By Dave Thomas
In his first nine games as head coach of the San Diego Chargers, Mike McCoy has his team in the hunt for an AFC playoff berth. That said, there is little margin for error at this point.
Following back-to-back losses to Washington and Denver, the Chargers sit precariously on the perch of a wild card spot in a tight AFC race. Although the Bolts are certainly not out of the race, McCoy and Co. must essentially run the table over the next seven weeks to put themselves in a solid spot to break their three-year playoff drought (those three years involved former head coach Norv Turner).
Beginning this Sunday, the Chargers meet a string of teams that all have various playoff aspirations. Some are all but a lock to make the playoffs, others have a decent chance, and a few others are longs shots at best. With that in mind, what are the chances McCoy can lead the Bolts into the playoffs in his first year at the helm?
On the plus side, to date, McCoy has brought a renewed enthusiasm to a franchise that had essentially gone stale under Turner. No offense to Turner, but the Chargers were likely only going to get worse under his tutelage had the front office not made a change.
Turner had his moments in San Diego, among which included taking the team to an AFC Championship game. Those moments, however, began to slip away some three seasons ago when the team began its current playoff slide. A combination of injuries to the offensive line, weak secondary play, and a non-existent run game at times all began to add up, eventually forcing Turner out and McCoy in.
With McCoy in charge, you can see a renewed spirit in veteran quarterback Philip Rivers among other things. The North Carolina State product has always been spirited and combative on the field, but that seems to have been upped a level or two this season. Although Rivers and Turner are reported to have had a solid relationship, the former seems to be doing just fine under McCoy’s leadership this fall.
Even though it might be a little too much to call it flat out bad, a major Achilles heel for the Chargers in recent years is still rearing its ugly head at times this season, pass defense.
In this past Sunday’s 28-20 home loss to rival Denver, potential 2013 NFL MVP Peyton Manning had open wide receivers a number of times, almost making it look like the Chargers were playing a man or two short on defense. Some San Diego fans were even led to question whether or not they would have done better against Manning (4 TD’s) if former Charger Quentin Jammer (now with Denver) would have helped wearing blue and gold on this day.
While McCoy can’t suit up and play the position, there is still clearly work to be done with the secondary, work that could be the difference between going to the playoffs and missing them for the fourth straight season.
If you hear one complaint from Charger fans this season, it is that they have seen this same movie before.
San Diego will play solidly against an Indianapolis (AFC South leader) or a Dallas (though that win looks shaky now given the Cowboys’ recent play), but then stink it up against an Oakland (3-6). Whether it was Turner at the helm or now McCoy, most Charger fans are just not seeing the consistency needed from a team that wants to be great and not just average.
The most frustrating moment likely to date this season for San Diego fans was in the 30-24 overtime loss at Washington two weekends ago.
Having the ball at the Washington one and having four downs to punch it in, the Chargers ran once and passed twice, ultimately being forced to settle for a game-tying field goal near the end of regulation. Fans at this past Sunday’s game with Denver were still lamenting over San Diego’s inability to punch it in from a yard out the prior game against the Redskins.
While it is easy to sit back on Monday morning and judge the quarterback on his choices on that final drive of regulation versus Washington, McCoy gave off the impression like he did not think his team could get one yard on the ground. If that’s the case, then McCoy and management this off-season need to seriously think about moving Ryan Mathews and/or aging Ronnie Brown. As the old adage goes, you really don’t deserve to win the game if you can’t pick up a yard.
With seven games remaining in the regular season, McCoy should get a C+ on his first season in San Diego.
As noted earlier, Turner had run his course leading the Bolts, so change was inevitable. Whether or not Mike McCoy is the man for the job long-term remains to be seen.
Right now, all Charger fans would like is to be able to say that their team will be playing past the Dec. 29 regular season finale versus Kansas City.
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.