Five out of sixteen games are already in the books this NFL season, and the Chargers are only one game away from matching last year’s loss total in what appeared to be the most forgiving stretch of the schedule. After a 12-4 finish and second round exit last year, the Chargers retained the vast majority of players who made the team successful while addressing two of the largest needs in the first two rounds of the draft with Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley, leading many to assume the success would be built on, or at least repeated as far as the regular season is concerned.
The Chargers enter week 6 in what is essentially a must win game at 2-3.
Could a turn around possibly be as simple as a change in philosophy for the offense? Of course, the game plan within that philosophy gets infinitely more complicated, and the defense has a whole other set of problems to solve, but on the surface level an adjustment to the strategy could pay huge dividends.
Philip Rivers is just a couple months shy of 38 years old, and he’s on pace to throw for the second most passing attempts in his career. A pace that’s also good for half a dozen throws a game more than he’s had in any of his best seasons. Losing inflates passing attempts, but through five games the Chargers have been competitive till the end in every one, and still Philip Rivers is throwing the ball more than he did during the 5-11 season in 2016 as well as the year his running backs were Branden Oliver and Donald Brown almost all year. None of this paragraph should be true with this team.
The Chargers roster, even in it’s current, almost impossibly injury-depleted state features an embarrassment of riches at the running back position, and it’s being under utilized at the moment. All Austin Ekeler has done in the absence of Melvin Gordon is look as dynamic as any back in the world not named Christian McCaffrey. He’s 4th in the league in yards from scrimmage and tied for 3rd in total touchdowns to this point after leading the league alone with 6 touchdowns after week 4, prior to Gordon’s return.
Justin Jackson is having a strong follow up to his rookie campaign, sitting at a remarkable 7.9 yards per carry average on 18 carries, even with multiple long touchdowns being erased due to questionable holding penalties.
The third most effective running back on the roster at the moment looks like Melvin Gordon, a player who while many have divided opinions on, convinced the vast majority last year that he’s at least an above average starter.
The Chargers offensive line has seemingly had infinitely more success opening lanes for the running backs not named Melvin Gordon than they have trying to keep Rivers clean this season.
The Chargers receiving corps behind Keenan Allen leaves Travis Benjamin, a receiver who was once inconsistent but now is regularly counted on to not show up, and Mike Williams, who while productive yet again this year is a name that hasn’t left the injury report since week 1. After Dontrelle Inman was placed on IR that leaves Andre Patton next in line as the fourth wide receiver.
Hunter Henry, the team’s lead tight end who has been rehabbing an injury sustained in the opener, is waiting to join the other tight ends; Virgil Green who has battled a groin injury the past couple weeks as well as Lance Kendricks, signed to vill the 3rd tight end role after Sean Culkin tore his achilles after a reception.
The wide receivers and tight ends currently look like they have vulnerable depth at least until Henry is back and receiving his normal work load. The offensive line is drastically better at run blocking up to this point. Philip Rivers is never at his best when he’s asked to throw the ball 40 times every week, and there is absolutely no reason he should when he has more talent than he’s had in the backfield since a guy named LaDainian Tomlinson was running circles around the NFL.
Every position group on offense would be aided by seeing an added focus to the run game, and really just getting those running backs on the field.
This approach by the Colts just held the Chiefs to 13 points last week, their lowest in the last 28 games. If the Chargers can rattle off some wins with this strategy and keep up in the division race, the Chargers somehow may just match up well in the head to head games with Kansas City as long as Derwin James and Nasir Adderley are manning the safety positions at that time.
The turn around has to begin immediately for those games to be meaningful, but an incredible redemption story could be in the near future if the coaches can make some adjustments.