By Dave Thomas
With their season on the line, the San Diego Chargers head across the country this Sunday to meet another struggling team, the Baltimore Ravens. As both teams stare up from the cellar (San Diego is currently tied with Kansas City) at the opposition in their respective divisions, both know that one or two more losses max will all but end their seasons. For both teams, seasons of promise are turning into seasons of despair.
While Baltimore (1-6) has only an overtime win over rival Pittsburgh to show for its record this season, the Chargers sit at 2-5, holding victories over Detroit and Cleveland. The two wins for the Bolts came by a combined eight points, a sign that the team is certainly not manhandling its opponents in 2015. This past Sunday’s 37-29 loss to arch-rival Oakland (3-3) in front of some 67,000 fans in San Diego was yet another sign that the 2015 season to date is certainly not living up to expectations.
Bolts Came Out Flat
If you thought the Chargers would be all wound up in meeting the rival Raiders last Sunday, it certainly did not show on the field. Before San Diego knew what hit them, they were down 7-0 early in the game after a Philip Rivers interception in Chargers’ territory. Oakland, which has not sniffed the playoffs in what seems like forever, would roll up a 37-6 lead, sending many San Diego fans to the gates.
If there was a bright side to last Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, it was that the Chargers did not quit, this despite getting behind early and by a large margin. Down 31 points, the Chargers would actually cut the deficit to eight points, even having a chance to recover an onside kick (Oakland recovered the ball and ran out the clock) in the final seconds of the game.
If this past Sunday’s game was a boxing match, it is safe to say that the referee would have stopped the fight about halfway through and awarded Oakland the victory simply on points. Speaking of points, here are a couple to mull over as the season nears the halfway point:
Where is the Chargers’ running game?
Through seven games, San Diego has yet to find a consistent running game. Heralded Wisconsin product Melvin Gordon did not even enter the Oakland game in the second half, coming in when the contest was all but over at that point. For the season to date, San Diego has rushed for 610 yards as a team, with Gordon leading the way with 328 on 85 carries. Versatile Danny Woodhead has rushed for 188 yards on 49 carries, while Branden Oliver has 90 yards on the ground on 27 attempts. The most glaring stat on the ground is that the Chargers only have two rushing touchdowns to date, something that needs to change if the team is to turn its season around. Yes, a battered and sometimes ineffective offensive line definitely has an impact on the ground game, but San Diego’s backs need to get better numbers the second half of the season.
Defense is getting pushed around
On the defensive side of the ball, San Diego has allowed 25 or more points in five of its games to date; unbeaten Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were the only teams this year to put up less than 25, posting 24 in their wins over the Chargers, respectively. Even though one can’t expect shutouts week-after-week in the NFL, allowing 25 or more points in five of your seven games to date is a recipe for disaster. In this past Sunday’s contest, injuries definitely were the story prior to the contest, with several Charger defenders missing the game, most notably Pro Bowl free safety Eric Weddle. While one person does not make a team, not having Weddle patrolling the secondary was definitely an invitation for Oakland’s Derek Carr to throw the ball. Carr finished his day with 289 yards passing and three touchdowns. Hard to say if Baltimore’s Joe Flacco will have a similar day come this Sunday, but San Diego’s secondary definitely bears watching.
Even though the Chargers are far from being mathematically eliminated in the AFC playoff race, the opportunities to make gains in the conference for San Diego are decreasing less and less each week.
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.