Let me get this out of the way -- Without a QB as good as Philip Rivers, this team would look a lot like Jacksonville or Tampa Bay. It is worth noting though, that in three of the Bolts' four losses, Rivers has thrown at least one INT. 5 out of his season’s 7 picks have come in the last four games, with 3 in the game against Oakland and 2 in the game against Washington, both losses. Still, Rivers is not the problem on this team and is clearly the Bolts most valuable asset. He is still on pace for a nearly 5,000 yard passing season, 34 TDs, with 14 interceptions and a QB rating of 111. A spectacular year, no doubt, but I can’t help but believe without a couple of those picks, the games against Oakland and Washington work out differently and the Bolts have a better record.
Running Backs: B
Ryan Mathews remains used inconsistently, but did become the 1st RB in the NFL to have back to back 100 yard rushing games this season. Danny Woodhead has been excellent in the passing game, but in the rushing game, not so much. Before you go berserk, Woodhead is averaging 3.5 ypc and Mathews is averaging 4.2. After catching 7 balls in the first four games with one TD, Mathews has not caught a single pass in the last 4 games. In the NFL, this is known as a “tendency”. It is a bad thing to have when it gives another team of talented football players a good idea of what you are going to do. Still, between the two primary backs, the Chargers have players that are making valuable contributions to the team.
The emergence of Keenan Allen and the continued stellar performance of Eddie Royal (when healthy) pushes up the grade for this unit. Vincent Brown has flashed, but needs to become a consistent performer. It looks like he is still trying to figure out the league or the coaches are still trying to figure out Brown; perhaps it is some of both. Antonio Gates is simply Antonio Gates, more like we remember him, but with less TD’s. Waiting in the wings is Ladarius Green. What little we have seen of him has left us wanting more…
Offensive Line: B+
If there was an above and beyond the call of duty award, it would go to this unit. Statistically, the team has not missed a beat despite having every offensive line position (except for center) using subs at one point or another in the season. And where would this offense be without Nick Hardwick? He has been the glue that has held this unit together (or tried to, at least) for years, but this year is truly a masterpiece for him.
Defensive Line: C-
Cam Thomas and Kendall Reyes have had awful seasons. Corey Liuget is the only real difference maker here, but even he has had long stretches of disappearing from games. Some of the new blood has played fairly well after being reclaimed from the league’s scrapheap or promoted from the practice squad. The importance of having a dominant (or at least capable) Nose Tackle in the 3-4 has been clearly demonstrated this season. It would be good if somebody could find a set of cleats to fit Cam Thomas so he could get out of the roller skates he has been wearing all season long. Saying that this unit is the best one on the defense is somewhat akin to saying that one corner of the cat box does not smell as bad as the other three.
This unit has suffered injuries and guys are starting that should barely be playing. With that said, the performance as a unit has been abysmal. The 3-4 defense needs its playmakers to come from this unit and it is clear that the Bolts do not have any healthy ones. The team’s second round choice (Manti Te'o) has started the last four games, but has been invisible over that span (insert girlfriend joke here). Larry English should be off the team next year and the only real bright spot is Jarret Johnson. He is steady, but not a difference-making playmaker. The only reason this unit is not drawing the hostility of us fans is due to the injury situation and how horrible the rest of the defense has played.
I miss Jammer and Cason.
Special Teams: B
The return game has not been spectacular, but the coverage units have not allowed opponents to change field position significantly. Nick Novak has been good and Mike Scifres has been excellent. In last Sunday's game, blocked field goals and two punts downed at the one had the Chargers in position to win.
My previous comments on the coaching can now be augmented with Mike McCoy not having his team ready for the late start in Oakland (we all saw how dead that team looked in the first half), throwing a challenge flag on a called turnover during the Jacksonville game, having a horrible game plan, play calling, and general preparation against the Redskins. Simply put, if the coaching staff is going to let the spew of a journeyman safety coming off of a head-hunting suspension influence their game planning and play calling (which sure looked like it happened), those coaches belong on the staff of a third-rate high school football team.
Consensus on BFTB is that this coaching staff has cost their team 2 wins this season (Tennessee and Washington); perhaps the Oakland game can be put in there too, and I also count the play calling in the second half against Houston as a major factor in that loss. On the plus side, the coaching (especially defensively) made the difference in winning one game (Indianapolis). I will continue to give the coaches credit for teaching their offense quickly and to the defensive coaches for trying to make chicken salad out of chicken s—t. The in-game decisions and predictability on both sides of the ball (and the futility of the short and goal to go offense) show that this staff needs to improve its game management.
The most frustrating thing about watching this team is how often the coaches stop doing things that are working on offense (Ryan Mathews), while continuing to do things that are not working (soft zone with a 3 or 4 man rush) on defense. The Bolts need to get more aggressive and smarter on both sides of the ball and that needs to happen quickly. The goal line offense, the predictability in play calls depending upon which RB is on the field, and the issues with the defense cannot continue if this team is to improve over last season’s sub-.500 record.
This is an average .500 team until their record says otherwise. The thing that disturbs me is that too often, the team seems to be less than the sum of its parts (See my history series on the Tommy Prothro years). It is way too early for calling for heads on a platter, but one thing a lot of us will be watching in the second half of the season is growth in the coaching staff, particularly game management and whether they can squeeze or scheme better performance out of the team. 5 of the last 8 games are against divisional opponents. In addition, the Bolts play the AFC North leader, an imploding Miami team, and a horrible New York Giants team. A winning record would be a surprise, but 3-5 or 4-4 finish would be about what it looks like the Bolts are capable of for 2013. This does not look like a playoff team.