The Chargers schedule has provided them with a much-needed mid-season bye week to collect themselves and prepare for a post-season push.
On paper, the Chargers had a very favorable schedule for the first half of the season. But they quickly found out their opponents were not as easy to beat as most analysts might have predicted. In fact, after nine weeks only one of the teams the Chargers have faced currently possess a losing record.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense have been very impressive thus far ranking first in the NFL in yards per game. The defense has also held their own currently ranking second in the league in yards allowed per game.
The Chargers have had some big issues through nine games and are fortunate to be just one-and-a-half games out of first place in the AFC West. If the Chargers can fix, or at least improve on, these issues they should once again have an impressive final two months of the season and head to a fifth straight playoff appearance. Failure to do so could result in more bye weeks like during the entire post season.
The Chargers defense has largely overachieved this season overcoming key offseason departures and a rash of injuries. One area where they have not been good is tackling.
In their recent victory over the Houston Texans, the Chargers defense routinely took poor angles at the ball carrier and dove on the ground taking themselves out of the play. Texans running back Arian Foster racked up 127 yards while Chargers defenders resembled drunken pig farmers trying to catch a greased up hog.
The Chargers should spend significant time during the bye getting back to the basics of tackling. They need to focus on getting off blocks, taking better angles and squaring up the ball carrier.
If they can improve on this part of their game they will be better positioned to take on run oriented teams like the Chiefs, Raiders and 49ers in the second half of the season.
When Chargers safety Paul Oliver snagged the game clinching interception against the Texans, it was the first take away for the Chargers since Week 4 against the Cardinals. Since that time the Chargers have forced five fumbles and failed to recover a single one. The Chargers defense has also failed to secure several easy interceptions.
For a defense that doesn't rush the passer very well and isn't great at tackling, they sure could benefit from taking advantage of turnover opportunities.
The Chargers are 3-1 in games where they have at least one take away and 1-4 in games where they have none.
Apparently the Chargers are subscribing to the theory that it is better to give than to receive. While the Chargers have been ineffective at taking the ball away on defense, they have handed fumbles and interceptions out like Halloween candy.
The Chargers are -9 in turnover differential and most players and coaches would tell you it's hard to win football games when you lose the turnover battle.
Rookie running back Ryan Mathews has received the most criticism for lack of ball control having lost three fumbles in only eight games so far in his career. Fellow backfield mates Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles haven't fared much better with two lost fumbles each. The receiving corps has also combined for three lost fumbles.
Philip Rivers has been incredible this season and while there is no doubt his good play far outweighs his mistakes he has still made plenty. Rivers has 11 turnovers throwing eight interceptions and losing three fumbles.
If the Chargers want to climb out of third place and take control of their division they need to stop giving the ball away.
A mid-season bye week is always a blessing due to the violent nature of football. A break half-way through the season allows for teams to get healthy and recharge for the second half.
The Chargers have been absolutely mauled by injuries on both sides of the ball. Six offensive starters have missed at least one game due to injury. Kicker Nate Keading missed the past three games with a groin injury. Four linebackers have been placed on injured reserve not including Shawn Merriman who has since been released. Linebackers Larry English and Brandon Siler have also missed significant time due to foot injuries.
Coming out of the bye week, Norv Turner should expect to have most, if not all, of his available players back for the stretch run. Philip Rivers put up great numbers last week throwing passes to Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu and Randy McMichael. Imagine how the offensive will perform when they get Malcolm Floyd, Legedu Naanee and Antonio Gates back on the field.
To the say that the Chargers special teams has been horrible would be a ridiculous understatement. Saying that they're the worst unit in the league doesn't quite do them justice.
The following is a catalog of special teams mistakes. Two kick-off returns for touchdowns, one punt returned for a touchdown, 1,497 return yards allowed, five blocked punts (technically four), one blocked field goal attempt and one botched point after attempt. That is not including costly penalties and mental mistakes of which there have been many.
Poor special teams play has significantly contributed to all five of the Chargers losses. Shoddy return coverage led to losses in Kansas City and Seattle. Consecutive blocked punts led to an early 15 point deficit in Oakland. In St. Louis, the Chargers had a chip-shot field goal blocked in a game where they lost by three points. At home against the Patriots, the Chargers had a false start penalty push back what would have been a game tying field goal.
The Chargers have found ways to win their last two games despite terrible special teams play. But if they truly have aspirations of coming back in the division and making the playoffs they will not be so lucky against aggressive teams like the Jets, Steelers and Ravens.
Norv Turner has been adamant that special teams coach Steve Crosby's job is completely safe. Now Crosby has an extra week to get his unit straightened out. If special teams don't drastically improve the Chargers will be out of the playoff picture, and Steve Crosby will be out of a job.