The Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) are at the halfway mark of the regular season. They continue to equally entertain and frustrate their fans. Going into week 10, few would have predicted that the Chargers would be playing .750 football, especially without their elite defensive end, Joey Bosa.
Los Angeles Chargers Midseason Review
Head Coach Anthony Lynn started the 2018 season in a similar fashion that his Chargers opened the 2017 season, 0-1. Despite outgaining the Chiefs in the air and on the ground (total yardage 541-362), the season began with the same old story.
Things couldn’t have got off to a worse start for the Bolts. Drew Kaser‘s 54-yard punt landed into the arms of Tyreek Hill, who ran 91 yards into the house, just 1:57 into the game. If the Chargers fans had feelings of de ja vu, they needn’t be worried. The season-opening 38-28 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs highlighted once again the struggles on special teams. Rookie J.J. Jones fumbled a punt at the Chargers’ 14, recovering it only to fumble again. The Charges made plenty of mistakes during the week one defeat.
The Chargers made amends in Week Two. A trip east to the 0-1 Buffalo Bills didn’t seem to faze Lynn or his players. Philip Rivers had three touchdowns, doubling his tally to six on the season. The stand out player of the game was Melvin Gordon, who scored on three consecutive drives (one on the ground and two receptions). It was also the first hat-trick of his pro career. The Bills offensive line couldn’t live with the pass rush; Josh Allen was sacked five times on the day. The Chargers, back to playing .500 football, headed back West for the Battle of LA.
A visit to the 2-0 Los Angeles Rams would throw up more questions than answers. Jared Goff enjoyed lots of freedom in the pocket with the Bolts’ pass rush being almost non-existent in a 35-23 loss. Mike Williams was the headline player for the Chargers. Rivers went for 226 yards on the afternoon, hitting Williams with two touchdown passes. Once again, it was special teams that let the Chargers down. Caleb Sturgis missed an extra point, and the Rams had a blocked punt for a TD. Sturgis would go on to dominate social media in week nine for all the wrong reasons. The defeat to the Rams did have a positive, though. People began to take notice of a special talent in rookie Derwin James. The 17th overall pick intercepted Goff in the end zone, adding to his sacks of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in weeks one and two, respectively.
Bolts Go On A Five-Game Winning Streak
The 1-2 Chargers faced the 1-2 San Francisco 49ers, both teams looking to turn their respective seasons around. Though the Chargers were still without the injured Bosa, it’s always about the next man up. Despite throwing a pick-six and trailing by two scores, Rivers passed for 250 yards, passing Hall of Famer John Elway in the process for the eighth-most passing yards in NFL history.
Changing the Los Angels Chargers Offensive Dynamics
Trailing by 17-6, the Chargers get themselves back in the game on a 75-yard drive when Rivers’ missile found Austin Ekeler for six on a 3rd-and-4. The Chargers would convert the two-pointer when Gordan ran it home. Gordon began to crank up his season, running the ball hard with 15 carries for 104 yards. It was a familiar picture when Antonio Gates was wide open in the end zone to connect with a Rivers pass.
Moreover, James continued with his impressive start in the NFL. The rookie sacked C.J. Beathard and became the first defensive back in NFL history to post three sacks in the first four games of his career. Special teams continue to frustrate as Sturgis missed another field goal (three on the day).
Beathard’s deep pass to tight end George Kittle brought the 49ers back into the game, but the Chargers held on for a 29-27 victory in what as an entertaining game of football.
Knocking Off A Division Rival And Avoiding A Trap Game
The 1-3 Oakland Raiders came to LA to cause an upset. That didn’t happen as the then 2-2 Chargers moved to 3-2. The Chargers had to remain patient, waiting until deep into the second quarter to get rolling, courtesy of Austin Ekeler’s 44-yard catch-and-run TD. Melvin Ingram demonstrated why he’s such a pivotal figure in the Chargers defense. Ingram had a sack and a pick in the 26-10 ‘W”. Jon Gruden left LA at 1-4, the Bolts enjoyed a two-game winning streak.
At 2-2-1, the Cleveland Browns had to be feeling optimistic about moving to 3-2-1. Dubbed as a potential ‘trap game’ for the Chargers, Lynn’s team enjoyed an extended stay in Ohio after a monumental 38-14 win. The Chargers looked like the team of old when LaDainian Tomlinson ran the ball for fun. The Bolts ran for 246 yards. Gordon had 136 of those yards and a hat-trick, his second of the season. Desmond King showed his ability to read the game by grabbing two interceptions. The play of the game, and arguably for the week, was a pinpoint deep TD pass from Rivers to Tyrell Williams in triple coverage. The Chargers weren’t just getting warm at 4-2, they looked exciting to watch.
“There haven’t been too many days where we’ve run for more than we’ve thrown. But I’ll take them any time we can get them.” (Philip Rivers to CBS.com)
Defensive Resilience In London
The 3-3 Tennessee Titans were the nominated road team in the second of three London games at Wembley Stadium. A vocal crowd of 84,500 were on their feet when Rivers lobbed a pass 75 yards to Tyrell Williams on the Chargers’ first play from scrimmage. Rivers would also have success on the Chargers opening drive of the second half when his 55-yard pass fell to Mike Williams for a score.
The Titans gradually came back into the game. The Chargers pass rush wasn’t effective, and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota led his team on a 13-play, 89-yard drive, culminating in a Luke Stocker touchdown. The Titans trailed 20-19 with 31 seconds of the game left on the clock. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel went for the two-pointer. They got two bites at the cherry as the Chargers gave up a penalty. Adrian Phillips was the hero for the Chargers as he broke up Mariota’s attempt. Jubilation was the reaction on the Chargers bench at the end of the game.
The Titans offense had a lot of the football. The decision to go for two was a key talking point. The Chargers did have opportunities to stretch their lead, the most notable when Keenan Allen was open in the end zone. The NFL was taking notice of a resilient 5-2 Chargers.
“This says a lot about the leadership we have in the locker room. These guys had plenty of opportunities to get distracted, lose focus. We played in tough conditions and flew across the country, played in Cleveland, stayed there and practiced. We had different facilities, bus rides taking 30, 40 minutes to an hour. These guys just stayed focused and showed up every day and did their jobs, very professional, and they executed. It was a tough win today, but over the last 10 days we got two W’s, so we’re satisfied with that.” (Coach Lynn to Chargers.com)
Standing Firm In The Hawks Nest
If fans had their nerves tested at the end of the Wembley game, they were in for another dose of anxiety. At 5-2, refreshed from a bye week, the Chargers headed North to face the 4-3 Seattle Seahawks. The game looked like it was going to be a shootout when both teams scored on their opening drives. The Chargers led by 19-10 at halftime. The Seahawks and their 12th man had it all to do.
The Chargers defense held firm as they did in London, denying Russel Wilson’s hurried drive deep into the fourth, sealing a fifth-consecutive win. The postgame discussion, however, was dominated not by the offensive or defensive plays, but once again, it was the special teams that made the headlines for the wrong reasons (insert Caleb Sturgis). The Chargers should have put the game out of reach of Pete Carroll‘s Seahawks. 24 hours after the Chargers moved to 6-2, the announcement came that Sturgis had been cut.
The Road Ahead
The Chargers look like a much-improved football team under Coach Lynn. The offense is flourishing with a vintage Rivers at the heart of it. The defense is staying focused. Melvin Ingram, King and the emerging James are making plays. The Chargers will be tested in the second half of the season when they face the Chiefs on the road. How far they can go depends on their ability to address special teams, keep their studs healthy and reincorporate Bosa back into the active roster.
It’s a pretty exciting time for the Chargers. Their fans have flown the colors far and wide. The last few seasons have been turbulent at best. Nobody in the Chargers camp is talking about playing football in February. There’s still a lot of work to do for the Los Angeles Chargers between now and December 30. Priority one is to catch the Chiefs and win the AFC West.
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