Luckily, the Chargers get to face the Broncos on Sunday in Denver with a chance to get back into the AFC West race. A loss and the Chargers are three games back with six games to play. A loss and the Chargers are probably completely out of the playoff picture, unless they can surge and make it as an 8-8 team.
The Chargers are currently 23rd in Football Outsiders’ proprietary DVOA statistic. The Broncos are the top-ranked team using this statistic. It’s just one measurement, but it’s an unbiased one that takes into account a lot of different factors.
That means the Chargers are one of the worst 10 teams in the league right now.
Primary Talking Point for Week 11
Philip Rivers continues to throw interceptions at an alarming rate. Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season and is on pace for at least 20 again in 2012. Rivers is throwing fewer touchdowns than he has since 2007 and more interceptions than he has at any point in his career. His statistics are down across the board.
There are plenty of reasons why Rivers is struggling. He has no running game, Antonio Gates is not young anymore and Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles are gone. These are not small losses or insignificant factors. Rivers can still light up a scoreboard, and he’ll probably get close to 30 touchdowns again, but his supporting cast is no longer able to make up for his deficiencies.
Rivers has regressed when pressured the last two seasons. When he gets good protection, Rivers is as good as any quarterback in the league, but he shrinks when opposing teams knock him around. A big reason for that is his sloppy footwork and mechanics when under pressure or on the run.
The problem isn't getting any better and is really the biggest thing holding the Chargers back. Maybe it’s ironic that defense and special teams couldn’t get Norv Turner fired, but a problem with the quarterback might finally seal his fate in San Diego.
It certainly doesn’t help the Chargers chances of turning things around over the final seven games if they have injuries. Since protecting Rivers is of vital importance, Jared Gaither's injury might just be the biggest—though Gaither seems to have a new injury every week.
Gaither missed Week 10 with a groin injury and has played in just four games this season. If he can’t get healthy and protect Rivers then the Chargers are going to have a very hard time turning things around in the second half like they did in 2011.
Antwan Barnes is a situational linebacker who also missed Week 10, but rookie Melvin Ingram has played better and is probably more deserving of snaps as a situational pass-rusher at this point in the season.
The Chargers have a few other guys banged up, but they’ve been able to play through the injuries.
The only other injured player who could return and give the Chargers a bump in production is wide receiver Vincent Brown, who is on injured reserve. Brown is eligible to return when he is ready, but may not be available until the last game in November or first game in December.
By then, the Chargers might be totally out of playoff contention.
Players on the Rise
Danario Alexander was signed as a free agent just over three weeks ago, and now he’s starting opposite Malcom Floyd at wide receiver. Alexander has taken Robert Meachem’s job and hasn’t looked back. In two games, Alexander has 195 yards and a touchdown compared to Meachem's 197 yards and two touchdowns in eight games.
Alexander is basically quadrupling Meachem’s production.
The only question will be if Alexander can stay healthy. The offense looks way more explosive with him on the field. Like Vincent Jackson, Alexander's a tall wideout, which could explain why Rivers likes him as a deep threat.
Rivers is completing a high percentage of his passes but not for a lot of yards—at least when compared to other quarterbacks. However, with 337 passing yards against the Buccaneers, the Chargers actually leaped six spots in the yardage rankings.
Rivers' performance against Tampa Bay helped improve the Chargers pass offense rankings across the board except for one very glaring exception: interceptions. Things just aren’t getting any better in this area, and the Chargers have been resistant to trying anything too different.
The Chargers haven’t tried leaning heavily on the running game to take the pressure off of Rivers. The coaching staff obviously doesn’t trust Ryan Mathews to carry an offense and would rather put the ball in its quarterback's hands. That strategy means the Chargers will continue to win or lose depending on how many errors Rivers makes.
For the most part, the Chargers offensive statistics are average or below average. Unlike most other teams, there’s very little consistency from one statistic to the next, suggesting that things could tip in either direction at any moment of a game. This uncertainty from play to play, from game to game almost directly mirrors the performance of Rivers.
Doug Martin was no problem for the Chargers run defense. The Chargers actually improved and are now in the top six in just about every run-defense statistic. This group is playing extremely well and is limiting yardage, scoring and big plays. The run defense is also making big plays of its own.
Unfortunately the pass defense hasn’t been nearly as good, encouraging opposing offenses to just abandon the run and turn to the pass. The biggest issue has been a lack of pass rush. Ingram was supposed to solve that problem, but he’s not playing nearly enough to have a significant impact. Shaun Phillips is the only pass-rusher the Chargers really have, and when he is neutralized quarterbacks have all day to throw.
Of the Chargers’ four wins, only one has come against a passing team and that was Week 1 against Oakland. The Chargers face five passing teams in the last seven weeks, so things could get worse for this defensive unit quickly if they don’t figure out how to pressure the quarterback and make stops on third down.
This team is 4-5 and headed into the hardest part of its schedule. The Chargers have won two of the last seven games, and both came against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers other two wins were in Weeks 1 and 2 against a bad Oakland team and an equally bad Tennessee Titans squad.
The Chargers haven’t won a meaningful game all season and haven’t beaten a good team either. At this point, the Chargers are barely better than the worst teams in the entire league and are probably only a week or two away from a total meltdown.
It shouldn’t be long now before Norv Turner is sent packing and an era of healing begins in San Diego.