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Chargers Mailbag: Bolts Playoff Chances, Woods' Role & Giving Thanks


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…

Call me crazy … because I certainly get the vibe of where the Bolts fan base is at right now … but I think the Chargers will get in.

To be more specific, the opinion here is that the Bolts will head into Week 18 needing a win to secure a spot. And they will come through on the road in Denver to make it into the dance.

For the record, this has been my stance since the bye week, so this isn't a new thought. But I'm sticking to it even after a pair of back-to-back losses.

The Chargers currently sit at 5-5 and are out of the AFC playoff picture, but there's still a good amount of football to be played.

In order to make it into the postseason, the benchmark will likely be a minimum of 10 wins. That would mean a 5-2 finish down the stretch for the Bolts, who just completed perhaps their toughest two-game stretch of the season.

There are no gimmes in this league, so even though the Chargers face only two teams (Dolphins and Titans) with a winning record the rest of the way, the schedule does lighten up a bit.

But now is the time for the Bolts to make their move. They have been undermanned and competed hard all season, especially in the past two games.

That effort and fight is commendable, but it's crunch time now. And time for them to go on a run and earn a spot in the playoffs.

I think they can get it done.

If you look close, Woods has actually seen an uptick in his playing time of late.

He was inactive in five of the first eight games, and only played on special teams in the three contests he was active for.

But in the past two games, he's played a total of 19 defensive snaps, including 14 against the Chiefs.

According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, all 19 of those snaps have been at free safety, so the Bolts have deployed him far away from the line of scrimmage.

That makes sense due to Woods' skillset, as his speed and range were touted coming out of Baylor.

I'm planning on asking Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley this week about Woods' usage and the role the team sees for him on defense.

While he didn't play much early on, Woods is obviously getting more comfortable and gaining more trust. Keep an eye on him the rest of the way.

Based on what Staley said Sunday night and again Monday, the Chargers felt just fine with the matchup between Derwin James, Jr., and Travis Kelce.

"Two special players who are going at it. Man-to-man, single safety," Staley said. "[Kelce] made a good catch and was able to turn it up. Give credit to him. There is no one else in the world I would rather have covering him."

The Bolts should have felt good about that matchup, too, as James had fared well against Kelce throughout the game … and for the better part of his career.

However, as Staley noted, you have to give Kelce some credit here, too, even if that's odd coming from the Chargers side.

Drue Tranquill and Keenan Allen both did Sunday night.

"Scary. He's a great player. Can't take anything from him," Allen said. "He's going to finish as one of the best tight ends to ever play the game.

"Like he showed tonight and time after time, he just comes back. He keeps giving us shots, keep giving us shots," Allen added. "Three touchdowns. Can't ask for a better game."

Tranquill said of Kelce and Patrick Mahomes: "It's one of the best tandems, maybe in NFL history, those two."

James shouldered the blame, saying he simply got beat and needs to make that play.

But he isn't the first player (and certainly won't be the last) to have Kelce get the better of him on a single play.

The frustrating part is that particular Kelce win came in one of the biggest moments of the game.

First off, Bosa's timeline is a bit unknown right now.

Staley said awhile back that he was on a six-to-10-week recovery plan. As we approach Week 8 in that timeline, Staley said Monday he did not have an update on Bosa and a return to practice.

So, patience is needed on that front, even if the Bolts could obviously use his presence on the field.

Where will he help the most?

Well, besides bringing an emotional lift as a captain returning to the field, the Chargers could use his help in run defense.

Most of the big runs the Bolts have allowed this season have been away from Khalil Mack's side, as No. 52 is still an elite player when it comes to setting the edge against the run.

Bosa's return might be with a little caution as he'll likely need time to work his way back, but if he is healthy and ready to go, the run defense could surely use him.

A good question here. Because while injuries have certainly played a role in the defensive ups and downs, they haven't told the whole story.

And we know the Chargers aren't going to use that as an excuse either.

To me, the biggest area for improvement in the final seven games is on third-and-long situations.

Entering Week 12, the Chargers defense ranks 25th overall by allowing opponents to convert on 43.8 percent of their third downs.

But on third-and-10-plus, the Chargers are giving up a higher percentage of first downs. The Bolts defense has faced 27 different scenarios of third-and-10 or longer so far, and have allowed 12 conversions, good for a 44-percent success rate.

Staley addressed the third-and-long issues postgame Sunday night.

"We have to make more plays. We have to make more plays," Staley said. "It's as simple as that on third down. We're not covering well enough on third down. That's all there is to it."

Of course, the most notable one probably came in the last game when the Bolts allowed the Chiefs to convert on third-and-17 late in the third quarter and backed up against their own end zone. Kansas City, which trailed 20-16 at the time, later scored to take the lead.

To me, that was the single biggest play of the game Sunday night, even more so than what happened in the frantic final two minutes.

If the Bolts get off the field there, they have the ball, the lead and probably solid field position with a chance to go up double digits early in the fourth quarter.

Alas, the Chiefs converted and the story had a different ending.

Yes, the Bolts will practice Thursday morning and have an abbreviated schedule so that they can spend time with family and friends later in the day.

And a quick programming note on that topic, I'll have a fun piece of content publishing tomorrow where I asked players a handful of Thanksgiving questions.

Some of their answers were hilarious, so be on the lookout for that.

As for me, I will be spending Thanksgiving with my family, including my wife and 7-month old daughter. (Side note: I'm excited for my baby girl to try turkey for the first time).

The opportunity is spend this holiday with family is a rare one for me, and I'm very appreciative of it. I actually think it's my first Thanksgiving with family (other than my wife) in eight years.

The last time would have been in 2014 before I was hired by the Vikings and moved to Minnesota. In that timespan, I was either working on the holiday or spending it with my wife and/or friends.

That's life in the NFL, so I'm not complaining. But I am so looking forward to creating memories with my baby girl on her first Thanksgiving.

This has been such a wild year for me — buying a house, having my first child, moving halfway across the country and changing NFL teams — but it's been the best year of my life, no doubt.

I'm very thankful to be blessed with great family, friends and co-workers, and wouldn't want to be anywhere else than where I'm at now.

Happy Thanksgiving to the entire Bolt Fam and I hope you all have a great day with whomever you're able to spend it with.

That will do it for this week.

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

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