What we have here is a team that is holding all the cards to excel in the National Football League from personnel to history to season-to-season flow to top flight quarterback. Their fans would appear to have an opportunity to enjoy a huge year, perhaps even a Super Bowl win.
So, with all that said, what the heck is wrong with the Los Angeles Chargers?
Two weeks ago, they struggled in Cleveland to beat a Browns team that hands out wins like they were a prize for playing them. Last week, their defense played the same role that other Denver Broncos opponents have accomplished this year, leaving that team to wonder why their off-season acquisition of Russell Wilson is not paying dividends? But, even though they stifled the Broncos offense, the Chargers needed a Denver fumble in overtime to eke out a three point win.
Okay, the Chargers have now won three games in a row since they got blown out last month on their home field by four touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
I have some theories on why the Chargers are struggling.
First, their loss against the Jaguars was a classic example of the tail wagging the dog. The prior week, before the Chargers got blow out by Jacksonville, their highly regarded quarterback, Justin Herbert, took a shot during their narrow loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that had him gasping for air. At one point late in the game Herbert was forced to abandon an easy run for a first down while crumbling to the ground in pain.
Still, Herbert is as tough as a Sizzler steak, and he pulled himself off the Arrowhead turf and concluded the game with a touchdown drive that closed the gap to a point spread winning three points. Hurray for Herbert, now get him some medical attention.
The Chargers did, and they found the injury involved the sternum and rib cage, hence the shock of pain that sent Herbert to the turf in Kansas City without the Chiefs needing to tackle him. The injury needed time to heal before Herbert could return to the lineup at full strength.
Then an indication that the adults are not in control in the Chargers camp, the competitive third-year quarterback talked around the medical staff and to his coaches in an effort to convince them he was ready to play when Los Angeles met Jacksonville.
Bad idea from a health perspective, bad precedent that a player could talk over his medical team and coaching staff, and horrible motivational idea. Here is why, the Chargers spent all week “certain” they were going to be led on the field by backup quarterback Chase Daniels against Jacksonville. That is what they prepared for and in that week of practice the team was geared to play great to compensate for the loss of their starting quarterback.
Then, on the day of the game, the team doesn’t have to focus as hard to beat the Jaguars because they’ve got Herbert back behind center. Can you see what that would do to a team’s motivation? Instead of playing over their heads to earn a win with Daniels playing quarterback, they got their man back and didn't need a special effort.
When a team suddenly thinks that this is going to be easier than they thought, it becomes a lot tougher. In the Chargers case, the result tells the story as they were dismembered by the Jaguars, 38-10.
What does that leave Los Angeles with after allowing Herbert into the starting lineup before he was truly healed from his injury in Kansas City?
It leaves a team with a loss and a quarterback now prolonging the recovery time from his rib injury.
Even with those challenges, the Chargers got wins in their next two games, albeit in unconvincing fashion by two points in Cleveland, when the Browns missed a would-be winning field goal on the game’s final play, and that overtime squeaker last Monday night against Wilson and his Broncos.
I have been studying the films of Herbert since his injury, and while he did seem hampered a bit in the Jacksonville loss, I can’t see any obvious signs that the injured sternum and ribs is hampering his play the past two weeks.
So what is it?
Why aren’t the Chargers dominating with all their talent and recent history and joining the conversation of being up there with the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs as the best in the AFC?
Seems that it was a tough spot for Brandon Staley’s team in Cleveland from a motivational perspective, and they won and covered the 1½ point spread. On Monday, the Broncos were in more need of a win in their AFC West Division battle, and the Chargers survived that test with the overtime triumph.
So, now with an apparently healthy Herbert and a share of first place in their division with the Kansas City Chiefs, who lost last week at home to Buffalo, the Chargers have somehow come though the first six weeks without convincing many that they are among the NFL elite but equal with the Chiefs in the won/loss column.
What’s next for the Chargers?
It appears to me that Los Angeles is headed to some smooth sailing while gaining the respect their team and organization appears perfectly capable of earning. As for this week, they meet a Seattle Seahawks team that has over-achieved so far this season and is arriving in Los Angeles following a satisfying victory against the Arizona Cardinals.
Okay, Chargers fans, strap in we are going to accelerate to warp speed.
Qoxhi Picks: Los Angeles Chargers (-6½) over Seattle Seahawks