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Chargers Mailbag: The Bolts Toughness, Playoff Seeding & Rhythm on Offense  


Welcome to the Chargers Mailbag! I'm Senior Writer Eric Smith, and I answer questions from the Bolt Fam each and every week.

Send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go…

OK, I'll give Staley credit here. The way he kept the team together during this season has been admirable. Do you have a preference on which team we see in the playoffs? (Michael via email)

The Bolts are bound for the playoffs, and that accomplishment should be celebrated for the effort and stamina it took to get there.

I'll dive into the second part of Michael's question first, but my answer is a short one: I don't care.

The AFC playoff field is shaping up to be a gauntlet of top young quarterbacks, but I'll take my chances with Justin Herbert against anyone.

Now, are the playoffs the end result for the Bolts? No. It's simply Step 1 in what is hopefully a deep and fruitful playoff run.

But think of how wild this season has been for the Chargers.

It seemed like they lost a key starter for the season due to injuries every week in the first two months of the season. And that doesn't count others such as Justin Herbert, who didn't miss a game but battled through immense pain to be on the field each week.

Credit Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley for keeping his team together at so many different points in the season where things could have easily turned south.

I wrote this numerous times in this space previously this season, but that could have happened without strong leadership from both Staley and inside the locker room.

Remember when the Chargers were 4-3? It was better than 2-5. And a 6-6 record was better than 4-8.

The team simply stayed afloat at times in order to give themselves a chance to be in the mix down the stretch. And — how about that — the Bolts are not only doing that but are also playing their best ball when it matters most.

After Monday night's game, I thought back to one of my first 1-on-1 interviews with Staley in training camp. I had a just moved here and was trying to keep my head above water in those early days, so naturally I decided to dive into a three-part longform series on three key pillars that Staley wanted his team to embody: Physicality, Toughness and Discipline.

My favorite of the three to write was about Toughness, and Staley's quote at the end of the story struck me when I re-read it Monday night.

"You could be a really physically tough player, but if you're mentally weak, you have a ceiling," Staley said. "Or you could be a mentally tough player, but you're physically weak, and that's not great either.

"Whatever your role and responsibility is, you're going to need [mental toughness]," Staley added. "You have to remind people of that and that have to be confronted with that every day."

It's clear now that the Chargers have those exact types of players inside their locker room.

And it's also clear that Staley and his coaching staff has played a crucial role in keeping the team together so that toughness could shine through when it mattered most.

As it stands now, the Chargers are the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens are fifth and the Dolphins are seventh.

But, if the Bolts and Ravens both finish 11-6, then it would be the Chargers who jump up to the No. 5 seed and play the winner of the AFC South.

Put another way, the Chargers need to win out and have the Ravens lose once in order to get the fifth spot.

Here's how it would play out…

Right now, the Ravens are 10-5 and have a 6-4 conference record. Both of Baltimore's remaining games are against AFC (and division) foes.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are 9-6 with a 7-4 conference record. They have games against the Rams (NFC) and Broncos (AFC) remaining.

So, let's say the Ravens split their final two games to finish 11-5 with a 7-5 conference record.

If the Chargers win out and also finish 11-6, they will have an 8-4 conference record and leap the Ravens for the fifth seed.

I get the reasoning behind this question.

The Chargers haven't scored 30 points in a game since Week 5, which was also the last time they scored a touchdown in the third quarter.

The red-zone offense currently ranks 26th and the goal-to-go offense is 28th. Those rankings are a big reason why 23 of the Chargers 28 total field goals this season have been 39 yards or less, or essentially kicks from the 20-yard line and in.

So it's not as if the Chargers aren't moving the ball. They are and being 10th overall in third-down conversion rate helps that case.

They just need to play cleaner football in the most important area of the field, something players and coaches have all talked about in recent weeks.

I think the Bolts can do it, mostly because the potential of this unit remains high, even if they have been a bit inconsistent of late.

The Bolts simply need to score a few more points along the way.

Staley said as much Tuesday when he noted that a 20-3 win over the Colts would have probably looked and felt different if two short Cameron Dicker field goals were actually touchdowns.

In that case, it's a lopsided 28-3 win and there's not as much concern with the offense.

Playoff games are going to be tight and low-scoring. And with the way the Chargers defense is playing of late, the offense might not need to score 30 points to win.

But if that unit can be efficient and productive in the red zone, it could be a key ingredient to a lengthy playoff run.

I think it's important for the Chargers to continue their recent momentum and keep their focus sharp for the playoffs.

Would a crosstown win be great for fan bragging rights? Of course.

And you know that Staley will be jazzed for this one as he goes up against his old boss in Sean McVay.

But the Chargers priority right now should be two main things: staying healthy and getting ready for a first-round playoff game in mid-January.

You are right about one thing though, Anthony, the Bolt Fam has shown out at home and on the road this season. The Chargers will need that support in the playoffs, too.

Hmmm, a good question here since Spiller and Woods were both inactive Monday night.

I could see a scenario where both players are up on game day and see some action, but it might not happen until Week 18 if the Chargers already know their playoff position.

Injuries could also come into play here. For example, if Derwin James, Jr., can't go Sunday, then Woods likely sees the field like he did in recent weeks.

But whether those two play again or not, I go back to what I've said about them both at different points this season.

It's OK that both players haven't been starters this season. Every NFL player has their own journey to success in the league, and Woods and Spiller are only at the beginning of theirs.

Things remain up in the air on Rashawn Slater's potential return.

However, until he is cleared to play in an actual game, I'm not going to speculate on what the offensive line would look like if he's in there.

What I will do though is give some props to Jamaree Salyer, who has been one of the most unheralded players on the entire roster this season.

As I mentioned above to start off this Mailbag, the Chargers season could have easily gone down the drain given the injuries to so many big names this season.

Salyer, a rookie, is at the top of the list of reasons why that didn't happen.

That will do it for this week.

As always, you can find me on Twitter at @EricLSmith and submit your questions for the Chargers Mailbag.

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