Chargers' Problems Continue; They're 0-4
October 5, 2017
By Bill Seals
The late great John McKay, the former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneer head coach, once said in answering a reporter's question after a game, "Well, we didn't block, but we made up for it by not tackling."
The funny quote sums up the Los Angeles Chargers performance against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at the StubHub Center in Carson. The Eagles beat the Chargers 26-24 behind a dominant rushing attack that accounted for 214 yards.
The Eagles were also able to hold the Chargers to 58 yards rushing and dominated in the time of possession category, 39 minutes and 18 seconds to the Chargers' 20 minutes and 42 seconds.
Quarterback Philip Rivers rebounded from a rare poor performance against the Chiefs to have another terrific game. Rivers completed 22 of 38 passes for 347 yards and two touchdown passes. He led the Chargers to two fourth quarter touchdowns, closing the gap to 26-24 with 6:44 left in the game.
At that point it felt like the Chargers would come back and win this game if Rivers could get his offense back on the field. He never got that opportunity as the Eagles ran the clock out, getting four first downs in the process to end the game.
The Chargers are now 0-4 through the first quarter of the season. They have lost three straight home games. They have lost three games by three points or less. The effort is there.
As Coach Anthony Lynn put it: "Absolutely the effort is there," he said. "It is not the effort (that is the reason that we are losing). We wouldn't be in these games if the effort wasn't there. We just have to do the little things right to win these close games."
Added Philip Rivers: "This team is still growing together, but I don't think there's any lack of fight, want-to or desire to care. That's never been a problem here. I don't sense that it is at this point in time. Guys are fighting, scratching like crazy. We just haven't been able to overcome it yet."
If the effort is there, then what is the solution for the Chargers? It comes down to basic football: the Chargers have not been able to run the ball and they have not been able to stop the run. It comes down to blocking and tackling. The Chargers are ranked 29th out of 32 NFL teams in rushing yardage, averaging 67.5 yards per game. The Chargers are ranked 31st in rushing yardage allowed per game, allowing 163.5 yards per game.
The Chargers are ranked 28th in the NFL in third-down conversion defense. Because of these numbers the Chargers are last in time of possession in the NFL at 25 minutes, 40 seconds per game. It all adds up to a team that cannot keep their offense on the field and cannot get their defense off-of-the-field, which the Eagles very effectively exploited.
After the game Coach Lynn talked about the problems with tackling: "We have to tackle when we are in position to make a play. Today, I thought there were a lot of missed tackles. That is a physical, power runner over there so you have to tackle him a certain way. We didn't get that done."
The runner he is referring to is LeGarrette Blount, the 250-pound running back of the Eagles who rushed 16 times for 136 yards, including a 68-yard run where he broke a number of Charger tackles.
The Chargers have had a problem with missed tackles this season but they also lead the NFL in team tackles, which is a reflection of how much time they are spending on the field.
The offensive run blocking has been subpar for the Chargers this season, which Lynn commented on after the game as well: "Very frustrating. We are not there yet... I am not happy with (our physicality) because we haven't won yet. I know what I saw on the field today, and it wasn't just the offensive line. It was the running backs, tight ends, receivers – everybody is involved in the running game. It is not just on the (offensive) line."
It is clear that the blocking needs to improve but the Chargers need some help from their running backs as well. Starting running back Melvin Gordon has just not looked good this season. Through four games Gordon has rushed for 168 yards on 54 carries, 3.1 yard per carry average. Gordon is ranked 28th in rushing yards in the NFL. On Sunday, Gordon had a carry for 12 yards and a carry for 11 yards.
The other 10 carries he had gained a total of a minus-one yard. Gordon ended up with a total of 12 carries for 22 yards in the game. Gordon is clearly struggling and it might be time to make a change or at least give more opportunities to another running back.
That running back could very well be Austin Ekeler, the undrafted free-agent rookie running back from Western State Colorado University. Against the Eagles, Ekekler had one carry that turned into a 35-yard touchdown run and also caught two passes for 23 yards.
Ekeler looks like a player that needs more than three touches and Coach Lynn seemed to agree.
"We wanted to get him in the game and see what he could do, and he is a productive runner. He was productive all preseason and it didn't matter what group we put him in with, he moved the chains." Ekeler ran a 4.43 in the forty-yard run in his pro day workout last spring and had a 40" vertical jump. He could be the spark the offense is looking for.
The Chargers' next game will be at New York to take on the Giants: the battle of two 0-4 teams. These two teams are very similar. The Giants, like the Chargers, have not been able to run the ball or stop the run.
Like the Chargers, they are ranked in the top ten in passing yardage because of their veteran quarterback. New York Giant Quarterback Eli Manning was the first pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Philip Rivers was the fourth pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
The difference is that this will be a home game for the Giants. The Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey will not be half-filled with raucous Charger fans. For the past three weeks the Chargers have been playing in a stadium that has been half-filled with fans of the opposing team.
This past Sunday the Eagles fans literally took over the stadium. They were drowning out the Chargers fans with their "Let's go Eagles" chants and making communication on offense more difficult with their chants of "Defense." At the very least, the Chargers should feel very prepared for a loud, partisan group of fans in New Jersey this Sunday.