At 7-7, Is Luck Finally On The Chargers' Side?

There was never really a doubt from the opening kickoff about which team had the upper hand as the Bolts did battle with the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. The Chargers’ offense possessed a rhythm the likes of which the team has seldom produced during the 2011 campaign. A true commitment to the running game has made the biggest difference in the club’s success during the last few weeks and that was no exception on Sunday evening when Ryan Mathews provided yet another workman-like effort with 26 totes for 90 yards and two touchdowns.

When a team scores on each of its first five possessions of any given game, odds are that they will inevitably end up on the winning side of the scoreboard. That is precisely what the Bolts were able to do against what is statistically the league’s third best defensive team in the Ravens. Offensive performances like the team’s push over the last three contests have been missing from the majority of this season’s action, but the fact that the Bolts are finally putting things together down the stretch says something about the character in the locker room.

While critics will say (and rightfully so) that it says the team lacks any real character given its lack of motivation and passion during the first half of the regular season, the opposite could also be argued. There is something about the ‘back against the wall’ mantra that the Chargers find appealing as a team and they are able to rally behind that idea when push comes to shove. It remains to be seen whether that patented late run will again come up just short as it did a year ago or perhaps if it may propel them into the playoffs as it did in years past.

According to Philip Rivers in the Los Angeles Times: "The one thing that stays true in all the scenarios is we have to win our next two games. Let's just worry about us. If it's not enough on Jan. 1, it's not enough. But we're going to go down fighting." That burning desire from Rivers to never give up and continue fighting against all odds is what endears him to many Chargers’ fans. Although his slow start could (at least in part) be considered to blame for the team’s struggles early in the year, his hot streak of late is the reason why the Bolts aren’t dead yet.

The defense also has to receive a large portion of the credit for the team’s resurgence in the latter half of the season. Against the Ravens, the Bolts sacked Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco five times with three of those takedowns coming courtesy of linebacker Antwan Barnes. Pressure on the quarterback and lack of aggression has been a downfall for the Bolts many times throughout this season, but they showed their ability to generate pass rush versus Baltimore while the constant heat forced two Flacco interceptions as well.

While the offensive and defensive performances have been stellar in recent weeks, it’s the consistency of kicker Nick Novak that deserves at least an honorable mention. With the season that Novak has put together since taking over in relief of opening day starter Nate Kaeding, is it possible that he has earned the full-time kicking role with the club for the foreseeable future? Given Kaeding’s perceived fragile psyche and ability to come up small in the clutch, Novak deserves a shot to beat him out when the roster cutdowns are made next year.

Novak’s stat line for the year stands at 25 field goals made out of 31 attempts with three coming from more than 50 yards out. The depth of Novak’s kickoffs has led to an improvement in the Bolts’ opponent’s starting field position as well forcing teams to drive longer distances on the defense and in turn giving the offense the ball back in a much better spot.

For now it’s on to the final two games of the 2011 regular season where the Bolts head on the road for both remaining battles. Fortunately the game this week with the Detroit Lions will be in a dome with controlled climate and ideal conditions while the week 17 finale against the Oakland Raiders in just up the road in a relatively favorable environment. There will be no excuses for this team with winning being the only possible ticket remaining to the playoffs this January.

What do you think will happen? Can the Bolts win out and get the necessary help to make the playoffs or will they again come up short and be playing golf in January? Do you think the running game has been the key ingredient to the offense’s recent success or do you believe there is something else to attribute the team’s surge to of late? How important has the team’s improving pass rush been to their recent winning streak? Who should be the Bolts’ kicker in 2012: Nate Kaeding or Nick Novak? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

December 22, 2011

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