In the NFL, an early-season record is like a tiny infant. You are proud of it, but you are weary. You know that it is fragile and needs constant guarding. You nurse it, you defend it, you watch it grow. You just really hope it doesn’t get harmed…
Through four games, no one has a fragile, baby-soft record like the San Diego Chargers.
Three relatively easy victories over three of the league’s worst teams make a 3-1 record a little suspect. The Raiders, Titans and Chiefs are all 1-3, and the latter two are lucky not to be 0-4. Throw the Cleveland Browns in there, and you would have had the easiest start to a season in team sport history.
The one loss, a four-turnover debacle against Atlanta, saw them lay an egg against the only strong team they’ve faced so far.
Philip Rivers couldn’t find the end zone in that game, but he found Falcons defenders twice. Ryan Mathews ran well but yet again failed to protect the ball, fumbling in the red zone. The defense, which has looked solid against the weaker opponents, was unable to stop Matt Ryan on third downs.
If the Chargers had played to their abilities, it could have been a close game. Mistakes let it get away.
They can’t make mistakes like that in the coming weeks.
The next two games are key for the San Diego Chargers. The New Orleans Saints are not “0-4” bad. The defense is porous, yes. But Drew Brees is still leading a capable offense. The Saints opened as three-point favorites at home, and the line has moved to minus-4 in some places.
Clearly the bettors know as much as I do how weak that 3-1 really is.
Denver is welcoming a fired-up New England team this weekend, which is going to be a tremendously hard game for them. I am not saying that it is a guaranteed win for the Patriots, but just humor the possibility of Denver at 2-3. Keep this on the backburner for a moment.
In Week 6, San Diego returns home for a huge Monday night game against the aforementioned Broncos, a team that is really not as great as people think it is. The defense is not playing like it was last year, and Peyton Manning is not at 100 percent. You can tell it is harder for him to throw with velocity. Could it come back? Sure. Will it come back?
If the Chargers can take both these games (tough, but not inconceivable), they would have a full three-game lead (plus tiebreakers) over everyone in the division. They could be running away with the West by their Week 7 bye.
Here are the three things the Bolts need to do to get there:
1. Philip Rivers Must Play Well
Philip Rivers needs to pull himself together. Maybe the shine is off the apple after seven years, but Rivers doesn’t have that same feeling when he plays. He always looks angry. He can’t connect on the deep ball, which Norv Turner rarely has him throw anymore.
He has always been the least athletic runner in the world, but he has started this weird thing where he absolutely refuses to throw the ball out of bounds when he’s on the run. This is going to result in turnovers. I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong with him, but he needs to snap out of it.
2. Get Ryan Mathews Going
The Chargers announced this week that Jackie Battle will be the starting running back for Sunday night’s clash with New Orleans. I understand that Mathews has had some recurring issues, but this isn’t the way to go about correcting it.
I have no problems with Jackie Battle in a supporting role, or stepping up if Mathews is injured, but he is a spot start—nothing more. Ryan Mathews was supposed to be the future of the franchise, and he has yet to perform as such. He needs touches.
3. Get to Drew Brees
The defense needs to get to Drew Brees early and often. The Saints offense flows completely through him. The rushing attack is not threatening, and the Chargers defense has been stout on the ground anyways. They need to get Shaun Phillips and the pass rush into the backfield and into Drew Brees’ face.
They don’t have to sack him eight times in the first half, but they need to make him move. You let Drew Brees stand in the pocket, and he will find holes in your secondary—doesn’t matter who you are.
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