By Dave Thomas
How low can things go?
For the San Diego Chargers sitting at 2-7, things can’t get much worse. Coming into a season where they expected to battle Denver and Kansas City for the AFC West title, the Bolts are mired in dead-last place in the division. With a pair of games left against both Denver and Kansas City, not to mention a Christmas Eve game in the Bay Area against the rival Oakland Raiders, things could get much worse before all is said and done.
So what exactly has caused a season that had so much hope coming into it turn into a season of disappointment and frustration for management, the players, and those who call themselves Charger fans?
It Could Get Uglier
While even the most die-hard of San Diego fans will probably tell you that they never could have forecast only two wins through the first nine games, some are likely not shocked that things have gone south.
After a pair of 9-7 seasons, including the 2013 campaign where the Bolts in their first year under head coach Mike McCoy reached the playoffs (defeated Cincinnati on the road in the first round), hopes were that this might be the season where everything came together and San Diego would be close to or up there with New England, Denver, and one or two other clubs for the top mark in the conference. As it stands now, the Bolts will be fighting to avoid the worst mark in the conference and possibly the entire NFL if they don’t put together a winning streak ASAP.
Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around with this team, but four areas stick out:
1. Running game – Even though Philip Rivers is putting up ridiculous numbers throwing the ball through nine games (3,033 passing yards, 19 TD’s), the running game is average at best. While rookie top draft pick Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) has certainly not been terrible (413 yards rushing, 3.6 yards per carry), he is not by any means setting the league on fire running the ball. Backup Branden Oliver (last season’s top rusher for the Bolts) is done for the remainder of the season with a toe injury, so San Diego is left with versatile Danny Woodhead and veteran Donald Brown, neither of whom are going to get you 100-plus yards rushing a game in most instances. The lack of a sustained rushing attack has thrown a ton of pressure on Rivers to get the team down the field week after week;
2. Offensive line – A problem for a number of years now, San Diego’s offensive line woes continue this season. Rivers has been sacked 16 times to date this season, with there likely being more if he had not thrown the ball away. While the Chargers have juggled multiple offensive line combos due to injury and quite frankly ineffective plasy at times, most Charger fans can’t think right away of one game this season where Rivers hasn’t been under duress at some point. When you stop and think about it, Rivers has been lucky to get out of nine games to date without a serious injury;
3. Secondary – Yes, the secondary may not appear quite as bad as it was just a few years ago, but watch game films from the first nine games to see a number of times where Charger defensive backs got toasted on pass plays. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for nearly 2,350 yards in nine games, with Chicago’s Jay Cutler becoming the Bears all-time passing touchdown leader just this past Monday evening with his 138th in a Chicago uniform (passing legendary Sid Luckman). With Peyton Manning remaining twice on the schedule, plus an improving Derek Carr in Oakland, some opponents are likely to yet again exploit one of the weaknesses on this team;
4. No home field – Last but certainly not least, the Chargers really have not had a true home field advantage in the last couple of decades, with the problem seemingly being exacerbated each year. Anyone who attended or watched the last two Monday night games in San Diego knows that there were a ton of Steelers and Bears fans in attendance. If you go to a game in Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia etc. you know who the home team is. While the Chargers may say having so many visiting fans in attendance does not bother them, one might think otherwise when fans of opposing teams are yelling louder most of the game than the San Diego supporters. Yes, wins and losses are produced on the field and not in the stands, but it certainly can’t help a team that is struggling to hear all those opposing fans carrying on like they typically do when their team plays in San Diego.
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.