By Dave Thomas
As the San Diego Chargers essentially limp into their bye week, some are already writing this team off as a serious playoff contender.
Granted, a 3-3 record in the AFC is not all that bad when you look around at the parity in the league through six weeks. For the Chargers, however, this very easily could be a 5-1 squad heading into the break. Other than a lopsided loss at home to Atlanta in Week 3, the Bolts have been in every other game.
So, what made this past Monday’s 35-24 loss at home to Denver so bad? Besides the fact it came in front of a nationwide audience, it was the way in which the Chargers lost. In a game that was essentially two games in two halves, the Bolts did just about everything wrong imaginable to mankind in the last 30 minutes.
As a result of their current two-game slide, one can’t help but wonder who is truly responsible for what is suddenly turning into a season of concern. How could the Chargers go from 3-1 and looking relatively good to 3-3 and looking so shaky?
Giving fans a birdseye view of things, here’s a look at the good and the bad from the first six weeks:
* The team has not quit – Despite Monday’s debacle against Denver, the Chargers appear to be saying all the right things to the media. As QB Philip Rivers put it in comments to Chargers.com this week, “Despite how brutal the (last two) losses were, when you watch the tape, we can be awesome,” he said. “Whether we do that is left up to us but there’s definitely a lot more good than bad on the field. It’s just that the bad, much like other games we’ve lost, has been worst at crucial times. These two were some of the worst. We can fix it and correct these mistakes.”
* Jackie Battle – When the Chargers went out and signed the former Kansas City running back, it was likely with the intent to have him play a supporting role to starter Ryan Mathews. Given Mathews injuries, along with his propensity to fumble, Battle has probably seen more time than both he and the fans expected. While his numbers (38 carries, 176 yards, 3 TD’s) may not overwhelm you after six games, he is leading the team in several categories, including his 4.6 yards per rush (for those with 10 or more carries). You also get the sense the coaching staff trusts Battle with the ball in his hands, something Mathews still has not sold the team on;
* Malcom Floyd – At the time Vincent Jackson signed a lucrative deal to go to Tampa Bay, some Charger fans probably thought the sky was falling in. What would Rivers do without his go-to wide receiver? Yes, the Chargers certainly could have used Jackson against Denver this past Monday, but Floyd has emerged as the go-to guy for Rivers at the receiver position. To date, Floyd has 25 receptions for 418 yards (16.7 yards per reception) and a touchdown. While the team and fans would like to see Floyd do even more, he is coming into his own as the main threat at the receiver position;
* Atari Bigby – The man who won a Super Bowl a few years back with Green Bay leads the Chargers in tackles with 41 (35 solo) after six games. Bigby, playing the strong safety position, gives the team strength in that slot, with Pro Bowl player Eric Weddle there too. While the Chargers’ secondary has looked horrific at times this year, Bigby has been a welcome addition to the team after playing for Seattle a year ago (18 tackles entire season). If he remains healthy, look for him to accrue stellar numbers by season’s end.
* Blowing second half leads – For two weeks in a row, the Chargers have choked away leads in the second half. While some can rightfully argue that the officials had a say in San Diego losing to New Orleans, the same can’t be said in the Denver loss. Once again, San Diego took its foot off the pedal when it had someone down. Great teams put away the opposition the majority of the time, while average teams do it here and there. It will be interesting to see if and when the Chargers have a lead in their final 10 games which team they prove to be;
* Philip Rivers – While he is the field general and probably the team’s most marketable player, Rivers is on pace to top last season’s career-high of 20 interceptions. Yes, the offensive line and receivers have no doubt let him down at times this season through six games. That being said, Rivers has tried too many times to force balls into difficult coverage. With an 85.3 passer rating to date, which goes along with 10 TD’s and nine interceptions, Rivers simply has to step it up and make better decisions beginning Oct. 28 in Cleveland. If he doesn’t, the Bolts can kiss any playoff hopes goodbye;
* Larry English – The outside linebacker the Chargers drafted with the 16th overall pick in the 2009 Draft has simply not lived up to his potential. Through six games this season, English only has three tackles to his credit. San Diego simply needs to get better play out of English going forward the remainder of the season;
* Richard Goodman – No one envies this guy’s job of having to return kicks. That being said, Goodman has put the Chargers in an offensive hole on a number of occasions this season by either taking punts deep in their territory or trying to run one too many kicks out of the end zone after an opposition score. While Goodman has averaged 28 yards a return, his decision making needs to improve or the Bolts could be put in more precarious situations.
Yes, there are other players who are either performing above expectations or below to date, but these mentioned rise to the surface.
As head coach Norv Turner and the entire team will or won’t admit in public, the team as a WHOLE has to play better if the Chargers want to snap their two-year playoff drought come January.
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.