For the first time since 2006, the San Diego Chargers are 4-1 to start the season. The last time they achieved four wins in the first five games (2006), the Chargers went 14-2, only to lose to the Patriots at home in the Divisional round.
No, the Chargers have not beaten a team with any substance (The teams that the Chargers have beaten have combined for only four wins) and have failed to "dominate" in these wins, but they are winning games they have lost in past seasons. These losses to bad teams have resulted in the slow starts Chargers' fans are used to.
For example, in 2010, the Chargers lost to the Seahawks, Rams, and Raiders in the first six games of the season. These losses all but put the season in the dumps right out of the gate. In 2009, a season in which they finished 13-3, the Chargers lost to the Broncos to fall to 2-3 before winning out.
This trend has been prevalent every year of Norv Turner's tenure at head coach. That is, until this year.
The Chargers' naysayers are forgetting some main points when they continually discount the Chargers early success:
- Two wins against divisional opponents—Divisional games are always close, hard fought, battles, no matter the talent differential; especially when you have to play on the road. Take a look at the Carolina-New Orleans game that came down to the last drive if you need any proof. Also, the Chiefs are 2-3 and proving that they have the firepower we saw a year ago now that Cassel and Bowe are on the same page.
- They are winning the close games—This is where the Chargers have struggled the most in past years. Remember 2008 when we lost on last minute plays/drives to start the season to Carolina (Eric "Too Short" Weddle) and Denver (Ed Hochuli—Enough Said)? I sure do. The difference with the 2011 season is that Chargers are finding ways to close out games in the 4th. Games against Minnesota, Kansas City, and Denver have all been won by the Chargers offense or defense coming up big late in the fourth quarter.
- The running game is back - Coming into this season, the biggest question about the Chargers' team was their ability to move the ball on the ground. Ryan Mathews, and the offensive line, have proven that the running game is back in motion. The all-pro left side of the Chargers line (McNeil, Dielman, Hardwick) are all healthy can really getting a great push off the snap. An athletic Jets defensive front will be the first real test of the season for the Chargers' line after the bye.
All these are things that the Chargers have done well so far in 2011, but the biggest contributor to the Chargers' early success is the pass defense. Jammer, Cason, Gilchrist, and Weddle have all been outstanding in the passing game. Yes, the Chargers are getting a better push up front than a year ago, but opposing teams, except for the Patriots, have simply been unable to move the ball through the air on a consistent basis against this Chargers' secondary.
Currently the Chargers have the 5th best defense in the league in terms of yards allowed and they have the second best pass defense (allowing only 179.6 yards per game).
Of all the teams in the top 10 in pass defense, the Chargers are the only team with under 10 sacks. This speaks volumes of what the coverage is doing against opposing quarterbacks. Quarterbacks are getting time to throw, but they simply can not find open wideouts.