In a recent phone interview with Nick Hardwick, the former Charger says the Bolts need to come away with a win against the Kansas City Chiefs before their 2017 season goes awry.
Two games, two heartbreaking losses for the Los Angeles Chargers.
It’s still very early in the season, but the Chargers, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, are starting off on the wrong foot. It also doesn’t help that the rest of the AFC West (Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos) are all 2-0.
That’s why Sunday’s game against the Chiefs is a pivotal one, according to former Chargers center Nick Hardwick.
“This one is so critical,” Hardwick told me. “If you don’t win this one, you’re looking at a very slippery slope mentality wise in that locker room.
“It’s absolutely a must-win. If you look at the schedule coming up, its staggering.”
Hardwick is right. In their next five games, the Chargers host the Eagles in Week 4, head to New York to face the Giants the following week, head West to face the Raiders in Oakland, go back home to complete their series against the Broncos and travel back East to play the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. All teams are considered playoff contenders. Golly gee.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, who won the division last season, are looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 2013. Kansas City has won six in a row against the Chargers. Hardwick likes this Chiefs team because of how balanced and deep they are.
“When I’m looking at the Chiefs, I think they are the best team in football, through and through,” he said.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers are 2-9 in games decided by three points or fewer since the start of the 2015 season, which is the most losses in that span. The Chargers’ last two losses came by way of special teams mishaps. Unlike the Chiefs, special teams play hasn’t been kind to the Chargers in what seems like forever, which is one of the main reasons why they continue to lose games.
And despite the Chargers having “top-end talent,” Hardwick says the lack of depth was his main concern going into the season.
“Those 2’s and 3’s are a vital part to having a strong special teams unit,” he said. “The Chargers are just not very deep, and it shows up in special teams.”
However, the Chargers’ starting offense, which had high expectations, has struggled as of late. They rank 20th in total offense and are averaging 19 points per game, 18th-most in the league.
“This group shouldn’t be held to 17 points or be held to 21 points,” Hardwick said. “This is a group that needs to be pushing that 28-point barrier every single week.”
Hardwick also noted that failing to convert third downs have killed the Chargers. The Chargers are currently the third-worst team on third down, converting just 25 percent of plays.
The Philip Rivers-led attack ranks ninth in the passing game, but they are the second-worst rushing team, averaging 54 yards per game. Perhaps running the ball more efficiently can help turn things around?
“In the run game, whats their identity going to be?” Hardwick questioned. “Because I’ve seen a lot of plays thrown out there, but nothing has stuck. There hasn’t been a bread-and-butter type play come out. I think they need to find their identity when it comes to the run game and stick with the programming and as they go through a game, they’ll get better at running the same play rather than throwing one play out and saying, ‘Does that work? Nope, scrap it from the playbook,’ when in reality if you run plays multiple times throughout the contest, you’re going to have a better chance at being successful.”
That said, the Chargers shouldn’t force running the ball.
“I like this offensive line pass protecting,” Hardwick said. “I hope they don’t commit too heavily to the run because they think that’s what their supposed to be doing.”
Overall, starting running back Melvin Gordon is off to a slow start. Despite finding the end zone in the Chargers’ first two games, the third-year running back is averaging 2.5 yards per carry and only has one run of 20-plus yards.
“There’s times where a single guy will bring Melvin down and if you’re going to be an elite back, you’ve got to win those matchups,” Hardwick said. “You’ve got to either run a guy over, you’ve got to make a guy miss, you’ve got to beat him to the edge, you’ve got to be decisive in your cuts and know when you’re going to have a four-yard gain or when you’re going to have a 40-yard gain.
“Personally, when I look at Melvin, I’d like to see him start just by running people over. Like if a defensive lineman sets up his move for a bull rush, Melvin Gordon should be doing the same thing and running through dudes faces to be able to set up the move to get them leaning too far forward, which allows him to win in space.”
Overall, it’s now or never for the 2017 Los Angeles Chargers.