Yep it happened again! Another loss that came straight down to the wire in week 13. How in the world does one team have 8 losses and all 8 of them are by one score dictated in the final minutes of the game. Then to follow it up after the team has been officially eliminated from the playoffs they come out and look like world beaters. Even though this team has had seasons like this before it’s still never ceases to amaze me. This has to be one of the most baffling teams in professional sports as far as their bad-luck and shortcomings. This essentially is the same team as last year so why the giant drop off? The defense has done its job and frankly the players on defense have to be so frustrated with the offense even though the game against Jacksonville was an exception. The entire offense looks stale and seems to lack any rhythm or life to it leading up to this week. The team needed some offensive life support and this week it received some in the form of Philip Rivers 38th birthday. Some people say it’s this or that etc etc. However it’s a multitude of things creating this mess.
Firstly and likely mostly to blame is the regression of the offensive line. The right side was already a problem down the stretch and into the playoffs last season. Nothing was done to address this weakness other than drafting a developmental tackle in Trey Pipkins, who was never meant to play this season. Then due to injuries the team was left worse off. Yet in the game against Jacksonville we saw exactly what this offense is capable of when it gets consistent blocking up front. In fact the team averaged 11 yards per play during week 14 .For example the highest grade lineman week 13 according to pro football focus was Michael Schofield with a 55.2 overall grade….Not good and it showed in the effectiveness of the team. The offense has been running screen plays of all different variations along with toss sweeps and countless motions. This is all due to the fact they are trying to mask the offensive line issues. This is actually great strategy except it is done the point of exaughstion and hilarity. One question I find myself asking is why don’t they run more quick slants or ten yard comebacks? Theoretically this would also help overcome the line issues by getting the ball out of the quarterbacks hands quickly. Something needs to change with the play calling otherwise it won’t just be the offensive coordinator on the hot seat. The Chargers did benefit from playing a team missing its two best linebackers and a team that seems to lack any enthusiasm at all. Yet the Jaguars do have a lot of talent on the defensive line and I was impressed how the combination of Okung and Feeney were able to neutralize Calias Campbell. If the line had played more like they did this week throughout the course of the season the season would look very much different right now. The team has actually outscored the opposition of a total of 38 points on the season.
Secondly the decision making by Philip Rivers and head coach Anthony Lynn needs to improve. Too often the team is running on 4th and short in a single back formation with the smallest back on the team and yet in week 14 in those same situations gave the ball to Melvin Gordon instead and what a world of difference in the outcome. I truly don’t know what took them so long to figure it out. Too often Rivers is letting it rip down field when he only needs one yard. Mike Williams has been killing it on deep down field passes all month long and they need to start incorporating deep shots and jump balls to Williams more often on earlier downs. After all this is why the team drafted him and fell in love with him to begin with. Whatever happened to the days where a perfectly good short drag route would suffice on 3rd and 1. The team decided to settle for a field goal at the end of the game against Denver to tie it up rather than go for it on 4th and inches. The season was on the line and the end zone should be the only thing on their minds. All they would have had to do was hike the ball and have Phil fall forward for an inch. Instead they settled for a tie and it came back to bite them on the ass. The following game the pressure was off as the team basically had a fork stuck in them and when Pittsburg won it officially eliminated the Chargers. I couldn’t help but notice how much more relaxed and comfortable in the pocket and it resulted in a thing of beauty. This could be attributed to the fact it was his birthday and there may be something to that. However I think that after the first couple of drives Rivers saw that his offensive line was holding up well and it became a snowball effect. The first few drives tend to set a trend moving forward in all facets of the team. When a player struggles early on its hard to shake off but in this case the line was giving Rivers his space and time to throw which lead to him feeling more and more comfortable resulting in him playing with a good rhythm.
This only cements the fact that offensive lineman should be the primary concern and target in the offseason and draft. A better right tackle and possibly another upgrade at guard would lead to more consistent play up front. After week 14 and seeing what happens when Rivers actually gets to get comfy and into a rhythm when he gets blocking the team should move off of the idea of taking a quarterback early in the draft and focus on fixing the group up front.