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Chargers Mailbag: Why the Bolts are Primed to Make a 2nd-Half Run


Welcome back to the Chargers Mailbag!

We'll be running one of these every week during the regular season, so send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go...

There's no doubt Monday night's win was a big one for the Bolts.

That was the case on the field, where the Chargers dominated the Jets on the way to a 21-point win.

It was the case in the standings, where the Bolts improved to 4-4 and kept pace in a crowded AFC playoff chase.

And it was the case in the locker room, where players — especially on defense — danced and laughed postgame and were riding high after Week 9.

Is it a turning point for the Chargers?

I think so … and here's why.

The Bolts have endured a rollercoaster season to date. It was two losses and then two wins before they repeated the same script with a pair of losses before ripping off back-to-back wins.

But it was how the Chargers have played in those two wins that should give people confidence going forward.

The defense has been a monster of late by allowing just 19 total points, racking up nine sacks and forcing five turnovers in the past two games.

Offensively, it's been a bit touch and go (and we'll dive into that later on), but the unit has done enough.

And special teams has been excellent of late, giving the Chargers a well-rounded team that has featured plenty of complementary football.

That approach has showed up in plenty of stats and analytics, including DVOA. FTN Fantasy does a fantastic job of explaining DVOA, which they describe as a team's efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.

Entering Week 10, here is where the Chargers rank in terms of DVOA:

Offense – 8th

Defense – 23rd

Special Teams – 8th

Overall, the site has the Chargers as the 12th-best team in the NFL. And that sounds about right given that the Bolts sit at .500 and all they've gone through so far.

But the ingredients are clearly there for the Chargers to be among the league's top teams. The key, of course, is to carry these good vibes over into the second half of the season.

If the Chargers can consistently play like they have of late, they will be right there in the playoff picture at the end of the season.

Does that mean they're going to win the final nine games of the season? That's probably unlikely.

But they've recently found a winning formula — great defense, solid offense and big plays on special teams — that could make them a dangerous squad down the stretch.

And if the Bolts can beat a good Lions team at home on Sunday to get to 5-4, then we're really talking about a team that can make some noise in December and January.

Awesome to see Derius Davis break one for a TD. He could be a secret weapon for us down the stretch. (Mark via email)

Awesome to see the rookie get loose and set the tone early on Monday night.

Davis calmed fielded the punt, allowed his blockers to set up, made a wiggle or two … and was gone.

That's the type of play that changes games and puts other teams on notice going forward. While Davis' return was electric, it also might mean that teams simply might give him fewer chances for returns in upcoming games.

Even Davis' 17-yard return at the end of the first half was a key play, as it set the Bolts up at their own 42-yard line with just 28 seconds left.

A pair of pass plays to Keenan Allen picked up 21 yards and allowed Cameron Dicker to drill a 55-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer.

But all of that doesn't happen without Davis' big return.

All phases of the Bolts special teams units appear to be clicking right now.

Davis and his blockers are shining in the return games and both kickoff and punt coverages have clamped down on opponents.

Dicker is having a terrific sophomore season, too, showing off a strong and accurate leg. He's made 12 of 13 field goals, including four from 50-plus, and is perfect on 22 extra points.

And JK Scott's hangtime and ball placement has been elite of late, giving the Bolts an added element that's tough to play against.

The battle for a playoff spot down the stretch will be fierce. Perhaps special teams can help swing a game or two and do their part to get the Bolts into the dance.

Seth's question was one of a few that came through about the Chargers offense.

And while I get the concerns because the offense hasn't lit up the scoreboard of late, let me also say that this unit will be fine in the long run.

The Bolts currently rank eighth in offensive EPA per play (0.027), meaning the offense has been solid as we reach the midway point.

That stat includes the losses of Mike Williams and Corey Linsley, plus injuries to Austin Ekeler and Herbert, who spoke at the podium Wednesday and gave his assessment of where the unit is at.

"I think we're exactly where we are. We have a lot of football left and we have a lot of guys that we believe in," Herbert said. "We're looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity of playing football and understanding that we could have done a lot of things better, but there are a lot of good things that we did offensively this year.

"We're going to build on that, do everything we can to correct the errors and mistakes and keep moving forward," Herbert added.

Give New York's defense some kudos here, that's a stiff unit at every level. And if the explosive plays aren't there, the worst thing you can do is try and force the issue and cost yourself with turnovers.

Herbert and the Chargers didn't do that as they recorded their third game with zero giveaways this season.

That, too, is included in the recipe for success for any NFL team.

The Bolts will face another stern test this week in a Detroit defense that ranks 11th in EPA per play allowed at minus-0.065.

I know the expectations are for Herbert and Co. to put up 40 points a game while throwing for 450 yards and not having any incomplete passes.

But each week means a different challenge, and you do what you can to win games. If that means playing smart while getting help from your defense and special teams, so be it.

Because while some may complain about it now, if that system leads to a playoff win, nobody will bat an eye.

"Games like that can be frustrating. That's a really good defense," Herbert said about Monday night. "We would have loved to have moved the ball better, to score a bunch of points. It didn't go our way.

"But, for us, it was important to stay together, stick together, do everything that we can to convert those third downs, get the ball moving and be smart and safe with the football, and to understand that a punt on fourth down isn't a terrible thing," Herbert added. "That's a really good defense that we were going up against. As long as we're not turning the ball over and we're doing our best to score in the red zone and to create explosives, that's all you can ask for."

Be patient on this one.

Much like we've said about Quentin Johnston of late, it sometimes takes time for a player to find their groove.

With Johnston, it's about continuing to build a rapport with Herbert.

Guyton obviously has a trust built with the Chargers quarterback, but he was also playing in his first game since coming back from an ACL injury.

Guyton was targeted twice against the Jets — on back-to-back plays in the second quarter — but did not have a catch. He played 33 snaps Monday night, accounting for just over half of the team's total offensive plays.

Credit the Jets, who have a stellar pass defense.

But I also think a Herbert-to-Guyton explosive play is coming soon. Just give it a week or two.

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