The Chargers are in Atlanta to face the Falcons, a tough opponent. Despite a win against the Broncos last week, the Bolts are entering their week 7 matchup with a negative 2-4 record. The biggest disappointment (for me, anyway) isn’t the fact that they have another bad start to the season, but it’s the way they got to it. Even by Chargers measures, and the fans are used to quite a lot, a couple of these losses were just ridiculous.
The pessimistic realists, as I’d like to call them, those who predicted the Chargers at 6-10 or 7-9 for the season, probably won’t be frustrated so much and could claim they were right. On the other hand, the optimistic realists (9-7, 10-6) could also make a case for their prediction, as all of the Bolts’ losses were close. Before I continue, lets take a look at some stats:
- The Bolts’ four losses were by a combined 14 points
- They scored 25+ points in three of the four losses and 30+ in two of them
- Blew double-digit leads in the 4th quarter twice (KC & NO)
- Had a lead with 2:00 remaining in three of the four losses (KC, IND, NO)
- Lost two games despite having a win percentage* of 99% at some point during the 4th quarter (KC & NO) *Statistic by Pro Football Reference
- The odds of losing all four games were 0.0000034%, one-in-30 million (Wall Street Journal)
Bad teams without potential wouldn’t put up stats like these. The Chargers should’ve been 4-2 and could’ve been 5-1. The opportunities were there, so why aren’t they? The answer is as complicated as it is simple, they’ve been their own worst enemy.
In the season opener at Arrowhead, most of the blame was on McCoy and Pagano for being too conservative and not sticking to a first half game plan that worked perfectly. Against the Colts, the players were at fault with far too many costly penalties, undisciplined behavior, and mistakes. I’m not sure what went wrong, but the team just didn’t seem ready in that game.
In week 4 vs. the Saints, the Chargers’ meltdown seemed to be a combination of the coaches and the players. McCoy didn’t commit those two consecutive late-game fumbles himself, but his (and Pagano’s) fear of losing was so apparent that it’s not a stretch to assume – I’m not a psychologist – that this fear rubbed off on the players. Benjamin seemed afraid to get hit the entire game. It could be that the injuries got to him mentally, but that’s an assumption as well. The match against Oakland was more of the same, safe or bad play calling and personal mistakes (fumbles and interceptions) resulted in another loss.
While the Chargers managed to close out the game against the Broncos in week 6, they didn’t exactly do it convincingly. In fact, a lot of the things that lead to those earlier losses happened against Denver as well. McCoy deviated from a successful balanced first half game plan to a one-sided, nearly run-only, highly ineffective offense in the second half. Three-and-outs are not going to help with running out the clock. Neither did it help the defense, as it forced them back on the field much too quickly.
With blitzes, different personnel looks, and great effort, the defense created pressure for three quarters and held the Broncos at only three points, until Pagano switched to his prevent defense in the fourth. ‘Suddenly’, the opponent was able to cross the field and get in scoring range. The only reason Denver didn’t make a full comeback was because of the many and crucial errors they made in the second half. Here’s a list:
- A missed field goal
- Two lost fumbles
- A safety allowed (holding penalty in the endzone)
- A nullified touchdown because of a holding penalty
- Ten penalties for 93 yards
Admittedly, the two lost fumbles were great plays by Korey Toomer and Jatavis Brown, but with the nullified touchdown in particular, the Chargers got very lucky. Again, the Bolts were outscored in the 4th quarter, 10-2, but with a sloppy opponent like this, they could also afford mistakes of their own (muffed punt by Kenny Wiggins and the lost onside kick). The Bolts won’t be this lucky every week.
Of course, it isn’t just negative. Contrary to previous years, the defense is making plays and creating turnovers. The emergence of the rookies is something to be optimistic about. Joey Bosa and Jatavis Brown are difference makers in the run game, and Hunter Henry is slowly but steadily becoming an increasingly important force in the offense. Even rookie Drew Kaser redeemed himself from earlier bad performances and showed he could be an effective NFL punter.
Unfortunately, however, as long as McCoy and Pagano are coaching the Chargers and there are too many error-prone players on the team, the Bolts will remain their own worst enemy (not even mentioning the owners and front office). Watching a Chargers game this season feels like buying a lottery ticket each week, you know chances of success are slim, but you might get lucky. Fingers crossed.