Written by Guest Writer DJ Foster
Once a popular Super Bowl pick, the Chargers now sit at 4-7, are losers of six straight games, and are quickly tumbling towards the cellar of the AFC West.
It’s safe to say the hunt for the scapegoat in San Diego is on.
The finger pointing starts with Head Coach Norv Turner, who is struggling through his most turbulent time in what’s already been a rocky five-year stint with the Chargers. The complaints filed against Turner haven’t changed. Although it’s hard to quantify the intensity with which a team plays under a coach, the numbers are currently telling the story. The Chargers, as they have the last three seasons, still lack an effective running game, placing in the bottom third of the league in attempts, yards, and yards per carry so far this season. Familiar issues are hampering the defense as well. The Chargers simply can’t find a way to get off the field on third downs, allowing a whopping 45.4 percent conversion rate for opposing offenses. That number puts the Bolts at 31st in the league in third down defense, just above the winless Indianapolis Colts. That’s not the only stat the Chargers share with the hapless Colts. Mistakes, both mental and physical, have the Chargers tied for last in the league in turnover differential.
After missing the playoffs last season despite an overwhelming talent edge over their AFC West competitors, the Chargers are now faced with the reality of missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002-2003.
With multiple injuries, particularly to the offensive line, exposing a lack of depth, the man behind the curtain is feeling his seat get a little warmer as well. General Manager A.J. Smith was responsible for drafting Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Shawne Merriman, Antonio Cromartie and Marcus McNeil in a two-year span from 2005 to 2006, but all of the sudden he’s stopped hitting homeruns. Former surprise first round picks Craig Davis and Larry English can be safely labeled as “busts” and the jury is still out on whether trading up for brittle running back Ryan Mathews was the right move. After playing hardball with Jackson and McNeil last year, breaking the bank for Eric Weddle and making him the highest paid safety in football history this offseason hasn’t quite yielded the desired results either. Although a lousy pass rush is also at fault, the Chargers currently allow opposing quarterbacks to throw for a combined QB rating of 96.1 this season — ranking them 30th in the NFL in that category.
Even 3-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers isn’t immune from the criticism. At first, his performances were chalked up as outliers, but when the interceptions kept coming, most landed on the conclusion that Rivers, a guy who once played in a playoff game with a torn ACL, was hurt and hiding it. But after repeated denials of any injury of any sort by the man himself, Chargers fans are left to wonder if their franchise quarterback has simply lost his touch. Rivers’ familiar wacky throwing motion that yielded an NFL best 4,710 passing yards last year is now being picked apart as a serious mechanics problem. There are undeniable flaws to Rivers’ game this season – accuracy and decision-making chief amongst them all – but he’s been victimized by a defense that can’t get off the field and an offensive line that can’t keep him upright. Rivers leads the NFL with 17 interceptions in 11 games in a league where the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Colt McCoy are every week starters.
Quarterbacks often get too much praise and too much blame, but this is Philip Rivers’ team. He’s started every game since 2006, shifted seamlessly to being the face of the franchise after the team’s greatest player ever in LaDanian Tomlinson left town, and has led the NFL in touchdowns, yards, and QB Rating over the years. No one questions that Rivers is the guy. But to gain perspective on just how bad things have gotten in San Diego, previously irrelevant backup quarterback Billy Volek is getting his name whispered by fans as if he were Lord Voldemort – they know they shouldn’t be saying it, but they can’t help themselves.
Indeed, these are pretty scary times to be a Chargers fan. Perhaps the ultimate blame falls on ownership, as the fanbase has demonstrated a telling lack of support for what should be a contending team. Possibly sensing that a move to Los Angeles is in the cards, recent home crowds hosting Green Bay and Oakland have looked and sounded like road games more than anything else.
Make no mistake about it – should the Chargers’ woes continue at their current rate, someone’s head will roll.
With that said, don’t be surprised if Turner, the likeliest candidate to go, doesn’t offer himself up to the chopping block willingly. Under Turner, the Chargers hold an incredible 15-2 record in the month of December, a time-frame where Turner regularly saves himself from getting the axe and usually pulls the Chargers into a good postseason position.
Now three full games back of the Raiders and currently in last place, Turner will need to lead the Chargers to another perfect month in December for even a chance at playing for the AFC West title.
Maybe it’s meant to be this way. On the last day of the regular season, the Chargers will face an Oakland Raiders team that long ago gave up on Turner as a head coach.
For Turner – rightfully cast as the scapegoat or not – it’s likely to be his last stand.