Scor­ing is sur­prise is­sue for Charg­ers

Their 18.6-point av­er­age is down seven points from last sea­son.

Los Angeles Times - - NFL - By Mike DiGio­vanna mike.digio­vanna@la­times.com Twit­ter: @MikeDiGio­vanna

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.”

Phe­lan M. Eben­hack Associated Press

OF­FEN­SIVE CO­OR­DI­NA­TOR Ken Whisen­hunt will con­tinue to call plays, coach An­thony Lynn said.

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