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Chargers Mailbag: Looking Ahead to Week 13 vs. New England


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...

Not even close.

Yes, the Chargers are riding a three-game losing streak and sit at 4-7, a record that has them two games out of a Wild Card spot with six games to play.

But that's the thing … there are still six games left. That's essentially one-third of the season.

The Chargers have been right there in numerous games this season but haven't been able to thrive in fourth quarters to pull out close wins.

There is no doubt that everyone associated with the Bolts is frustrated by the record and results to this point in the season, with players and coaches at the top of that list.

It's simply been an uneven on-field product to this point in the season.

If the offense is clicking, the defense is inconsistent. And if the defense is playing well, the offense can't get into rhythm.

Special teams, for the most part, has been the steadiest phase for the Chargers this season.

With six games left, the Bolts need to go on a serious run to likely have a chance at the postseason.

And that serious run might mean winning out and seeing where the chips fall.

Entering Week 13, the Chargers, Bills and Bengals are all out of a playoff spot at the moment. And none of those teams are even above .500.

Who would have predicted that three months ago?

The NFL is a cutthroat league that requires you to be at your best week-in and week-out to earn the right to play in the postseason.

The Bolts have stumbled to a 4-7 record and need to get scorching hot starting Sunday in New England.

Trey Pipkins III told me after the Sunday night's game that this team just needs one win to get some confidence back.

Perhaps one will then turn into two … two into three … and so on.

But the singular focus for the Chargers this week is on being a Patriots team that currently ranks last in the AFC.

"Our focus is on beating New England. That's what our focus needs to be," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said Sunday night about the Bolts playoff hopes. "The AFC is wide open. It will be to the end, like it has been.

"The only way that we're going to have a shot is if we beat New England, and that's where our focus needs to go right now," Staley added.

I enjoy your articles. I am a little surprised we didn't spend a little extra on acquiring free agent offensive line help but a trade at this time is foolish. Unless you can trade for a good luck charm, I am not sure I would waste picks in a panic. (Dale via email)

Appreciate the kind words, Dale.

One quick thing to note before we get into the offensive line is that the NFL's trade deadline has come and gone.

So, while the idea of floating a trade here or there is understandable, it's not allowed by the league.

The Chargers, and every other team in the NFL, is likely rolling with who they've got in the sprint to the finish. (Teams can still sign free agents and add players off other team's practice squads, by the way).

Now, as far as the offensive line goes, I wrote before the season that the starting group of Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Corey Linsley, Jamaree Salyer and Pipkins had the potential to be a Top-10 unit in the league.

That hasn't materialized for a variety of different reasons.

Slater battled through an ankle injury early in the season that affected his play. He's healthier now, as evident by the left tackle looking more like his usual self.

We'll group the trio of Johnson, Salyer and Pipkins together and note that they have all had up-and-down seasons. There are flashes of strong play followed by inconsistent play, a sentiment that has plagued the offensive line as a whole.

The biggest factor, however, has been the loss of Linsley.

The veteran center is among the best at his position and has a stellar rapport with Justin Herbert in terms of calling out protections and what the opposing defense is doing.

Losing him for the majority of the season to a non-emergent heart-related issue is beyond anyone's control. Put a simpler way, it's just awful luck.

I get what Dale is asking about offensive line depth, but the Bolts felt good about their backup linemen heading into the season.

Will Clapp is a veteran who has experience and toughness at center. Brenden Jaimes has position flexibility on the interior while the long-term outlook for rookie Jordan McFadden still seems somewhat promising. Foster Sarell is the team's swing tackle and also has starting experience.

No team has a perfect offensive line, but the Chargers starting unit had the potential to be great this season.

It hasn't happened, and the same could be said about other position groups on the roster, too.

There's no easy answer on this one because there are so many factors involved.

To start, the expectation that Herbert can simply lead a game-winning drive every week in bananas. No quarterback, not even Tom Brady, can do that every single time.

The offensive line, which we already dove into, has allowed too much pressure in there situations.

Skill position players coming up short has played a role, too, whether it's a slip in the grass, missed assignment or dropped pass.

I'd also add the Chargers defense into this equation, too. Like multiple players and coaches on that side of the ball have said all season long, and extra stop here or there likely means the Bolts aren't involved in so many one-score games as they have been.

Look, when you're 4-7, it's not just one thing or one person to pin things.

The Chargers four wins this season have largely been the result of complementary football, with all three phases chipping in.

The same can be said about the seven losses, too.

I know it's been a frustrating season. But what's a storyline you're watching in the final six games? (Brian via email)

Personally, I can't wait to see what Khalil Mack shows up down the stretch here.

The 32-year-old Mack is currently tied for the third-most sacks in the league with 13.0, two off the career high he set with the Raiders in 2015.

Mack is also one of 10 players with double-digit sacks this season but is the only one over the age of 30.

He's sitting at 97.5 sacks for his career, meaning each game going forward is a chance for him to get to 100 with the way he's playing.

Mack, who is aging like fine wine, should challenge for the Bolts single-season franchise record of 17.0 sacks over the next six weeks. That mark is shared by Shawne Merriman and Leslie O'Neal.

And, if Mack really heats up, he could become the first player in franchise history to reach 20.0 sacks in a single season.

If Mack can reach that benchmark, he'd become the 13th player to tally at least 20.0 sacks in a single year … and the first to do so over the age of 30.

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