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Chargers Mailbag: Playoff Chances, Defensive Schemes, Kelley's Emergence & Injury Updates


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…

What a difference a win makes for the Bolts.

A week ago, the perception outside the building was that the Chargers were fading after a tough road loss to the Raiders, and that the playoffs were a long shot.

Now? The Bolts have better than a 50-50 chance to get into the postseason thanks to their primetime win over the Dolphins.

A quick aside: this is why the NFL is truly a week-to-week league. I know that's a cliché used frequently around the league, but it's also true.

You play each week and then add them up at the end. One loss doesn't crush your season, and one win doesn't guarantee anything either.

As it stands now, the Chargers have a 55 percent chance to make the playoffs via That number, by the way, jumped 25 points in Week 14 after a Bolts win and a Jets loss.

I've said since the beginning of the season, and also since the bye week, that I believed the Bolts would make the playoffs.

I still believe that to be true, even if they are on the outside looking in at the moment.

Will it take four more wins (an 11-6 record) to get there? I'm of the belief that 10 wins should do the trick.

However, the Bolts do need to capitalize on the momentum from the Dolphins win and get hot at the right time.

Besides injuries, this season has been defined by inconsistency. If the Chargers can get on a roll and play their best ball down the stretch, they could be peaking at the right time in mid-January.

I wrote in detail on Monday about how the Chargers pass defense was able to throw off Miami's elite aerial attack. You can find that piece here.

The gist of how the Bolts did it was multi-step process.

First, they primarily stayed in their nickel package for most of the game. (Nine players were on the field for at least 90 percent of the defensive snaps).

Next, they lined up and played press coverage, an aggressive tactic that disrupted the timing and speed of the Dolphins skill players.

Finally, the Bolts implemented what Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley described as "pattern matching." This means that while the defense appeared to be in man coverage, there were times where they shifted to zone in the middle of the play and confused the opposition.

It was a brilliant game plan from Staley and the entire defensive staff and worked flawlessly against a Dolphins offense that had ran up and down the field against almost everyone all season.

Now, will the Chargers employ that same strategy going forward?

Staley said his defense uses that pattern matching technique often, so it's likely that it's been deployed before … and likely that we see it again.

It just happened to work nearly to perfection against the Dolphins, which brought the scheme into the spotlight a bit.

Yes. And there has been plenty of clarity the past few months if you ask me.

Joshua Kelley is clearly the No. 2 running back on the depth chart.

That was evident before he went on Injured Reserve with a knee injury after Week 6, and it's been the case since he came back the past three games.

Kelley provides juice in multiple ways on offense, both as a runner and also with his vibrant personality.

Here's what Staley and Austin Ekeler said about him Monday:

"I think you're seeing the burst because he's healthy, coming off the knee. I think you're seeing the burst that he had prior to being injured," Staley said. "He was really good on the third-and-1 [run that gained 22 yards]. He had a really nice cut-back run early in the game that was, I thought, a really really good cut. He saw it and just hit it.

"He's breaking tackles, doing a nice job as a pass-receiver. He had that one nice catch for six yards on a check-down," Staley added. "He has to continue to bring it for us. He's doing a good job on special teams. Definitely excited to get him back in the mix."

Ekeler added: "I am very thankful of him being back just because it takes so much off of my body."

Ekeler has had a heck of a season, already setting a career-high with 93 catches, a total that ranks fourth among all NFL players. And he's carried the ball 153 times, too.

Ekeler is one of the league's best all-around backs and has proven to be a touchdown machine for the second straight season.

There's no doubt he'll continued to be relied upon heavily down the stretch, but if Kelley can increase his own workload — and produce in the process — that will makes the Bolts offense better overall.

Right now? The Bolts are rolling with who they have on the roster.

It's Week 15. There's not a gaggle of speed receivers out on the street waiting to be signed.

This is a question better suited for the offseason, and hopefully we're still a ways away from that.

How is JC Jackson progressing with the serious injury? (Bruce via email)

A pair of injury updates to close us out.

Staley said Monday that there is a chance that Rashawn Slater is ready by the end of the season.

"There is a potential for him to return," Staley said. "I do think that we're weeks out, but he's rehabilitating in our facility and doing well.

"I think there is definitely a chance — I'm a pretty optimistic person, just in general. He's given me pretty good reason to be optimistic," Staley later added. "He's healing well. I would expect that if Rashawn could do it, he will."

Remember, Slater tore his biceps in Week 3. The Chargers never said he would be out for the season, leaving some hope that the star left tackle could return down the road.

It appears that point could be coming soon, as in sometime in the next three or four weeks. Yes, there are only four regular-season games left, but perhaps No. 70 anchors the left side of the line in Week 18 (or in the playoffs) if everything goes according to plan.

As for Jackson, there's not much of an update there.

He was injured in Week 7 and underwent surgery a few days later on his torn patella tendon in his knee. The rehab and recovery process for that injury is long and grueling, and Jackson is likely in the early stages of that right now.

Here's hoping that process is going well for him and that he makes a full recovery going forward.

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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