Chargers: X-Factor for the remainder of the season

The Los Angeles Chargers are on the brink of playoff elimination, but they still have time to flip the script on the season. Which player is the largest X-factor for the remainder of the season?

At 4-6, the Chargers do not have many more losses to give. Most playoff teams are required to be 10-6, although a 9-7 record could possibly allow the Chargers to squeak through into the playoffs.

To see the Chargers playoff odds and determine their chances with each win or loss, check out this season simulator from the New York Times. You will see that the Chargers can likely afford one loss, but that loss cannot come against the Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders, meaning there are three must-win games remaining.

In the remaining six games, every team the Chargers will face is tough but beatable. However, one specific player could determine the Chargers’ ability to win those games.

That one player – the Chargers X-factor – is Russell Okung.

While the Chargers’ defense has performed reasonably well and should be improving with the upcoming additions of Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, the offense has been sputtering.

A team with Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Hunter Henry should not be struggling to move the ball. However, that has been the case during the last several weeks.

One major reason for those struggles seemed to be the questionable playcalling of Ken Whisenhunt. That theory was given some great support when the Chargers put up 453 yards against the Green Bay Packers defense.

However, just one week later, the Chargers’ offense flopped with 353 yards, three turnovers, and a complete inability to run a two-minute offense.

While the offensive coordinator was different, so was the left tackle. Against the Packers, Okung played all 71 snaps. Against the Raiders, Okung played only seven snaps before suffering a groin injury.

Without Okung, Rivers looked shaky and uncertain in the pocket. On the last drive of the game, even when Rivers had time or the ability to step up in the pocket, he felt pressured to release the ball before his receiver was open.

Rivers’ unwillingness to be patient in the pocket is directly correlated with how comfortable he felt regarding pressure coming from his blind side. Without the security of a good blindside protector, he felt it necessary to release the ball insanely early, resulting in many poor decisions.

Thus, the single most impactful player for the rest of the Chargers’ season is Okung.

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Since his return, Okung has suffered two injuries, one to his calf and one to his groin. The presence of these injuries makes one believe that Okung was not able to reach proper NFL game shape before returning to the starting lineup.

Of course, his timely return likely helped to save the Chargers’ season. However, his health during the rest of the season could determine whether the Chargers make the playoffs or spend another season wondering what could have been.