back-ups, isn’t out of the question.