Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Midseason Report: San Diego Chargers
By Eric D. Williams
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.
Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.
Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.
GRADING THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Rivers rebounded nicely under McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Through eight games, Rivers leads the league in completion percentage (72.2), is third in passer rating (106.5) and fourth in touchdown passes (17). But he's also struggled at times, with six interceptions in San Diego's four losses.
Ryan Mathews developed into a focal point of San Diego's rushing attack, running for over 100 yards in back-to-back games this season. Mathews leads the Chargers with 480 rushing yards, and is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. One of the more underrated signings during the offseason, Danny Woodhead leads the Chargers in receptions with 49 for 391 yards and three touchdowns, and is first in receptions among running backs in the NFL.
Antonio Gates is back playing at an elite level. The 33-year-old Detroit native has 48 receptions for 550 yards and two touchdowns. Second-year pro Ladarius Green also has provided some explosiveness from that position, with 6 catches for 123 yards (20.5 yards per catch).
Right tackle D.J. Fluker deserves rookie of the year consideration. He's done a nice job in pass protection and has been a beast in the running game. Even though it has suffered a rash of injuries, San Diego's offensive line has played at a high level. Center Nick Hardwick is the only O-line member to start every game this season. The Chargers have had five different starting offensive line combinations in eight games, and five different players have seen time at left tackle.
Defensive linemen Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes have generated a good pass rush from the interior. Liuget is tied for the team lead in sacks with Jarret Johnson (3). Up until the Washington game, when Alfred Morris ran for 121 yards, the Chargers had not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
Rookie linebacker Manti Te'o (foot) and Donald Butler (groin) have missed a combined seven games between them. And when they have been healthy, neither one has created many game-changing plays. The Chargers still struggle to generate consistent pressure from the perimeter of the defense with the team's best pass-rusher in Dwight Freeney done for the season with a torn quad.
Free safety Eric Weddle has been solid, leading the team in tackles with 62. Nickel defensive backs Johnny Patrick and Jahleel Addae have been good blitzers and sure tacklers in passing situations. But San Diego has gotten poor play from the cornerback position, particularly by free-agent addition Derek Cox, who was benched during the second half of the Washington game.
The Chargers got two blocked kicks against Washington, the first time the team blocked a field goal in 11 years. Punter Mike Scifres has 13 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including two on the 1-yard line. Kicker Nick Novak is 15-17 on field goals, with the only misses being two blocked attempts. However, the Chargers have failed to get much out of their return game.
McCoy has infused the organization with energy, with a focus on paying attention to the little things. The players have bought in, as the Chargers have had a chance to win every game this season. Now, McCoy has to teach them how to finish.