Scoring is surprise issue for Chargers
Their 18.6-point average is down seven points from last season.
Anthony Lynn leaned on a well-worn but useful adage when the first-year Chargers coach decided to retain offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and four offensive assistants from fired coach Mike McCoy’s staff last winter: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Yes, the Chargers went 5-11 in 2016, but offense was not the problem. They averaged 25.6 points a game, veteran quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 4,386 yards and 33 touchdowns — though he was intercepted a careerhigh 21 times — and Melvin Gordon came within three yards rushing of a 1,000-yard season.
They had a future Hall of Famer in Antonio Gates and a rising star in Hunter Henry at tight end. To a f leet of productive receivers they added Keenan Allen, who missed virtually all of 2016 because of knee surgery, and Clemson star Mike Williams with the seventh pick in last April’s draft.
“I left this staff here together for a reason,” Lynn said. “I wanted continuity for this offense, because I felt good about what they’ve done in the past.”
But nine games into 2017, it’s clear the offense is broken, and the Chargers — who fell to 3-6 with Sunday’s 20-17 overtime loss at Jacksonville — have shown few signs they are capable of fixing it.
They rank 25th in the NFL in scoring (18.6 points a game) and have scored 21 points or fewer in seven games. They rank 26th in rushing (88.7 yards per game), 17th in total yards (331.6 per game) and 29th in third-down efficiency, converting 38 of 112 attempts (33.9%).
The Chargers have reached the red zone only 20 times, the fifth-fewest trips from 20 yards and closer in the league. They’ve scored on consecutive possessions only five times, and once since Week 5.
Rivers, who entered concussion protocol Monday and is questionable for Sunday’s game against Buffalo, has completed 194 of 323 passes for 2,263 yards and 15 touchdowns, with seven interceptions and 11 sacks, the latter two figures an improvement from last season.
But his 87.8 quarterback rating, which ranks 19th in the NFL, would be a career low and well below his career average of 94.4.
Gordon has a team-high eight touchdowns, rushing 147 times for 553 yards (3.8 a carry) and catching 35 passes for 250 yards, but he has been held to 54 yards or fewer in five games. He was not a factor in three games, including Sunday’s, when he was outplayed by rookie Austin Ekeler, who caught five passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 10 times for 42 yards.
Allen has had a nice bounce-back season, with 44 catches for 596 yards and one touchdown. Henry has 24 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns, but there have been too many games like Sunday’s, when he was targeted twice and seemed to disappear from the playbook. As with all teams, the Chargers have had their share of dropped balls, errant passes and missed blocking assignments, but they’ve suffered as much from a lack of rhythm as they have a lack of execution, and that has stifled their ability to create and sustain momentum.
“No doubt — we were just talking about that this morning,” Lynn said during his Monday afternoon news conference. “I don’t feel the rhythm with our offense. It’s kind of like a scratch golfer who sometimes goes into a slump.
“We’re not scoring the points we need to score on offense. If you told me our defense was going to hold people to 17, 20 points a game, I would have said we’d win a lot of football games.”
The passing game has leaned heavily toward check-downs, swing passes and screens to the running backs and out-patterns to receivers, plays that ease pressure on the line and allow Rivers to get rid of the ball quickly.
Rivers has taken occasional shots downfield, usually to the speedy Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams, but he hasn’t thrown many mid-range passes down the middle, such as the 18-yarder he hit Williams with in the second quarter Sunday.
Opponents have done a better job of taking away the quick slants that worked in the first five games, and the Chargers, who rank 22nd in the league with an average of 4.97 yards on first down, have faced too many thirdand-longs.
“We’ve got good personnel — I don’t think we have to worry about getting certain people touches,” Lynn said. “We just have to find that rhythm that’s going to marry with the run-action game and move the ball down the field.
“I think you see it in our offense, it’s just not consistent. The times we go down the field, it’s a beautiful thing. But we just don’t see it enough.”
The Chargers have been criticized for play-calling that seems predictable at times. With a three-point lead in the final 1:30 Sunday, they ran three times up the middle, with Gordon netting six yards, and failed to gain a first down that would have allowed them to run out the clock.
But Lynn said he has no plans to take on a larger role in the offense, leaving playcalling duties to Whisenhunt.
“I have complete confidence in our offensive staff, and I’m sure we’ll get this figured out,” Lynn said. “They’re really good schemers, and they’re doing some creative things. But at the end of the day, we have to play more physical, and we have to get the ball to our playmakers.”
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Ken Whisenhunt will continue to call plays, coach Anthony Lynn said.