In a microcosm of what has been the Chargers’ season to this point, week 11’s battle with the Chicago Bears showcased some very positive moments while also including several head shakers. That is to be expected of nearly any football game, but what cannot be anticipated from a Bolts’ fan’s perspective is just how many different ways this 2011 version can find to lose games.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
Starting with the positives, the Chargers may have finally found a solid nucleus for their base 3-4 defensive set up front. An alignment composed of rookie Corey Liuget on one end, second-year player Cam Thomas on the nose, and third-year man Vaughn Martin on the other side did a fantastic job of bottling up the league’s leading rusher for the most part all game long. The Bears’ Matt Forte was held to just 59 yards on 21 carries against the Bolts for an average of less than 3.0 YPC (yards per carry).
Offensively, Vincent Jackson’s on-again, off-again season reached another crescendo in Chicago as the Bolts star wideout caught 7 balls for 165 yards and a touchdown. Philip Rivers unquestionably looked at his best when rainbowing throws to Jackson in stride throughout the course of the game. Antonio Gates also had a strong showing with 4 catches for 63 yards and a score, but those upbeat storylines actually helped create some of the less than positive ones.
LET’S GET DARK
Having two dominant receivers is obviously a good thing for a quarterback’s sense of security, but it can also have the opposite effect. Rivers may have had all that success to his two primary targets, but the options were limited elsewhere as the Bolts’ signal caller completed just 10 passes to players not named Jackson or Gates on Sunday for a meager 52 yards. That lack of elite weaponry really hurt Rivers when it came to finding outlets when his top flight choices were taken away.
As well as the defensive front played on Sunday, the linebacker level and secondary floundered just as badly in the opposite direction. Both Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer were thoroughly abused by Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler on multiple occasions. The safeties didn’t play much better as Steve Gregory doesn’t even look like an adequate backup in replacement of Bob Sanders and his struggles seemed to drag Eric Weddle down as well who looked a step slow.
The team continued its streak of irresponsibility with the pigskin as the Bolts had their sixth consecutive game with two or more giveaways on Sunday. Rivers again threw two inexplicable interceptions in crucial moments of the game with running back Ryan Mathews’ ball security problems reared their ugly head once again with his two fumbles (one of which was lost). Those mistakes over the past half dozen games have been quite indicative of the team’s struggles during that time period coinciding perfectly with their ongoing losing streak.
To make matters worse, the offensive line was a bit of a mish-mash Sunday as both practice squad man Steve Schilling and freshly signed off the street Tony Moll were starters this past week. There was no cohesion to be found within that unit as Rivers was under pressure all game long and the mountain of mental miscues continued to pile up. As a team, the Chargers have committed 19 pre-snap penalties over the past five games which all comes down to preparation and discipline which clearly seems to be lacking a bit from the coaching staff.
Even the special teams unit where improvement has been seen at least in part this year for the club looked hapless this week as Devin Hester did damage on a punt return while Johnny Knox sliced through the kick coverage team. The field position battle certainly tilted in favor of the Bears and only made the task taller for the Chargers this past weekend.
With visible anger and frustration taking over the faces of even some coaches on the sidelines, there may very well be some dissention within the locker room looming. There are only so many second chances for any team (even one in the AFC West) to right itself during the course of a season and it appears that San Diego may have used up all of its lifelines to this point. With a game against the Denver Broncos straight ahead in week 12, the Bolts have to do some soul searching in a hurry if they want to avoid their second straight season without a trip to the playoffs.
Render your own verdict on the Bolts! What different positives and negatives did you take away from this past Sunday’s game? Do you think the locker room is going to start to lose faith in the coaching staff soon or has the mutiny already begun? Do you foresee the Chargers righting the ship and making a late push for the postseason in 2011 or will this be the final straw for the current setup in the team’s front office? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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