And now it’s the offensive line; the problem areas just continue to emerge for the Bolts as the same line that has protected quarterback Philip Rivers admirably over the past three or four seasons has been ravaged periodically during the 2010 campaign.
This past Sunday in a visit to the St. Louis Rams, that very Bolts line just happened to add a Pro Bowler back to their lineup in early season holdout left tackle Marcus McNeill. Nearly the same configuration along the offensive front allowed between 22 and 27 sacks per season from 2006 through 2009. Incomprehensibly, that same line has surrendered 18 sacks already through the first six games of this season which is second most in the entire league behind only the Chicago Bears.
These numbers are alarming just at face value, but what these sack statistics indicate in addition to protection problems is a lack of a running game. In the games where Rivers has been able to stay upright long enough to deliver the ball downfield, San Diego has gone over the 400-yard passing plateau on three occasions already this season. For an offense that was drafting a first round running back to relieve some of the offensive burden from the shoulders of their signal caller, the play calling has remained primarily pass-based and certainly suspect from Head Coach Norv Turner.
Running back Ryan Mathews has been nicked up over the past three weeks leaving backup Mike Tolbert to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, but that still does not excuse abandoning the running game. General Manager A.J. Smith franchise tagged speedster Darren Sproles in the offeseason for a reason, yet coach Turner has failed to find innovative ways to get the ball into his hands.
What does all of this mean when it comes to sacks?
Well, when a team gets as one-dimensional as the Chargers have been from 2009 into the early portion of this 2010 season it gives opposing defenses the green light as far as rearing back and teeing off on the quarterback is concerned. Keeping those pass rushers off balance and expecting runs on certain downs has been absent from the Bolts repertoire over the past two years. This makes playing against the Chargers a much easier task from a defensive standpoint with some adequate coverage in the secondary providing enough time for defensive linemen and blitzers to reach the quarterback.
This season has been the tale of two teams for the Bolts through six weeks of action with the best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation one can find in the NFL. In the team’s four losses, the Bolts have given up an average of four sacks per game while in the victories they have allowed just one per contest. That correlates spot on with the team’s rushing stats as they have averaged just 92 yards per game in the four losses while going for 165.5 on average in their two wins.
It seems like just yesterday Bolts fans were having this same conversation about the lack of a running game and how predictable their offense was becoming. Not much has changed with Turner still making the same obvious play calls forcing his players into uncomfortable down and distances. Getting a healthy Mathews back into the mix is a must for this team to try and wear teams down into the fourth quarters of games, but utilizing him in the correct manner is the other half of that equation.
The one real bright spot for San Diego is the fact that no one is running away and hiding with this division any time soon and the Bolts still have all three of their divisional home games remaining on the schedule. This may be their worst start in the last four seasons, but they aren’t in any worse of a position than they have been in the preceding campaigns. Getting healthy will be a huge component to the Bolts hopes of putting together another patented late season run, but they had better start soon or the hole may be down too deep to see the light of day.
Here is the question, fans. Do the Bolts really have protection issues up front on the offensive line or are their sack numbers directly attributable to the lack of a running game? Has this Chargers team been any different from a play calling standpoint in 2010 or are these the same old Norv Turner Bolts from the last four years? Which team will be the Bolts biggest obstacle en route to attaining the division title for the fifth consecutive season? Give your thoughts below!
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