With a win over the Broncos last Sunday and some favorable matchups coming down the pipe in the last chunk of the season, Rams fans are dealing with the prospect of climbing back into the playoff hunt. That almost certainly requires them to pull a win out of this weekend as the Rams head to San Diego.
To give me a sense of what we're up against, I linked up with John Gennaro from Bolts From the Blue, SB Nation's community for fans of the San Diego Chargers.
A tale of two seasons...so by the end of week 6, you guys shoot out to 5-1. Then three losses and another squeaker over the Raiders after the bye. What's going on? Or maybe put it like this - what's wrong and what do you need to do to fix it?
It's a combination of two things. For one, the early-season schedule was easy. Wins over the Raiders, Jets, and Jaguars were making the team look better than it was. Also, the team has been ravaged with injuries since the early season. Nick Hardwick, Jason Verrett and Danny Woodhead are out for the season. Manti Te'o, Melvin Ingram, Ryan Mathews, and Jerry Attaochu have only recently returned after missing a ton of time.
What the team probably needs is Nick Hardwick, Danny Woodhead, and Jason Verrett to come off IR and be healthy, but that is both impossible and against NFL rules. Right now, we're just hoping that the pass rush will get better with the returning players and that the offensive line can bribe a witch to give them magical powers.
Part of your answer to #1 might cover some of this, but are there signs that Phillip Rivers is nearing the end? It seems odd when you've got Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees still cranking it out despite being a bit older than Rivers. Are there any concerns that the Chargers need to start transitioning out of the Rivers/Antonio Gates era to the next one? (Friendly advice: You don't want a Kellen Clemens era. Trust me.)
Yes to Gates, no to Rivers....which probably seems backwards based on their production this year. The fact is, QBs can play forever if they play behind a good offensive line and have time. Rivers showed earlier this season that he's still a great QB when in that situation. The focus should be, and will be, on improving his protection rather than moving on.
As for Gates, he's been great this year, but his body is going got break down a lot sooner than a QB's will. He knows it, the team knows it. I think everyone is just waiting for him to fall off a cliff with his health or decide to hang them up himself.
More on the Chargers
More on the Chargers
What is the defensive identity for you guys in 2014? I know you're doing well in yards allowed per, especially in the pass, but I saw parts of yalls game against the Broncos and Dolphins and I wonder if those stats aren't fully explaining the context behind yalls defense. What do Rams fans need to be prepared to see from the Chargers when the Rams have the ball?
That is a lot of y'all.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Y'all aint even know.)
The defensive identity for the Chargers in 2014 can best be described as schizophrenic. With everyone healthy, they're scary good. They showed that early in the season. Then Ingram, Attaochu, and Te'o went down the the pass-rush and run-defense suffered. Then Jason Verrett went down with his injury and now the secondary seems to be mediocre as well. With the returning players last week, it seemed the defense played a lot better....but it was against a terrible offense, so we're not exactly sure. They might be as good as they were early in the season, but they might not be.
How would you grade the Chargers last two drafts? Obviously Keenan Allen stands out. Is Fluker coming of age? I know Jason Verrett's done for the year, but is the rest of the rookie class showing promise?
Somewhere around a C+ or B-.
Fluker has been just barely above "trainwreck" this year. Steve Williams hasn't even been that good. Tourek Williams barely exists, and Manti Te'o can't stay healthy. Keenan Allen is a stud, but that draft class looks worse this year than it did last year.
This year's rookie class looks very talented, but they haven't had a huge impact. Verrett made plays when on the field, but he wasn't there for long before getting seriously injured (he might have chronic shoulder issues). Jerry Attaochu looks like a hell of a pass rusher, but he's played sparingly due to hamstring issues. Chris Watt and Ryan Carrethers are being brought along very slowly, so it's hard to tell, but they both look promising.
How is the overall state of the franchise? It's only year two of Mike McCoy's tenure. Is he meeting expectations? Obviously making the postseason in year one sets the bar pretty high. Is it appropriately high or has he made it too tough for him to match up to? How much do you guys miss Norv Turner? (If that last question made you pass out, go ahead and get a glass of water after you come to. Gotta rehydrate after a Norvcussion.)
I think he set the bar a little too high for himself, and he's feeling heat because of that now. If the team misses the playoffs, which is highly likely, people will be a little down on Mike McCoy....which is nuts. He's done a tremendous job, as has Tom Telesco, of pointing the team in the right direction. I said when they were hired that 2015 was probably the year we should all be looking forward to, but that got washed away last season when they showed they could win with the current crop of players. Now they're struggling with a lack of talent (which is the fault of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner), and they don't have any excuse that can't be argued with "How'd you do it last year?"
Thanks to John for the time.