It’s a bye week for the Chargers, an off-week with no game on the schedule. It is not a bye week for the fans, who are spending their time doing what they do often — criticizing an underachieving team.
Last Monday night’s game — the blown lead, blow-out loss to the Denver Broncos — was supposed to be a statement game, a San Diego victory that would put the team in the driver’s seat in the AFC West. A loss threw them back into the pack.
When last heard from, the fans were showering the team with boos after the Chargers blew a 24-0 lead and watched the Broncos score 35 points in a row in an emotional come-from-behind win.
Now there is fallout everywhere.
Head coach Norv Turner contradicts himself, stressing how he believes in his team. A sentence later he admits there are flaws in that same team. Then he says San Diego has to maintain its attack philosophy on offense. A comment later he is talking about streamlining the playbook to help out his under-siege quarterback, Philip Rivers, who has become a turnover machine.
There are so many problems in San Diego right now you need a calculator to tabulate the sum total. Name a topic and there is an issue attached to it. There is no one solution to the Chargers’ woes, for they are all connected like a chain-link fence.
Rivers has been pounded unmercifully for the second year in a row. Yes, he has thrown for over 4,000 yards in four straight seasons.
But now he is turning the ball over. In his last 22 games, dating back to opening day of the 2011 season, Rivers has 37 turnovers. He has thrown 28 interceptions and lost nine fumbles. He has been sacked 48 times in those 22 games. He is getting hammered and the turnovers are hurting the team.
His offensive line has been overwhelmed, and in the process, the quarterback has taken a beating. The career-ending injuries that took away Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill and Pro Bowl guard Kris Dielman almost simultaneously have been catastrophic.
Pro Football Focus, which does research on individual players, this week ranked the top 64 offensive tackles in the NFL. Struggling right tackle Jeormey Clary is ranked 45th at his position. Left tackle Mike Harris is ranked 57th. Substandard protection for sure.
Once upon a time, the Chargers came to the line of scrimmage with Pro Bowl pass catcher Vincent Jackson and fellow tight end Antonio Gates.
There was future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson at running back. Darren Sproles came off the bench to provide a spark as a third down pass catcher and runner.
Jackson and Gates forced teams to double cover them, allowing receivers on the other side to run free against single coverage.
The Jackson-Gates combo terrorized defenses. Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown became key contributors in the passing game. What Jackson and Gates did not catch, Floyd and Brown did. Not so anymore.
Jackson left as a free agent, heading to Tampa Bay for a big payday after years of contract issues with management. Gates has made a courageous comeback from chronic foot problems. Brown is out, slowly recovering from a broken ankle. Floyd catches balls, but not at the rate he used to. And the new acquisitions, Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, have not become impact receivers.
Tomlinson is retired. Sproles is in New Orleans duplicating numbers for the Saints and Drew Brees that he used to compile for Rivers. The replacement Ryan Mathews has shown Tomlinson-like flashes, but fumbles and gets nicked up, slowing his progress towards stardom.
The end result — Rivers has fewer bullets in the gun to fight the fight. Two quality lineman are gone, his big receiver is gone, as are both of his former running backs. The entire weight of the team has fallen on his shoulders and he is getting crushed trying to make plays without his trusted play-makers.
The other side of the ball is having its share of problems, too. Younger and more athletic, the Chargers’ defense is going through growing pains. They don’t get to the quarterback unless they blitz, but they haven’t gotten the sacks from that blitz. And suddenly their cornerbacks are failing. Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer are playing poorer now than at anytime in the last couple of years.
The Chargers may be (3-3) this season, but they feel like (0-6). They beat three weak teams — the collapsing Kansas City Chiefs, the rebuilding Raiders and a then-troubled Tennessee Titans team.
When San Diego has lined up against good teams and great quarterbacks, they have been beaten down all three times. Matt Ryan and Atlanta came in and handed them a 27-3 shelling at home. Drew Brees led an all-out assault in a come-from-behind win in New Orleans. And then there was Peyton Manning putting 35 straight points on the board in that wild second half last Monday night with Denver.
Against those three throwers, San Diego’s defense was a disgrace. They blitzed 71 times and recorded just two sacks. The three QBs completed 72 percent of their passes, threw for 954 yards and nine TDs in the three victories.
Real stars, real results, real problems for the Bolts.
So as they go through this bye week, there is much work to be done. Norv Turner can philosophize all he wants about hard work, belief in his team and this not being a QB problem. He is correct — it is not all on the Rivers alone. A lousy offensive line, a drop-off in play-makers and a struggling defense that cannot pressure and surely cannot cover are part of the problem.
Luckily the Chargers schedule lightens up. They have the fourth easiest schedule the rest of the way. They likely can put together a win streak as they play the likes of struggling Cleveland. Rivers may put up numbers. Their sack totals may club. The defensive numbers might improve. But it really won’t mean much, because if they make the playoffs, they will start playing real people again and you know how they have done in the postseason recently.
Last week was supposed to be a statement game for the Chargers. A win, and they take control. A loss means trouble. It was a statement game. They have problems in lots of places. It sure looks like Rivers is the only star left on the roster and based on what we have seen last year and now this year, he cannot do it alone.
A bye week won’t change the makeup of the roster. A bye week surely is not going to quiet the fans either.
Chargers football. Who are they? A team in trouble for sure, with a battered quarterback, a shaky roster, and a coach few believe in any longer. That’s an honest statement — something you won’t get from anyone in the front office or in that locker room.