As the clock was winding down and yellow towels were waving at full force, the Chargers were on their way to another ugly loss Sunday night in Inglewood. This time it was to the Pittsburgh Steelers in primetime for the whole country to see, and they were reminded once again that this isn’t the same Chargers team as last year.
The Bolts could easily be 6-0 instead of 2-4 and sitting tied with the Broncos at the bottom of the AFC West. Last season, the team was 7-1 in one-score games, but this season they are 1-4. This year’s team has been hit with injuries, but the main reason for their struggles has been them turning the ball over.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “When you do that, especially when you give them one for a touchdown, it’s tough. I don’t think there’s something where you say, ‘That’s it. Don’t do that anymore.’ It’s just a matter of playing better early on.”
In the first three weeks of the season, the Bolts were getting outscored 45-10 in the second half of games. Now for the last two weeks, they have been outscored 38-0 in the first half, so how is that for a tale of two teams? The game in between those two stretches was against the winless Miami Dolphins. The Chargers scored 17 points in the first half and 13 in the second half. If only they could play Miami every week.
“It’s really just a handful of plays in each of these games that we haven’t been able to overcome,” explained Rivers. “It’s not 60 minutes of bad football. It’s just enough bad football that we haven’t been able to overcome it. We have to eliminate that and then continue to do the good that we’re doing and speaking offensively.”
One of the ways the Chargers are trying to combat the turnovers is by running the ball early in games. That’s a luxury they haven’t been able to enjoy in their last two games thanks to those early deficits. The offense rushed for 35 yards or less in both matchups.
“It’s just tough to really establish the run and stick with it,” said Rivers. “You just can’t enough sacrifice another punt in your mind. You go, ‘Gosh, we can’t even take the chance of being stubborn with the run,’ when you’re down like that. We need to get into a game where it’s 3-3 or we get up 10-0 to where you can get that down.”
Lynn is a former running back who has always said that if a team has a good rushing attack it opens up the passing game. So far, the Bolts have had neither for a full 60 minutes.
The team has now had running back Melvin Gordon for two games, during which he has touched the ball 27 times for just 86 yards. It does hurt the team that left tackle Russell Okung and center Mike Pouncey aren’t healthy because the offensive line isn’t the same without both of their leaders.
This weekend could be their best opportunity to establish the run, seeing as how the Tennessee Titans give up 105 rushing yards a game. The team will also have to do a better job of getting more creative using Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Both are very talented backs, who if effective could be instrumental in helping the Chargers win in Music City.
“Obviously, it’s not the season that we expected to have,” explained head coach Anthony Lynn. “Our expectations are high regardless of what other people say. No, we didn’t plan on losing four games out of our first six, but our record is what we are and now we have to fight to get our way out of this hole.”
Nuts N’ Bolts
• Injury report, Did not practice: FS Nasir Adderley (hamstring), DE Melvin Ingram III (hamstring), RB Justin Jackson (calf), DT Justin Jones (shoulder), NT Brandon Mebane (knee), WR Travis Benjamin (quad). Limited: K Michael Badgley (right groin), OT Trent Scott (ankle). Full: LB Denzel Perryman (ankle), WR Andre Patton (quad).
• The Chargers did not give an update on LT Russell Okung, who was eligible to come back from the non-football injury list due to a pulmonary embolism he suffered in June. Lynn did say that Okung will be day-to-day and they could activate him at any time. Okung did not practice on Wednesday.