San Diego Chargers mid-season evaluation

Oct 23, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) celebrates after he scored a rushing touchdown in the first quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) celebrates after he scored a rushing touchdown in the first quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

After a roller coaster 8 games, we evaluate and look at what went right and what went wrong during the first eight weeks of the season. The  San Diego Chargers looked poised to go on a win streak coming into Week 1 but injuries and bad luck has changed the perception of our season.

Offensively, the Chargers have been above average and have improved drastically since last season. After losing Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, and Danny Woodhead, the team answered the call and has still moved the ball effectively, even without these bigger names. Two players who have not only improved but have gone beyond expectations are wide receiver Tyrell Williams and running back Melvin Gordon.

Oct 2, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers tight end Hunter Henry (86) catches a first quarter touchdown pass as New Orleans Saints free safety Vonn Bell (48) looks on at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Hunter Henry has reeled in three touchdowns along with 340 yards on 22 catches, making himself a trusted target for Philip Rivers to throw to. Learning from Antonio Gates, who just scored his 107th touchdown Sunday, has no doubt been helpful and having two great tight ends makes  Rivers an even more dangerous ball slinger.

Oct 23, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams (16) runs after a catch in the first quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Williams was my favorite back in August to take over the third receiver position along with Travis Benjamin and Allen. Even with the acquisition of James Jones, I didn’t see Williams losing that position battle. Here we are in Week 8 and Williams has 32 receptions for 530 yards and 2 touchdowns. Aside from the numbers, we’ve seen him turn slants into 50-yard plays, and make the over-the-shoulder catch look easy against some of the better corners in the league (Aqib Talib). Many have already begun to compare his campaign to that of Allen in 2013, when he stepped up big for the injured Malcom Floyd and was in the running for Pepsi Rookie of the Year. Pairing Williams with Dontrelle Inman and Benjamin has proved to be effective as Benjamin has been establishing himself as a legitimate threat to all NFL defenses, catching touchdowns and turning regular catches into huge plays with his speed. The unsung hero of this receiver corps has to be Inman. For the last 7 weeks, he has had to step in and help replace the Slayer’s production, and has quietly become a sure-handed target for Rivers, with 21 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown. Every receiver has stepped up and together has kept this San Diego offense as dangerous as ever. Another big time change for San Diego’s offense has been better health and consistency along the offensive line. Who would’ve thought bringing in a guard from Chicago to play center would have such a huge positive effect on our guys up front. Matt Slauson has taken this offensive line to new heights with his leadership and play since he has arrived. He has clearly elevated the play of those around him, and has everybody more fired up out there on game days than I’ve seen since Nick Hardwick was still in the lineup. Despite the normal bumps and bruises, the line has stayed healthy, and this is huge for a team that needs to protect Rivers and open up rushing lanes for Gordon. They’ve begun to gel and we even see plays where their blocking has directly allowed huge rushing plays or deep passes to develop and be successful. The Chargers offense is dangerous, and teams know this across the league, but they still manage to be a top scoring offense in the NFL. These were all important steps the offense needed to make if they want to go on a Super Bowl run before the end of Philip’s career. Establishing a winning culture, depth and chemistry are all things we’ve improved this year despite bad luck and severe injuries.

Now onto the defense.

Prior to the season kicking off, The Chargers defense wasn’t thought to be all that good. The loss of All-Pro Safety Eric Weddle, limited changes and same faces from last year made it hard to believe there would be a turn around. Cue Tom Telesco going out and signing Casey Hayward and Dwight Lowery. Lowery has been a great addition that took in more heat than love when he was signed in the offseason. He’s made many good tackles and has held the free safety position down well the first 8 weeks. We hardly hear his name called, which is always a good thing for a defensive back.

Sep 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive back Casey Hayward (26) returns an interception thrown by Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (not pictured) during the second quarter of the game at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Hayward, boy has he made his presence felt. He has reeled in 4 interceptions to this point in the season, and even ran one back into the end zone for a touchdown against Denver. This was one of the most important signings I’ve seen Telesco make in all 4 years he’s been our GM. It’s almost like he knew Jason Verrett would be lost this year and went out and got someone who can ball with the best out there. Let’s not forget him pushing Julio Jones out of bounds late  on a corner route in Atlanta to keep them from moving the ball past midfield and into scoring position. Brandon Flowers has not been great by any means, but is definitely not his 2015 self, and if John Pagano can play to the strengths he still has, we might see a boost in his production. With Jahleel Addae back soon, the secondary will be boosted and close to how it was the first couple weeks of the season. It was supposed to be a big year for Manti Te’o but unfortunately, an Achilles tear took him from the 2016 season in only week 3.

Oct 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Norwood (11) is defended by San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) cornerback Casey Hayward (R) and inside linebacker Jatavis Brown (57) at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Since then we’ve seen rookie Jatavis Brown and second-year man Denzel Perryman grow exponentially. The last two weeks have seen Brown receive Rookie of the Week honors, and Perryman winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, and clutch performance of the week. These two players compliment each other extremely well in the middle and have been reeling in sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions and tackles for loss more than any duo has in the Telesco era. I don’t see them getting rid of Te’o but be ready to see a mean rotation at middle linebacker next year. With Corey Toomer’s two forced fumbles, I’m sure he’s earning himself a chance to remain on this roster as well. What can I say about the Chargers front seven, they’ve been playing very good football.

Oct 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) celebrates with defensive end Joey Bosa (99) after recovering a fumble in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Liguet, Brandon Mebane, and Joey Bosa have definitely turned out to be the powerful defensive line I expected them to be after Bosa was drafted in April. Bosa himself already has 4 sacks on the year, and Melvin Ingram has one more to his name with 5. This is what Chargers fans have been waiting for, a line that disrupts the quarterback and forces the other team into mistakes. It’s no coincidence our defense has more interceptions and tipped balls than years past, the push up front has been making people throw early all year and our DB’s have most certainly taken advantage of this. Mebane from Seattle and Bosa from Ohio State have brought motors and winning tradition to our defensive line and since we’ve gotten them on the field together, they have helped this 1-4 team get to 3-5. The last 3 games were absolutely pivotal. Drop to 1-7 and the season is over, hang on and get to 3-5  and you have some hope. Joey Bosa’s motor , and even just his presence has propelled this defense to new heights, and it couldn’t have been at a better time.

Despite low expectations for the Chargers all offseason, they are 8th against the run, have a top tier corner not named Verrett playing behind a fiery and powerful defensive front seven, and a top scoring offense that still has opposing defenses shaking without Allen, Woodhead or Johnson. What would have spelled disaster for most teams, brought out the best in the Chargers the last few weeks. If this was the same team from 2015, we would be 1-7 and averaging ten points a game. The 2016 San Diego Chargers are an improved unit, and if they continue to play well could win many games and even make a Wild Card appearance. Adversity didn’t break our players, it made them fight back, and with 8 games left against very beatable teams, fans, players and coaches alike have a lot to look forward to in the second half of the 2016 season.