Ben on the Bolts: Grading the Chargers at the quarter pole of the 2013 season

SAN DIEGO - Grading the Chargers at the quarter pole of the 2013 season:


You can argue that Philip Rivers cost the Chargers the opener with the pick-six he threw to Brian Cushing of the Texans, but since that moment, Rivers has played the best football of his career. Reading and carving apart defenses, Rivers has a pair of 400-yard games, and 11 TD passes versus only two interceptions. I'm calling him the NFL September MVnP (Most Valuable non-Peyton)


Ryan Mathews is running hard between the tackles and moving the chains, but has yet to break a big one, and his fumble in Philadelphia can't be overlooked. Danny Woodhead brings up the grade with his contributions to Rivers' resurgence. Ronnie Brown remains a solid backfield blocker and 3rd down pass catcher, and has the only rushing TD of the season for the Bolts.


A pleasant surprise, considering both Danario Alexnader and Malcom Floyd are out for the season with injuries. Eddie Royal's five touchdowns in the first two weeks shocked the NFL. Vincent Brown has had a couple of good moments and Keenan Allen showed promise in the win over the Cowboys. Antonio Gates has stayed healthy and been, well, Antonio Gates. That's a really good thing for the Chargers.


Things could have gotten ugly due to injuries and lack of depth, but center Nick Hardwick has kept the unit together. Rivers says the snapper is playing some of the best football of his career. Injuries have hit just about everyone else, but backups Mike Harris and Johnnie Troutman stepped in with superb efforts on the left side last week. King Dunlap and Chad Rinehart have been far from Pro Bowlers, but have played credibly, something the Chargers rarely saw last season.


This was supposed to be an area of strength for the Chargers, but it's been average at best. Corey Liuget got off to a slow start, possibly hampered by a shoulder injury suffered in training camp. Kendall Reyes has a bright future, but still has room to improve in his second season. The D-line is especially susceptible to the team's lack of depth.


Dwight Freeney wasn't filling up the stat sheet, but he was undoubtedly an impact player. Now he's gone and the Chargers will have trouble filling that void. Jarret Johnson remains a solid veteran. Donald Butler looked good in the opener, then got hurt, and struggled last week. Manti Te'o is just getting his feet wet, although Bront Bird, Reggie Walker and Andrew Gachkar have all had some nice moments filling in.


They made just enough plays to help the Chargers seal their two wins, which is what prevents an "F" grade. Matt Schaub, Michael Vick and Jake Locker were able to pick apart this unit. Lack of pass rush isn't helping, but, apart from Eric Weddle, the Chargers lack any big-time playmakers in the defensive backfield.


A big gaffe (blocked FG) and a couple of lengthy returns knock the grade down a little, but the special teams have been OK. Nick Novak's field goal kicking is solid, but he rarely has a strong enough leg for touchbacks. Mike Scifres hasn't been booming the ball, but remains the best in the NFL at pinning teams inside the 20. The return teams have garnered more block-in-the-back and holding penalties than significant yardage.


Last season, the Chargers offense was pedestrian, at best. This season, it has been one of the more impressive units in the NFL. Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt are a big reason why. John Pagano needs to figure out the reason his unit, ranked 9th in the NFL last season, is among the worst in football this year. Shaun Phillips, Quentin Jammer and Takeo Spikes weren't THAT good last year. Coaches could have done more to avoid the bad outcomes at the end of the Houston and Tennessee games.

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