San Diego Chargers (5-7) at Carolina Panthers (4-8)
Sunday December 11, 2016 10:00 AM Fox
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
The San Diego Chargers’ injury-riddled season has finally resulted in the inevitable.
Playoffs are no longer an option, though the team is still mathematically qualified. To make the 2017 playoffs, the team would need the most unlikely miracle to have ever taken place in the history of the league. With all the injuries decimating the roster, it wouldn’t be fair for this squad to limp into the playoffs, so instead they will play for pride the rest of the way.
Coach Mike McCoy‘s coaching future is cloudy and he will be under a microscope for the remainder of the year. His decision-making abilities, as well as his ability to motivate his team, are his downfall. The team seems prepared each week, but fails to make in-game adjustments, and in this league that is demoralizing to a team.
The Spanos family has huge issues regarding the future of the team in San Diego, and understandably, the coach and his future is presently on the back burner. Of course with a couple of bad loses, things could change, and McCoy could be axed at any moment. He is indeed coaching for his future.
Against the Panthers this week, the Bolts will have a tough task. The defending NFC Champions are a formidable opponent, but they have been playing horribly. Like the Chargers, they have underachieved all season long. However, just because they have played badly, doesn’t mean they are not capable of turning it on at any moment.
The Bolts must keep the crowd out of the contest and focus on all facets of the game.
This match up is very winnable, but the Chargers will make it close no matter what. That is just what they do. Will this team pull it out in the end? And who will be the difference maker? Let’s try to explore that and find out.
Chargers on Offense
Melvin Gordon should be able to continue to pound the ball against this team, and Philip Rivers should be able to find the open receiver downfield against a weak secondary. The Panthers miss Josh Norman and have gotten little to no production from their current tandem of James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams should be able to get space from their defender and Rivers will have no trouble finding them. Hunter Henry is looking to get more involved with the offense in the middle of the field, as he recovers from a knee injury that has slowed him the past five weeks. Then there is Antonio Gates, who is very capable of getting open downfield on any play. The Chargers should put up points despite playing across the country in a morning game. The team must get touchdowns when they are in the red zone and cannot settle for field goals on the road. Those extra points here and there are huge in road games.
Chargers on Defense
Of course, stopping Cam Newton will be the key to a productive game. He runs the whole offense and can beat a team with his feet just as easily as with his arm. Jatavis Brown has practiced some this week and could be back on Sunday. He and Denzel Perryman haven’t been on the field too much this season due to injuries to both. Korey Toomer has filled in admirably and the Chargers might have found a playmaker in this former practice squad member from the Raiders. The linebackers will be busy stopping Newton as well as containing James Stewart on the ground. Old friend Mike Tolbert could get some action too.
Players to Watch
The former MVP is having a troubling year behind center for the Panthers. He is 203 of 371 on the year for 2,614 yards, while throwing 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has not killed the Panthers this season with bad passes, but he has failed to rally his team. If the Chargers get him riled up, they could be in trouble. Newton plays with his emotions on his sleeve and the team cannot get pulled into his antics. Stay calm on the defense and keep within your gaps and you should be alright.
The man has been running tough all season long and I do not expect things to change this week in Charlotte. The Panthers’ weakness on defense is against the pass, but Gordon should still have plenty of room to run the ball. Thomas Davis will be trailing him most of the day out of the backfield. He is a decent coverage linebacker, so I would expect most of Gordon’s damage to be done via the running game. With Derek Watt leading the way, Gordon should near 100 yards again on Sunday.
After suffering a knee injury and missing the entire 2015 season, he has returned and been mysteriously quiet. He is battling a shoulder injury and still recovering from his knee issue. The tall receiver is dangerous down field and Casey Hayward will have his hands full keeping him in check. In the end zone he will be used on jump ball type passes in the corner. Dexter McCoil could be utilized against Benjamin as a second defender in these instances, McCoil is very tall and can leap with the WR.
Matchup to Watch
Greg Olsen vs Defense
Cam Newton’s favorite target is the big tight end out of Miami. He is leading the Panthers in receiving with 820 yards on 61 receptions. He has scored three touchdowns and can be a pain to deal with in the middle of the field. The Chargers’ linebackers will have their hands full as Olsen can very easily be the difference in the game.
Traveling across the country to play a morning game is tough and the Chargers will feel the effect early in the game. The Panthers are a whipped team right now as they had much higher expectations than what their record current shows. The Chargers will need to pick up their intensity to win this game and take the crowd out of the game. In the end, Melvin Gordon should be able to run wild, and on his legs the Chargers pull out a 27-23 game. Of course the game will come down to the fourth quarter where the Chargers will survive a last-minute drive by the Panthers. The Bolts’ quest for an 8-8 record remains intact as the team gets to one game under .500 for the season.