Where did that come from? The San Diego Chargers won on Sunday by knocking around the Pittsburgh Steelers to move to 5-8. Is this San Diego’s typical late-season surge that comes weeks after the team needs to start playing well? Maybe not.
The Steelers have lost to the Raiders, Titans and Browns, and nearly lost to the Eagles and Chiefs. The Steelers are a 7-6 team and are at serious risk of missing the playoffs if they don’t win the final three games. The aging team has a tendency to play down to their competition and that includes the Chargers.
It was still a win and those have been in short supply for the Chargers. Plus, the Chargers were short-handed and already had one too many wins to be playing for a top draft pick.
The Chargers get the 4-9 Carolina Panthers at home on Sunday. The Panthers are coming off a big win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14. Two weeks ago the Panthers lost to the Chiefs in Kansas City, so you never really know which team is going to show up.
Primary Talking Point for Week 15
If Norv Turner and A.J. Smith are fired at the end of the season, then who takes their place? Black Monday (day after regular season ends) could be especially bloody this year because there have not been any in-season firings in 2012.
There will be no shortage of high-profile coaches like Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly on the market, but the Chargers haven’t proven to be an attractive destination for sought-after head coaches in the past. To lure a quality candidate the Chargers might have to give them some control over personnel and that might not sit well with the ownership.
Best-case scenario would be to hire a well-respected coordinator and hope they can grow into the job. Mike Zimmer or Vic Fangio would be decent options and there will be plenty of head coaches that will be fired by other teams that would jump at a second chance.
It’s interesting that there wasn’t much of a drop-off in production with undrafted rookie Mike Harris, right tackle Jeromey Clary and left guard Tyronne Green inactive last week. Three starters were out and the replacements did a decent job in their place. Rivers was sacked only once and lost no yards on the play.
Donald Butler and Eddie Royal also remain sidelined and there are no guarantees that any of the injured players will be able to return to play on Sunday. Harris, Clary, Green, Butler and Royal didn’t participate in practice at all last week and will likely have to return to practice to have any chance to face the Panthers.
Player on the Rise
Micheal Spurlock was targeted seven times on Sunday and had seven receptions. Five of the seven receptions were third-down conversions and six of the receptions resulted in a first down. Spurlock finished the day with 64 yards receiving.
Spurlock also returned kicks and punts, which is nice added value for a slot receiver. Maybe the performance was a bit of a fluke occurrence, but it’s probably worth giving him more playing time and opportunities over the final three games to find out.
Stat Trends – Offense
After converting on 54 percent of their third downs on Sunday, the Chargers shot up the rankings four spots to 13th in the NFL. No offensive turnovers against the Steelers also helped the Chargers improve their rank in interception percentage and total turnovers, which both ranked in the bottom seven in the NFL coming into the game.
Rivers’ three touchdown passes improved the Chargers to 9th in the NFL in that category. The improvement of the passing game came at the expense of the running game, as the Chargers' average dropped to 3.7 yards per carry, moving them from 23rd to 28th in the league.
Even three more solid performances will probably not be enough to improve their offensive rankings significantly. It’s the struggles of the offense that ultimately will probably lead to the firing of Turner and Smith. Ryan Mathews is basically the only offensive player that has been drafted highly over the past five years and he’s been a major disappointment.
Stat Trends – Defense
Three touchdown passes allowed and 24 points were enough to hurt the Chargers in the rankings, and they dropped four spots in both categories.
Oddly, the Chargers had one interception and yet dropped three spots in interception percentage. Part of that could have to do with the sheer volume of passes the Steelers threw on Sunday (42) as this statistic uses interceptions divided by attempts.
The Chargers at least maintained their status as one of the elite teams against the run, as they rank in the top five in yards per carry, yards per game, rushing touchdowns allowed and fumble recoveries. It’s too bad this defense can’t rush the quarterback because some of the run defenders will have to be replaced by players that can get after the quarterback.
With the victory the Chargers moved up in the rankings more than they moved down. At least the Chargers have not given up, which would be easy to do knowing that the head coach is about to be fired.
Of course, the Chargers are still clinging to the slimmest of odds that the can still make the playoffs. The Chargers would have to win every game and get a lot of help from other teams, but the chance remains and weirder things have happened.