The Los Angeles Chargers have had their ups and downs, but now they are rolling. They’ve outscored their last two opponents, the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, 82-30. This team has been known for slow starts before, and this year was no different in that way. Initially, they fell flat on their face out of the gate, losing their first four games. The worst part was that the Chargers lost two of those games by two points, and one by 3. Even in a 24-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the game was much tighter than the score indicated. Since that breaking point, L.A. has posted a 5-2 record and is getting it done on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Philip Rivers has had his critics in recent years, but they’ve been noticeably silent lately. Rivers is getting the ball out of his hands quickly to his playmakers, and he’s taking care of the ball better this year. The wily veteran has 20 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions and only been sacked 12 times. Among qualified quarterbacks, only Derek Carr and Drew Brees have been sacked less. Rivers is getting the ball to wide receiver Keenan Allen early and often, who is currently third in the NFL in receiving yards. After a superb game against Dallas on Thanksgiving, Allen sits atop the league in receiving first downs, courtesy of ESPN NFL Statistics. For the game, Rivers had 434 yards and three touchdowns, and Allen had 172 yards and a touchdown. They took the heart out of Dallas’ defense in the second half.
Rivers and the passing game are the bread and butter mixed with hard-running back Melvin Gordon, but the defense has really been playing at a high level, too. L.A.’s pass rush is one of the best in the league, as defensive end Joey Bosa is fourth in sacks and has three forced fumbles, and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram is among the top eight. Playing with a lead, the defense can easily shut the door, which is key in today’s pass-driven NFL. Against rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman, L.A.’s defense accounted for a whopping five interceptions in a single half. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report demonstrated how dominant the Chargers were against the shell-shocked rookie QB.
Currently, L.A.’s defense trails only the Baltimore Ravens in interceptions forced, and are third in sacks. Safety Trey Boston and cornerback Casey Hayward are both tied for third in the NFL in picks, and have been making plays all over the field. The front end and back end are in sync overall, and it’s been getting Rivers and L.A.’s offense more possessions in good spots on the field. Hayward mentioned how both sides of the ball were clicking in a post-game interview yesterday.
Complimentary football is the name of the game in the playoffs, and if the Chargers can keep winning the turnover battle like they have been lately, they can make a deep run. L.A. is gaining ground on the sliding Chiefs, who have lost four of five, and are not getting the same scorching-hot play out of Alex Smith they had earlier in the season. On the other hand, Rivers is playing really well, and the confidence of new head coach Anthony Lynn has got to be better than it was early in the season. The unquestioned leader of the Chargers mentioned how the scenario has been similar before with the playoff push being escalated down the stretch, courtesy of Kevin Patra of NFL.com.
“Each game is going to get bigger and bigger. But we’ve got a chance now, with the next two at home, to put ourselves in the mix. It will be fun in December if we do what we are supposed to do the next few weeks. We are right there, close to what we were in ’06 to ’09, when we had those opportunities. Then we start the season 0-4 right after I say that but we certainly are capable, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Going forward, with other AFC teams in the mix looking offensively-challenged and almost entirely run-dominant (in the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars), Rivers and L.A. look like they’re ready to potentially surpass the Chiefs all together for the AFC West crown, and have a home playoff game.
[Featured Image by Tom Pennington/Getty Images]