Pickin’ Bolts: Saints/Chargers Game Analysis

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Credit: Newsday
Credit: Newsday

This is the hardest post-game analysis piece I’ve had to write so far this season.

In game 1, Chargers led the Chiefs 27-10 with 13:24 left to play.
In game 2, Chargers led the Jaguars 35-0 with 2:48 left to play in the 3rd quarter.
In game 3, Chargers led the Colts 19-13 with 8:23 left to play in the 3rd quarter.
In game 4, Chargers led the Saints 34-21 with 8:39 left to play.

Only the Colts game wasn’t a big lead but after the leads in those four games, the Chargers were outscored by a combined 64 to six to close out those four games. Obviously, the Chargers are having trouble finishing games. But, if you want to quibble and point out that they won one of those game, we can remove the final points in the Jacksonville win and it is still 50-3.

So what are the problems? We would be remiss to ignore two obvious things: 1. Health, and 2. Late-game turnovers. The health isn’t something the coach can control, obviously, but don’t forget, even with less-than-ideal health, the Chargers are amassing rather large leads. And while it isn’t the coach fumbling the ball, don’t forget the famous Jimmy Johnson story. Johnson’s Cowboys had a big lead and he put in a backup running back to keep Emmitt Smith healthy for the season. The young backup preceded to fumble twice. Even though the Cowboys still won, the young RB was cut on Monday. The point is, fumbles matter. And teams need to take them seriously.

While that story is cute and fans love that sort of ruthlessness from a coach, I’d be remiss to not admit it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. The Chargers cannot cut last year’s 1st round draft pick (Melvin Gordon), this offseason’s marque free-agency signee (Travis Benjamin), and/or this year’s 2nd round draft pick (Hunter Henry). But the coaching staff can do things to emphasize ball-security. And Head Coach Mike McCoy needs to figure this out quickly or he will be out of a job even faster.

Other things I noticed the Chargers doing – or failing to do – involve play-calling. In all three losses, the Chargers have had leads and tried to close out the games by running the football; keeping the clock moving. The problem is, the Chargers aren’t running the ball all that effectively. It’s hard for any team to run the ball when the opposing team knows what’s coming. So, with the game on the line, McCoy and the coaching staff are taking the ball out of the hand of their best player; Philip Rivers.

Rivers threw for 321 yards and two TD’s without an interception until he faced a 4th & 22 with 1:12 left to play. Fans and commentators alike have said the Chargers don’t have a “step on their opponents’ throat” mentality. And this is what they mean. When the Bolts are successful throwing to WR’s, don’t stop just because you have a lead. Teams know McCoy will abandon the pass when he has a lead. And in doing so, the team abandons what it does best.

At this point, I don’t believe the Chargers are a playoff team. And I cannot imagine how negative performances will affect voters’ decision-making come November. And don’t kid yourself, people will vote based on their emotions. Were this not the case, television commercials for politicians and/or issues wouldn’t pull at your heart-strings.

I don’t know what the barometer for a successful season would be, but beginning 1-3 makes even a Wild Card bid unlikely. With upcoming games against the Raiders, Falcons, and two against Denver, it’s not hard to envision the Chargers with a 1-7 halfway record. At what point does the Spanos family make a culture-change and fire McCoy?

Thanks for reading.


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