With every searing defeat, the San Diego Chargers move closer to an offseason that is certain to be filled with change. The Chargers are now 4-8 and have matched their loss total from a season ago. Norv Turner almost certainly will be fired at the end of the season, and general manager A.J. Smith should follow him out.
This is really a regress report, because the Chargers haven’t progressed as a team in weeks—if at all this season. It became apparent to everyone outside of San Diego that the Chargers were not a playoff team weeks ago, but that reality is starting to sink in for the entire organization.
It’s not that there haven’t been positives (run defense) and surprises (Danario Alexander) along the way, but there have just been far too many disappointments. The defense is flawed, and the offense resembles nothing of the 2010 version (second in points, first in yards) or the 2011 version (fifth in points, sixth in yards).
Primary Talking Point for Week 14
What went wrong?
It’s easy to point to a couple of key players whom Smith allowed to leave in free agency, his failed draft picks and his bad free-agent signings as the main reasons for the decline. Did Smith’s errors just finally all catch up to him in one season? The rapid decline of the offense seems to indicate there is more going on.
It could be coaching, but Norv Turner has never been accused of being inconsistent. If anything, Turner has been consistently mediocre, but there is also a dangerous thing called complacency. The Chargers haven’t made the playoffs in three years, but they always seemed to step on the gas at the right time to make a run.
It’s likely a combination of both Smith and Turner and why they both should be fired in the offseason. Like a car that has been poorly maintained, it works until it doesn't work. Smith’s roster lacks the weapons to make a run, and Turner has been incapable of squeezing more out of his teams early in the year to make that unnecessary.
The starting offensive line this week could include two tackles who weren't with the team at the start of the season in Kevin Haslem and Stephen Schilling. Mike Harris and Jeromey Clary are both unlikely to play with injuries sustained during last week’s game.
Left guard Tyronne Green is also likely to miss Sunday’s game. The offensive line was in shambles before all the injuries and things aren’t getting any more stable for Philip Rivers.
Donald Butler missed last week’s game, and he’s a big part of the defense. Groin injuries can be tricky, and with the season lost, it might be best to just let Butler heal fully before putting him back out there. The Chargers have plenty of options at linebacker, but Butler was the only one who played three downs.
Player on the Rise
After Atari Bigby went on injured reserve, the Chargers had to find a replacement strong safety. They landed on Corey Lynch last week, and he played every snap Sunday.
Lynch had an interception, nine tackles and two passes defensed against the Bengals. That’s pretty good for his first start of the season. Lynch performed better on Sunday than Bigby has all season.
Maybe it was a fluke or the Chargers gave Lynch a lot of help, but he sure looked comfortable in a starting role. There weren’t a lot of positive performances from last week’s game, but Lynch’s day was one of them.
In just about every important statistic, the Chargers have declined from last week—a common theme this season. The Chargers failed to score an offensive touchdown last Sunday, and they converted on third down just four out of 12 times. The Chargers also didn’t score a touchdown on any of their three trips to the red zone, and Rivers lost a fumble.
The only noticeable improvement was interception percentage, as Rivers threw just one interception in 48 attempts in Week 13. That’s not much of a silver lining.
The Chargers didn’t regress in any of the yardage statistics and were never really out of the game. This likely means that this performance was not all that unusual. If the Chargers struggle to make big plays and get touchdowns in the red zone, a similar performance is likely.
The Chargers have a consistent run defense that ranks near the top of the league in just about every statistic. Right now, the run defense is the one thing the Chargers can point to as a positive. It’s this run defense that has helped maintain respectable total defense rankings in points, yards and turnovers.
The pass defense has been the problem all season, and nothing changed last Sunday. When opposing offenses need a play, they go to the air to get it. The Chargers rank 27th in the league in third-down conversion percentage after allowing the Bengals to convert on half of their attempts.
In the red zone, the Chargers' pass defense did perform better last week, as Andy Dalton had only one touchdown pass, but the numbers are bit deceiving because Dalton ran for a touchdown and the Chargers had only one sack.
A late-season surge by the Chargers just isn’t going to happen this year. The pieces are not in place—and a lot of the ones that are, are not healthy.