By Will McCafferty
Okay, so the San Diego Chargers are 4-1 for the first time in years and heading into the bye week. That by itself is great news! Unfortunately, record alone does not tell the whole story about this Chargers team. Let's take a look at various aspects of the Bolts and see what kind of knowledge we can take into the bye week and the 11 remaining weeks in the season.
One of the biggest concerns regarding the Chargers offense the last few years is the running game. The question coming into this season was, can the Chargers move the ball on the ground and take some of the pressure off of Philip Rivers? After five games, my answer to that would be, "yes, and no."
Yes, because the Chargers have actually ran the ball quite well, with Ryan Mathews averaging almost five yards per carry. The rotund, Mike Tolbert, has also had signs of brilliance, but some of his shine has worn off recently as he has been stuffed a couple of times on short yardage plays and still has trouble holding onto the ball. Even Jacob Hester got into the mix when both featured backs were out with injuries against the Broncos. Hester flashed back to his days as a tailback at LSU and showed he can carry the rock for the Bolts in a pinch.
No, because the pressure doesn't not seem to be off of quarterback Philip Rivers. At least it doesn't appear that he is breathing any easier with the knowledge that the Chargers can move the ball on the ground. In fact, Rivers is tied at the top of the league with seven picks and has only thrown for six touchdowns. Very strange.
His most recent interception was not Rivers'fault alone. Receiver Patrick Craytonshould have caught the pass for Rivers for a short gain. However, the pass was behind Crayton, as many passes have been this season, and was deflected up in the air, resulting in a pick six. The bright side is that Rivers will cerrtainly get his timing down and these atypical mistakes should not be an issue for long.
One major area of concern is that both Mathews and Tolbert were banged up in their week five match-up with the Broncos and will need this bye week to get healthy for the long haul. Tolbertsuffered a concussion during a tackle that removed his helmet, while Mathews is running on a strained calf. Tolbert'sinjury kept him out of the game. Mathews played through the calf pain and had a career high 125 yards rushing. That being said, he did leave the stadium on crutches.
As for the offensive line, I would say that for the most part, they are having a solid season. The Denver defense has a very good pass rush and although they did get to Rivers five times, he did have time to throw on most big downs and the backs were able to run for over 200 yards. When was the last time you could say that?
On the other side of the ball, I have mixed feelings. When you watch the game, it feels like the Chargers defense is getting toyed with. Wide open receivers, and free running tailbacks seem to be all over the place. Then, when it is all said and done, they have given up far fewer points than the rest of the AFC West, and are second in the NFL in passing yards allowed, twice keeping opponents under 100 yards passing for an entire game!
I guess the question is, is the Chargers defense really playing well, or have the Chargers simply played against bad offenses? Let's face it, coming into their games against the Chargers, the four teams the Chargers have beaten had a combined total of one win. That does speak volume's.
I must add that thus far I am very pleased with the play of this season's first round draft pick Corey Liuget. He hasn't been Sports Center worthy, but he has held his own and made quarterbacks quite uncomfortable. Sometimes that can be just as important as actually getting the sack, as seen on the Kyle Orton pick in the first quarter. Pressure for the Chargers force Orton into a ill-advised throw that ended up in a rare Chargers pick.
It is wonderful to be able to (mostly) relax when the Chargers special teams unit is on the field. After last season's mockery of the game, the Bolts have done a very nice job all the way around. Is there room to grow? Sure there is, but compared to last season, there is not a bad thing to be said.
I have to give credit to A.J. Smith and Norv Turner for digging up Nick Novak to replace the injured Nate Kaeding. Novak, a former 60% kicker in the NFL, had been banging around the UFLfor a year or so and wanted to get back into the big time. The Chargers gave him a shot and he has yet to miss a field goal. A perfect 10 for 10 thus far! If the Bolts make it to the playoffs and Novak continues kicking like he does, people can start telling the story of Keading and Novak instead of Pipp and Gehrig.
I don't know what to tell you here. It's hard to get too down on Norv and company when the team is 4-1. That being said, some of his play calling on short yardage plays as well as in the first half of most games leaves me scratching my head. I waited five weeks to see Mathews go over the top on a fourth and short yardage play. In week four, Turner sent Tolbert, "over the top", or more correctly, threw the middle, at the goal line, where Tolber ended up jumping over a large hole and then fumbling the ball just after breaking the plane of the endzone. To me, just looking at body type, it is obvious that Mathews is the one for that type of play, just like L.T. before him.
On the bright side of Norv, he has made some nice half time adjustments that have led to a few come from behind wins already this season.
CHARGERS FANS (of which I am one)
This 4-1 start has proven one thing to me. San Diego Chargers fans are so deeply effected by heart breaking losses in the past that many no longer know how to enjoy winning. Even the team gets to enjoy a victory for 24 hours before they start worrying about the next game or breaking down tape to find mistakes. Not the fans though. Chargers fans are on the message boards and radio talk shows before the game is over complaining about how ugly this win was and how they betting figure out their problems before they start playing "real teams."
I must admit that it is easy to go there. In fact, I would say that the best the Chargers offense has looked this year was the one game they lost! That's all well and good, but the fact remains that the Chargers have beaten four of five teams that they have faced this season. The past several seasons, the Chargers didn't get off quickly and buried themselves into deep holes. At least this year the "slow start" has not shown up in the W column. Don't be affraid to get hurt. Eventually, it will be the Chargers year. If you spend all of your time bitter, you may not get the thrill that you should when they win it all.
AFTER THE BYE
I'll be honest with you, I'm worried about the rest of the season. The Chargers have not yet shown that they will punish the poor, or average, teams and hang with the great teams. That gives teams like the Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders, Broncos, Jets and Bears a decent chance to beat the Bolts. It also gives the better teams like the Packers, Bills, Ravens, and Lions a feeling of great confidence when matched up with the Chargers.
In my opinion, the Chargers need to come out of the bye week, fly out to Jersey and dismantle the Jets on their home turf. The Jets have been struggling, can't run the ball, and have a inconstant quarterback. They will also be coming off of a short work week as they play on Monday Night Football in week six. It's time to step up and start clicking on all cylinders. Otherwise, the Chargers haters will unleash the "I told you so's" and the Chargers will have a hard time playing with the confidence and swagger needed to succeed in the NFL.
Thanks for the read, tell me what you think and I'll get back to you.
Thanks for Chargers.com and google.com for the pics