I've only been a Chargers fan since 2013, the year I started following the NFL. In that time I've been embarrassed to be a Chargers fan before - but never like yesterday. It's a loss that's so textbook Chargers, no-one was really surprised. That doesn't make it hurt any less.
I'm British, which means I have no affiliation to San Diego, just as I have no affiliation to anywhere else in America. I could have chosen to support any team in the league. Unfortunately, my masochistic side won out, so I picked the Chargers because I liked their logo the best. It's not even a very good logo.
I'm stuck with the Chargers now, much like Philip Rivers is stuck with them, destined to have his career wasted by a team so incompetent, you think they actually have to train to be this bad (maybe that's what McCoy means by coming in and having a great week of practice...). I feel bad for Rivers, but not as bad as I feel for my liver. There are 12 games left this season, and it's going to take a real hammering.
On the bright side, I've invented a new drinking game for Chargers football. Every time they do something that you can categorize as being very 'Chargers,' you take a drink. The best part is that you won't wake up and have to remember the game. You'll be dead.
1: Hunter Henry
If you were someone who said last week that Hunter Henry was a wasted pick or a bad player, please stay off the internet for the 24 hours following every game. Over the first three weeks of the season, Henry had been excellent, save for one fumble that didn't cost the Chargers the game. And if you did blame him for losing the game, this loss to the Saints is on you. The football gods saw how upset Chargers fans were with the fumble last week and decided to give them a double helping this week, just to remind them that they can never be happy.
Henry carried on his excellent start to the season against the Saints, hauling in four catches for 61 yards, including a TD catch where he found himself so wide open Robert Meachem would have dropped it. He's an excellent blocker and a good receiver - four weeks into his rookie year. He's going to be an elite TE in this league. I'll fight anyone who disagrees. Preferably someone bigger than me, so that I wake up with amnesia and forget that I support the Chargers.
2: Melvin Ingram
YPC Mel is going to get paid! Ingram's been pretty good this year, but he's going to get paid big because the Chargers can't afford to lose him. The Chargers came into this season expecting to have three very good OLBs. They have one. Well, one that they like. Jerry Attaochu is clearly their second best OLB - and a damned good one - but he's seeing about as much time as Tourek Williams, which should tell you how much this coaching staff values him.
Kyle Emanuel has been average, and that's being generous. In four games as a starter, Emanuel boasts 10 tackles and 0 sacks. That's pathetic. Because of that, the Chargers have to pay Ingram what he wants, or risk going into next season with their starting OLBs as an underwhelming Kyle Emanuel and someone as good as Tourek Williams in their minds. Every time Ingram gets a sack, his market value goes up. So far, Ingram has 3 sacks in 4 games. He's going to make enough money to afford the most potent weed for the rest of his life.
3: Adrian Phillips
I called Adrian Phillips 'Just Another Guy' a couple of weeks ago. Clearly, he read that and was determined to prove me wrong, because Phillips actually looked really good against the Saints. He looked comfortable in coverage downfield, and his recognition of who the deep threats were is a big part of why the Saints offense just couldn't find the splash play against the Chargers.
When your starting safety goes out, you want the backups to hold the fort down. Phillips did just that. You didn't see him burst forward to make explosive plays behind the LoS, but that's not what we were expecting. He did his job, and he did it well. He did it so well, in fact, that he was actually PFFs highest graded Charger on the day, getting an 80.5 grade out of 100.
I still think he's Just Another Guy, but his performance against the Saints definitely justified why the coaches have been so keen to mix him heavily into the safety rotation after being inactive the first two weeks. He's earned those snaps.
1: Chargers OL
This is the first time I've done this in Winners and Losers, and I won't make a habit of it, but I have to put a unit on this list, rather than individual players. The Chargers OL were absolutely terrible against the Saints. They weren't good by any means in pass protection, although they just about held up 'enough,' but the real problems came on the ground.
Melvin Gordon carried the ball 19 times against the Saints. He gained 36 yards on those carries. That's an average of 1.9 yards per carry. If you think that's on Gordon, think again. 35 of Gordon's 36 yards came AFTER contact. The Chargers OL helped Gordon get 1 yard on 19 carries. He was on his own for the rest.
This was an unwelcome flashback to 2015, and it's shown, in my mind, what the weakest position group on the Chargers is. Spencer Pulley looked good against the Saints, but he was the only one. A UDFA should not come in and outperform the rest of the OL. Joe Barksdale is not a good LT, D.J. Fluker is not a good tackle, Chris Hairston is not a good football player and Orlando Franklin looks completely lost out there.
Matt Slauson is a great leader to have (that's a 15-yard penalty you don't mind, although the referee's maybe should have stopped Cameron Jordan practicing his UFC moves on Rivers), but he's not a great Centre. He's an upgrade over the mess the Chargers have had recently, and he's not bad, but I'd hope that Max Tuerk would be an upgrade over him in 2017. Slauson could then slide to LG, Franklin could slide to the bench (or free agency), and King Dunlap - who may never be healthy enough to return to football - could enjoy retirement.
The Chargers OL were so bad against the Saints, they might have actually hurt their job security more than Mike McCoy did. I could argue the Chargers need a new LT and LG easily enough, but I'm also leaning towards a new RG and possibly C right now. If they play like this consistently, we'll be left just hoping to reach 4-12.
2: Melvin Gordon
I'm not blaming him for the failure of the ground game against the Saints, but I am blaming him for his fumble. When you're an RB trying to chew clock late on in a game, you have two objectives - to hold onto the ball and stay in bounds. Yards don't matter so much, as long as you keep hold of the ball. Gordon didn't. That's inexcusable. It was a fantastic play by the defender to put his helmet on the football and jam it loose, but Gordon simply has to have a better grip on the ball.
The reason he's on this list is that I'm worried. Gordon had 8 fumbles last year, and it was pretty obvious that he had a fumbling problem. There were a lot of times throughout the first four games that after contact, I was extremely nervous that he was going to lose his grip on the ball. Now he has. It's too late to change that, but he needs to affect what happens next.
Gordon had a torrid time on the ground yesterday and capped it off with a fumble. How he reacts is key. You'd have a tough time finding anyone who ran harder in the first three weeks of the season (Isaiah Crowell, DeAngelo Williams, and LeGarrette Blount are the only ones on my list, personally), which is a complete turnaround from his rookie year - largely due to confidence. He's been much more confident this year, hitting holes with authority and powering through tacklers. If that's the Melvin Gordon that comes to play against the Raiders, we’ll be fine. But if he goes back into his shell, becomes slow to pick holes and hesitant when carrying the ball, we'll have a big problem.
3: Travis Benjamin
Talking of fumbles... what was that? Travis Benjamin managed to spectacularly fumble the game away, dropping the ball without being touched. As much as they annoy us, mistakes like that do happen. He couldn't have timed it any worse (actually, he plays for the Chargers, so maybe he timed it perfectly), and it's an absolutely ridiculous way to lose a football game, but if that's your justification for thinking Benjamin is a bad player, he's not. He's a good WR who adds a dimension to this team that they haven't had in a long time, and they'd be a lot worse without him.
So, why's he on this list? Two reasons. Firstly, he's now going to have a whole load of pressure on him. Fans will be on his back. The media will be on his back. He feels like he cost his teammates the win. It's an uncomfortable situation to be in, as a player. Trust me - as a former Sunday League (think rec league but with lots more fighting - lots more) defender in soccer who may have scored one or two own goals in his time, I know. The good news is, he'll never be in a more perfect opportunity to rectify it. The Chargers go to Oakland next week. Is there a better way to become a fan favorite than catching the game winner against the Raiders on their turf?
The second reason - he's nowhere near as good at punt returning as Chargers fans had hoped he might be. He's too important to this offense to lose to injury, but that doesn't mean he should be content to take every kickoff out of bounds after gaining two yards. When he fields the ball, his vision isn't downfield, but to the sideline and safety. I get it - he’s a really small player. If he gets hit, he could get injured or fumble the ball (I wonder if anyone's ever fumbled twice in a game, once by being touched and once without?). But if he's not willing to take the contact, then he shouldn't be doing returns. Give that job to McCluster, and save Benjamin for the offense. Because he will contribute. In a big way.
4: Darius Philon
I was really excited for Darius Philon coming into this season. A sixth-round pick out of Arkansas in the 2015 NFL draft, the consensus was that he was coming out a year too early, and he had the chance to become a very good DL. I'll be honest - I've forgotten he was even on the field at times.
Starting in lieu of Joey Bosa, it's clear that he's just not ready for significant play time at this stage in his career. As a starter in the first four games, he's recorded 0 meaningful plays. He hasn't been in to blow up any runs, and he hasn't been in the QBs face, pressuring him and bringing him to the ground. Tenny Palepoi has been more noticeable.
By no means am I giving up on Philon. He's only 22 years old, and he could easily grow to be an important part of this Chargers defense. He's just not ready for that opportunity yet. He'll see less playing time once Bosa comes back (which could easily be against the Raiders), and he'll be relegated to a bit part player. Unless - well, it's the Chargers, so until - injuries happen, I'd be very surprised to see Philon take the field much for the rest of the season. That's not a terrible thing for a young player, but anything that means less playing time for a player can only make them a 'loser' of the week - or, in this case, of the last four.
5: Ryan Carrethers
If you want someone on the Chargers to lose their job this week, you'll get your wish. Only it won't be Mike McCoy. Ryan Carrethers time in a Chargers uniform is, pretty clearly, coming to an end.
Damion Square comes back from suspension this week, and at this point in their respective careers, he's pretty clearly the better player. When they activate Square, Carrethers will be out the door. After being inactive for every game so far this season, the writing is pretty clearly on the wall for the big NT.
Carrethers was somewhat of a fan favorite on BFTB, with many citing his lack of playing time as a major reason why the coaches were failing their players. In this case, the player failed his coaches. Carrethers had all the physical tools to be an excellent NT, but if anything, he's regressed in the time he's spent on the Chargers. It might have been a lack of work ethic, it might have been an inability to refine his technique, or it might have just been that he's reached his peak. Whatever the reason, the legend of 'Stronk' is soon to be no more.
Hey, I wonder if he could play OL...