Keep The Faith: Reasons for Chargers Optimism

via obamiconme.pastemagazine.com

I'm sorry, BFTBers, I couldn't do it. Usually I like to watch the Chargers game a second time before making my Bolts & Dolts list, to take the motion out of it and to allow myself to rewind and watch plays more than once (I can't make myself do this during the live broadcast). These last two weeks I haven't been able to stomach the idea of watching the game a second time, and last week I did the Bolts & Dolts on the BFTB Podcast after just that one viewing and then pouring through every stat I could get my hands on about the game.

This week, I'll probably do the same thing (BFTB Podcast tonight at 7pm, where I'll be joined by Steve Adler), but I want to take B&D's usual Wednesday spot to get optimistic (perhaps one last time) about the team. Reasons to still be optimistic about the Chargers lay after the jump.

Week 6 Comparisons

 

At this point last season, the Chargers were 3-3 and 3 games behind a 6-0 Denver Broncos team. At this point in 2008, they were 3-3 and a game behind those same pesky Broncos. In 2007, San Diego was again 3-3 and tied for the division lead with the Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers, under Norv, have never once been the lone leaders in the division after 6 games.

 

Home Warriors

 

So, being 1.5 games behind the Chiefs with 10 left to play is probably not means to panic. Also, the Chargers 0-4 record on the road isn't that much worse than the Chiefs 1-2 record on the road. Let's go under the assumption that these two teams play better when at home, and look at the road games they have between now and Christmas.

Chiefs:

Chargers
Seriously. That's all. The Chargers have exactly two road games between now and Christmas. If they improbably continue to play lights out at home and terrible on the road, that would still leave them 8-6 heading into the last two weeks of the season. No guarantee at a playoff berth or a division crown with those numbers, but I think even as the team has been playing that record is realistic and would most likely keep them somewhere in contention at the end of the season.



Undefeated December

 

You know the stats and the stories. Norv Turner is 14-0 in regular seasons games in December and January while being the Head Coach of the San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers is 19-0 in December and January regular-season games over his entire career. Betting on these guys losing a game in December at this point would be silly, even if the fact that they've never lost in that month while on this team is an incredibly ridiculous stat. Here are the teams that will face the Chargers in December and January regular-season games this year:
Although they can't be ignored this season, I still have high hopes that those last two games will essentially be meaningless for the Bengals and Broncos. Going 5-0 in December and January again this year would go a long way towards winning a 5th straight AFC West Division Championship.



Talent & Performance


I know, I'm tired of hearing it too, but the fact of the matter is that this is a good offensive team and a not-that-bad defensive team. Special Teams are not to be ignored, but at least 90% of plays that happen on the football field happen with the offensive or defensive squad on the field. Take away the fumbles by Mike Tolbert, Ryan Mathews and Philip Rivers and the media is talking about this team being an all-time great offense. 

Actually, even when you incorporate those fumbles and all the points given up on special teams.....the closest two teams to the Chargers in terms of points scored and point given up are the New England Patriots (4-1) and the Indianapolis Colts (4-2).



Improvement?


As this is my final point, I will allow myself to drive into the lane of wild speculation. There are actual reason to believe that the problems this team are having will get better. Heck, there's reason to believe this team is already getting better. Let's break it down.
  • Kick Coverage - No punt or kick returns for touchdowns in 3 weeks. Don't laugh, this is major progress. Each of the last two games has included a 40+ yard punt return that was stopped by Mike Scifres, but these seem to be getting less frequent. Kickoff returns against the Chargers have sunk to "average" levels.
  • Offensive Line - Plain atrocious the last two weeks, but the reason for optimism comes from Marcus McNeill and Brandyn Dombrowski. Dombrowski showed himself last year to be a better RT than what Jeromey Clary has been this season, so when Dombro slides into that role it should help out the right side of the line. Marcus McNeill is a Pro Bowl LT several times over, and once he's "knocked off the rust" there should be no more issues with protecting Rivers' blindside.
  • Fumbles - In his first two games, Ryan Mathews carried the ball 25 times and fumbled twice. Since coming back from injury, and adding a sleeve to protect the ball when he carries it, Mathews has carried the ball 30 times and not fumbled once. Assuming that the fumble bug is behind him, and that Philip Rivers is due to get better protection, the Chargers should start to do a better job of holding on to the ball.
  • Norv - It seems like this happens every season. The team starts off slow and Norv continues to praise them and call them the best team he's ever coached. Then, usually after they go 2-3, he snaps and starts telling them how awful they are. Then they turn into that great team he envisioned and he looks like a genius. This week, after the loss against the Rams, Norv finally made that change from Nice Norv to Angry Norv. This is an excellent sign.

Fans


Fine, I guess that wasn't my final point. Maybe it was. I don't even know what I want to say about the fans. So far the Chargers have had 2 home games and they were both blacked out to the local market. That probably won't be an issue this week, with the New England Patriots in town, but with 5 more home games over the next 9 weeks I hope that local blackouts do not become a regular occurance.

I have been saying all season long that the road losses are what is driving down sales of the home games. A good stretch against the Patriots, Titans and Texans over the next three weeks would do a lot for ticket sales for the rest of the season (Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs, 49ers) and would probably keep the blackouts to just 3 or 4 for the entire season.

Right now there seems to be a little bit of tension between the Chargers players and the team's fans. There have been rumblings from the team about a lack of support through ticket sales, and they're probably not enjoying all of the people who are or who have jumped off of the bandwagon for this season. It's time for everyone to build a bridge and get over it. We love our team, they love when we show up and scream for them, and hopefully the rest of the season plays out like a romantic comedy where two people that pretended to not like each other totally fall in love by accident and live happily ever after (and win the Super Bowl).

Here's my point, I suppose. This game against the Patriots is another, and maybe the last, "turning point" in the season. A win here could go a long way towards getting the fans excited about the team again, which would certainly help the team going forward.
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