While the Chargers of the last few seasons may have found ways to lose rather than win in weeks four and five, this year’s version finally seems to have the composure to keep it together and seal the deal down the stretch in tight games. Many fans are still cautious about giving too much credit to the Bolts who looked fallible against both Kansas City and Denver in back to back weeks, but the fact remains that 4-1 at the bye week is a very good record.
The team really seems to have taken on the mentality of its primary leader in quarterback Philip Rivers who never appears flustered and always takes both the good and the bad in stride. Despite not playing at what many would consider his top form of 2009 when he was only intercepted nine times in the whole season, Rivers has been quietly effective and done what is necessary to have more points than the opponent four out of five times this year. He may already have seven picks and a less than stellar quarterback rating in relation to his gaudy numbers from recent memory, but there’s no doubt that wins take precedence over individual accolades for the Bolts’ man under center.
Injuries have clearly been a theme in this still young season for the Chargers, yet despite those issues, the team continues to win games. Antonio Gates missed his third consecutive game Sunday against the Broncos with his lingering plantar fascitis problems. The Bolts’ All-Pro tight end tore some scar tissue and aggravated that old injury in week 2 against the New England Patriots. Thankfully the silver lining in this is that many (including Gates himself) are optimistic the Bolts’ pass catching threat will be able to return following the week off when the team does battle with the New York Jets.
Where the team has really struggled through their first five games this year has been in the red zone where turnovers and settling for field goals have plagued Rivers and company. The aforementioned issues with Gates missing from action could be a large reason why the offense has sputtered and been forced to settle for three rather than scoring seven when they move inside of an opponent’s 20-yard line. When the field shrinks down, the Bolts field-stretching receivers have less room to work with and often times fail to get open in the short window of time that Rivers has to throw the pigskin.
One area of the offense that has seen a bit of a resurgence in 2011 is the running game where second-year ball carrier Ryan Mathews is really coming into his own as a factor back in the NFL. Weeks 3, 4, and 5 have all seen relatively heavy workloads for Mathews who has been at twenty-plus touches for three consecutive games. The ability to maintain a healthy balance and force opposing defenses to at least respect the run is critical to the Chargers making a push deep into the postseason this coming January.
Many doubters will point to a somewhat weak first part of the schedule for the Bolts who aside from their only loss on the year to the 4-1 New England Patriots have played and beaten teams with a combined 4-15 record. Certainly the schedule will increase in intensity rather rapidly for the team out of the bye week visiting the Jets in week 7 and the Chiefs in week 8 before returning home to battle the defending Super Bowl champion undefeated Green Bay Packers in week 9. Much will be determined from that stretch of games as far as how good the Chargers actually are going to be this season, but the AFC West might be decided in the following week when the Oakland Raiders pay the Bolts a visit on the NFL Network.
The jury may still be out on what the future holds for this 2011 Chargers team, but there is no debating the fact that they have ditched their former label as a team that always found a way to lose close, winnable games versus inferior opponents. Let’s hope this team can maintain this newfound confidence and that all of the positives from the weeks before the bye week pick back up when the club reconvenes for action on October 23rd.
Now it’s your turn to sound off. Are you still a cautious optimist when it comes to the Chargers this season or has their fast start already converted you into a believer? What reasons do you see for Rivers’ less than stellar statistical season to date and does it even matter what his numbers look like so long as the team is winning? Do you think Antonio Gates’ absence is to blame for the team’s red zone woes thus far or is there a deeper fundamental problem? Will Ryan Mathews remain a focal point of the Bolts’ offense and get 20 or more touches on a regular basis or will the team revert to its pass-happy past in the not so distant future? What kind of a verdict do you see on the horizon for this Chargers team following their bye week? Please weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments section below!
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