The Chargers now five game winning streak has been great cause for optimism. With the Bengals laying an egg against Oakland, the team not only finds themselves back in the division lead a game ahead of the reeling Broncos, but now in a three way tie for that second seed, and the first round bye that accompanies it.
My faith in San Diego is growing in leaps and bounds, not because of the winning streak but how they have done it. My worry just after the last Raiders game (with the Chargers sitting at 4-3 and Denver at 6-1) was not the team’s capacity to win, but their capacity to win big games against big teams.
They had a solid final nine, with the Giants, Eagles, Denver (at the time still a force), Dallas (in the middle of their Miles Austin power-run), and Cinci. I figured they would need at least two of those game to earn a playoff spot, probably three to fight for the division.
They have already fulfilled the three of the five tough games criteria with their first three games, dropping the Giants and Eagles before thrashing Denver. Now they look at a run of the Chiefs (albeit with a little added swagger after the Pitt head scratcher), Browns, and Redskins mixed in with the much more human-looking variations of Dallas and Cinci.
In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say the most dangerous game is not going to be against either listed above, but the resurgent Titans fighting for respect.
On the team’s to do lists for me to really get excited over this team after week eight:
A. Defeat better than .500 team—Check, week nine Giants.
B. Put together back to back wins (I didn’t count the Chiefs/Raiders pair as such)—Check, weeks nine-11.
C. Come out take a lead and hold it—Check, somewhat week 10, more week 11.
D. Add some dimension to the team—Check as follows:
That dimension is what excites me. The team now proves they can get after an opposing team’s offense in a much more aggressive way (first five games- four picks, seven sacks; last five games- six picks, twenty sacks).
And now they are finally developing the running game. Ninety-six yards by LT was a start against the Eagles, but the Denver match, with its two hundred and three team yards rushing, showcased a missing element for the team. This was done by a method that I am somewhat baffled the team had not really pursued to this point: all four backs getting at least seven carries.
During LT’s injury and recovery the team tried to ride Sproles instead of platoon the remaining backs and spread the load. With LT still not as dynamic as he once was (his yardage totals have solidified but he still can’t seem to break that four yard a carry barrier).
The team gave him 20 carries, Sproles nine, and seven apiece to Hester and Tolbert. The lightning bug has continued his less than stellar season taking handoffs but Hester and Tolbert put up 6.6 and 8.3 yards per carry respectively. With a team lacking goal-line and short yardage punch, it is good to see the team trying out the rock in these guys’ hands (both of whom are much better suited to those frequent straight up the gut plays).
Rivers no longer has to do it all, and that will benefit the team in the long run. If they can continue to expound upon the improved running game and harass opposing offenses they will be able to start to run with some of the big teams in the playoffs.
As good as Rivers has been, I was not altogether confident that the team could go places on his arm alone. This team is not flawless, but no one is, especially this year, so good luck and go Chargers.