Chargers must fix running game in order to succeed

Dec 13, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali (91) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali (91) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

Traffic is perhaps one of the most irritating occurrences in life.

We’ve all been stuck in that jam. Nothing makes your blood boil more than stepping on the gas pedal and thinking your on the move, only to slam on the brakes three seconds later.

Where am I getting at? Well, that’s the exact same feeling I get when watching the San Diego Chargers–especially their running game.

In 2015, the Bolts finished with 10-plus losses (4-12) for the first time since 2003. As banged up as they were, they only lost four games by more than a touchdown. Three of those four losses came against AFC West opponents.

I hate to use this cliche, but it really is a game of inches. The Chargers are not winning that battle.

So how can the Chargers rebound in 2016? There are three things a team needs to have (majority of the time) in order to be successful: a franchise quarterback, a solid defense and a running game. Philip Rivers is as underrated as they come (NFL Network said it first), and he gives the Chargers a fighting chance every time he’s on the field. After multiple additions via free agency and the draft, the defense has the potential to be great.

Unfortunately, the running game, along with not being able to stop the run, is what’s holding them back.

Bolt Beat commenter Sergio Quintero (shout out, brah!) pointed out an interesting fact: Rivers’ Chargers are 37-4 in games in which they had a 100-yard rusher. That’s crazy.

With that said, let’s take a look at the Chargers’ leading rushers over the last six seasons:

2015: Melvin Gordon – 184 carries, 641 yards, zero touchdowns

2014: Branden Oliver – 160 carries, 582 yards, three touchdowns

2013: Ryan Mathews – 285 carries, 1,255 yards, six touchdowns

2012: Ryan Mathews – 184 carries, 707 yards, one touchdown

2011: Ryan Mathews – 222 carries, 1,091 yards, six touchdowns

2010: Mike Tolbert – 182 carries, 735 yards, 11 touchdowns

The Chargers have been looking to replace LaDainian Tomlinson for some time, but it hasn’t panned out the way they wanted it to. As you can tell above, not one player who led the team in rushing eclipsed 300 carries over those six seasons. Injuries of course played a role. From 2001-2007, Tomlinson had 300-plus carries. It’s hard to replicate what he did as a Charger, and even though it’s a pass-happy league now, the Chargers will have more success if they lean on the run.

The closest to 300 carries was Mathews in 2013, which was the year they made the playoffs. And it didn’t take away from the passing game. If anything, it made it better. The team ranked No. 4 overall in passing offense and Rivers finished in the top five in passing yards (4,478) and touchdowns (32). He also finished with a league-best 69.5 completion percentage.

In 2011, Mathews finished with 1,000 yards to end the year, but the Chargers finished with an 8-8 record. They started the season 4-1, but a six-game losing streak hurt their chances in making the playoffs. In those eight losses, Mathews had one 100-yard rushing performance. Also, the Chargers failed to have a player lead the rushing category in all but three of those eight losses.

In 2010, the Chargers ranked No. 1 in total offense and defense. It also marked the last time they were a top-five team in stopping the run (93.8 rushing yards per game). So why didn’t they make the playoffs? Special teams killed them.

It’s also interesting to point out that the Chargers did not have a single 100-yard rusher in a regular season game during Rivers’ two losing seasons (2012, 2015).

Back to last season, the Chargers’ offensive line did a poor job of creating holes for Gordon–or anyone for that matter. A league-worst 3.5 yards per carry pretty much sums that up. Gordon, who wasn’t healthy, deserves a little bit of the blame, but don’t give up on him just yet. Overall, the Chargers didn’t have a player lead the rushing category in 13 games. Of the three games they did, they won.

Not only has the team failed to run the ball, but the defense hasn’t been able to stop the opposing team from running either.

2015: Offense – 3.5 yards per carry; Defense – 4.8 yards per attempt

2014: Offense – 3.4 yards per carry; Defense – 4.5 yards per attempt

2013: Offense – 4.0 yards per carry; Defense – 4.6 yards per attempt

2012: Offense – 3.6 yards per carry; Defense – 3.8 yards per attempt

2011: Offense – 4.3 yards per carry; Defense – 4.4 yards per attempt

2010: Offense – 4.0 yards per carry; Defense – 3.7 yards per attempt

2010 was the only year where the Chargers averaged a higher YPC on offense compared to the defense’s YPA. It’s quite simple: they are suffering on defense because they can’t stop the run. They had the 27th-worst rushing defense (125.3 yards per game) in 2015. They also allowed the fourth-most rushing touchdowns (17), sixth-most rushing yards (2,005) and gave up 4.8 yards per carry, third-worst in the NFL. The Chargers also allowed a league-worst 21 runs of 20-plus yards, per ESPN’s Eric Williams.

The Chargers struggled to stop the run in 2014, too. They finished with the 26th-worst rushing defense (124.1 yards per game). But in 2013 (playoffs), they ranked No. 12 in rushing defense and No. 13 in rushing offense. A lack of depth showed in the 2013 Divisional Round loss against the Denver Broncos.

You may have forgotten because it seems like ages ago, but the Chargers also made the playoffs from 2006-09 with Rivers. Here are the statistics during those four years:

2009: No. 31 rushing offense (No. 10 in total team offense); No. 20 rushing defense (No. 16 in total team defense)

2008: No. 20 rushing offense (No. 11 in total team offense); No. 11 rushing defense

2007: No. 7 rushing offense; No. 16 rushing defense

2006: No. 2 rushing offense; No. 7 rushing defense

Hopefully, the offensive line stays healthy enough so Gordon can get going. As for the defense, the additions of former Seahawks nose tackle Brandon Mebane and 2016 first-round draft pick Joey Bosa should improve what has been a weak front seven.

Again, there a lot of traits that factor into a winning team. I didn’t mention it, but the re-hiring of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was one of the Chargers’ most underrated moves this offseason. If they want to bounce back, running the ball and stopping the run are crucial.