The Los Angeles Chargers have reached the halfway point in the 2017 NFL season. After a dismal 0-4 start, the Chargers won three straight and climbed back into a surprisingly open competition in the AFC West.
With eight games remaining, the cover32/Chargers staff sat down to provide their opinions on some of the burning questions surrounding the Bolts for the second half of the season.
First, please take a moment to meet our staff:
Mike D’Abate: Managing Editor, cover32/Chargers
Alan Rodges: Staff Writer, cover32/Chargers
Thomas Herd: Staff Writer, cover32/Chargers
Travis Baker: Staff Writer, cover32/Chargers
1. What is the toughest matchup for the Chargers in the second half?
The Chargers have 2 very tough matchups when it comes to the second half of the NFL season. If we are talking opponents then I think that on the road at Kansas City is the toughest matchup in the second half. Even though KC has proven to be one of the top teams in the AFC they have seemed to cool off a little bit and the Chargers may be able to squeak a win out, but Phillip hasn’t played well against Kansas City ever since Andy Reid has taken over. The second matchup is, simply, themselves the Chargers have beaten themselves in four of the five losses in the first half of the season. Whether it is the slow starts on offense and defense or the special teams, The Chargers have continuously beaten themselves. If they can continue the trend upwards, like everyone thinks they are, then they should be a tough team from here on out.
The Chargers road schedule is tough in general, starting this week in Jacksonville. The hardest one though must come in a few weeks’ time against Dallas on Thanksgiving. It was the standout game when the schedule was released, even before they announced that they would be dressing in the powder blues. The Cowboys are on a good run and have been in most games, even when ending up on the losing side. Hopefully, the Chargers can build some momentum and keep their season alive before this matchup.
As the Chargers continue their struggle to dig themselves out of their 0-4 hole, they really can only afford one more loss on the season. So heading into the last eight weeks of the regular season, the biggest threat to Los Angeles’s historic run is the Dallas Cowboys. Currently sitting at 5-3 and on a three-game win streak, the Chargers will be catching the Cowboys at possibly the worst part of the season. Ezekiel Elliott has returned to his godly form of last season which doesn’t bode well for a Chargers defense that has struggled tremendously with their tackling ability. As for offensively, the Dallas defense has held their last three opponents under 20 points and will look to continue that streak through week 12 against the L.A. Chargers.
The Dallas Cowboys are a tempting selection for this one. The game will be played on Thanksgiving, which is a tradition in Big D. The ‘Boys are playing their best football of the season, thus far, and provide a running attack that could cause some problems for the Bolts run defense. However, it is that run defense that makes me choose the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Chiefs have sputtered a bit lately, they provide a nightmarish matchup for the Chargers. Kareem Hunt is having himself a season, and his explosive running will be almost impossible for the Chargers to stop. That, coupled with the fact that the Chiefs are a familiar divisional foe, make this the biggest challenge for the Bolts in the second half.
2. Who will be the second half MVP?
The MVP has to be the offensive line, if the team doesn’t get the run game going and protect Phillip then the team will fall into the same struggles as last season. Dan Feeney, Russell Okung, Spencer Pulley and Michael Schofield have to play as one unit. Like I stated in an article that I wrote at the beginning of the season the previous super bowl contenders had the most consistent offensive lines when it came to playing together and creating time for the quarterback.
Melvin Ingram has been my first half MVP, and I don’t see that changing for the second. He’s been playing like a man possessed so far, after signing a huge deal in the offseason. I can only see Joey Bosa challenging him.
Despite his inconsistent first half of the season, Philip Rivers has drastically cut down on his turnovers over the past few weeks and looks like the Hall-Of-Fame quarterback we all know and love. Also, Rivers is known as one of the most competitive players in the league, so if he’s given the chance to carry his team to the playoffs, he will. And unlike years past, Rivers will be working with a full wide receiver corps along with a running back who has made tremendous strides in his receiving ability out of the backfield. So Just like every other week, I fully expect Philip to outplay any defense he is matched up against in the second half of the season.
Melvin Ingram has been the most consistent Charger in 2017. and will remain so in the second half. With Joey Bosa, he forms half of the most prolific tandem of pass rushers in the NFL Add Chris McCain, and you have a ‘triangle of terror’ in the front seven. As impressive as Bosa is, Ingram is still the anchor of this defense. Stopping the run has been the Bolts’ defensive Achilles’ Heel. While the return of Denzel Perryman from injured reserve will be a help, it will be essential for the pass rush to contain the offensive attacks of their opponents. My nod goes to Ingram, with Bosa being a close second.
3. Will the Chargers run defense become a liability as the season progresses?
The Chargers have already given up 1081 yards on the ground this season. They have given up over 100 total yards against all but two opponents this season. So, the run defense is already a liability, but Denzel Perryman comes off the IR for the start of the second half and could help them out. I don’t know if he makes that much of a difference, but he will do a better job tackling than Hayes Pullard, Jatavis Brown and Kyle Emmanuel. Not to mention that Pro Football Focus has the Chargers as the 31st worst tackling team in the NFL and it certainly shows. The run defense must improve for the Chargers to make a run for the playoffs.
The probable return of Denzel Perryman this week will be a huge boost to the Linebacking core. I didn’t realize how much the Bolts would miss Perryman until they introduced me to Hayes Pullard. Mebane and Philon have played well this year. The former has stepped it up vastly from last year, which is great to see. Mebane isn’t getting any younger but is still able to hold up against double teams. I think the run defense will get better through the rest of the year.
Through the first half of the season, the Chargers were ranked 28th in run defense allowing over 135 yards a game. This number is horrific considering the Chargers are also one of the worst running offenses in the league as they average under 90 yards rushing a game. To put this in perspective, the Chargers +/- in terms of rushing is -45. This number is largely contributed to the fact that L.A. is the worst tackling defense in the league as well. And although they will be getting LB, Denzel Perryman back shortly, I just don’t think that will be enough to keep them on the plus side in terms of the rushing attack.
As I stated earlier, stopping the run is the Achilles’ Heel of this defense, and it will continue to be their weak spot in 2017. The Chargers have been inept at tackling, which contributes to them being ranked 28th in total run defense. Of course, it is noteworthy to add that they are also ranked 31st in tackling. The Bolts do have the ability to greatly improve on that number, but they must get greater production from Kyle Emmanuel and Jatavis Brown. The return of Perryman should mean less Hayes Pullard, and that is not the worst news in the world. The Bolts need to improve their run defense if they want to make a late-season run at the postseason.
4. Will the Chargers make the playoffs?
I am going to give a very simple answer to this one, but at the same time explain it. The answer is, NO. Here is why. The Chargers hurt themselves digging that 0-4 hole at the beginning of the season. Yes, people wrote them off very early but since 1980 there have only been five teams in the NFL that started 0-3 and made the playoffs. It is certainly an uphill battle for the Chargers, I think they could possibly rally off 6 wins putting them at 9-7 and the way the Chiefs have been looking it is possible for a division win, but that’s very unlikely. During the second half of the season, the Chiefs play two teams with a record of .500 or better. The Chiefs would have to lose 4 of their last 8 games for the Chargers to have a chance at a division title, which is looking like their only chance in the playoffs. The other scenario in which the Chargers could get into the playoffs is if they beat the Jags (who are the 1st wild card at 5-3) and the Bills (who are the second place wild card at 5-3) and they would also have to win out after those two games. I think there is always a possibility if they aren’t mathematically eliminated, but their chances are bleak.
I’d love to say yes but I just can’t. Although they’ve lost 3 straight, Kansas City is still in pole position to win the division which leaves the wildcard. It looks like one of those places will be taken up by the Jaguars or Titans, who both look good. As I mentioned previously, the road schedule puts them up against it and I believe that will be their downfall. Having said that, a 7-9 could squeeze them in, so there’s always a chance.
I am a believer. This franchise has done it before and they can do it again. Ever since that 0-4 start, the Chargers have won three out of four games. That one loss was by eight points to the defending super bowl champions as well. The Chargers are four plays away from being a 6-3 team and in the discussion as a Super Bowl contender. If they can finish off the season with a 7-1 or 6-2 record, they have a great chance at earning themselves a spot in the wild-card game. But that would mean mistake-free football from the offense as well as a much improved tackling defense behind Denzel Perryman
The Chargers will be more impressive in the second half, than the first half, for sure. However, the 0-4 start will prove to be too difficult of a deficit from which to come back. The Chargers have a favorable second-half schedule. which should lead to a respectable win total. However, other teams such as Buffalo, Tennessee and Jacksonville will likely finish with a greater win/loss record than the Bolts. While they will make a close run at it, I believe that they will fall just short of the playoffs.
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