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Mailbag: Replacing Verrett, Red Zone Struggles and Raiders Week

*Q:  Jason Verrett, too now? Who is going to take his spot out there? This is unbelievable. Unbelievable! – Brandon Gattatonio *

A: Another tough blow for the Bolts, and I understand your frustration.  It’s the same one we all are feeling seeing another heart and soul member of the team lost for the year.  Still, the only thing the team can do now is rally around Jason and step up in his place.  Just like with Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead who also suffered ACL injuries, there is no other Jason Verrett.  It will have to be a collective effort, but the individual who is now thrust into the spotlight is Craig Mager.  The former third round pick out of Texas State who is fresh off his first career interception,  will have more put on his plate over the next 12 games.  Still, it is unfair to expect him to be able to replace the Pro Bowler on his own, so the onus is on the entire defense.

Q:  My pops and I were chatting. He says we have terrible timing to have the Raiders and Broncos AFC West rivalry games come back to back with little rest at an important time in the season. I like having these AFC West rivalry games coming now back to back. Who are you agreeing with here, Ricky? – Craig Monya

A: I personally agree with you, Craig.  I think having two AFC West rivals come up in a shortened span helps put a bitter loss in the review mirror because it requires laser focus.  Still, while aware the Broncos are on the horizon next Thursday, the team can’t even think about Week 6 until after the final game clock strikes zeros this Sunday.  Now, I actually posed your question about the schedule to some of the guys in the locker room and guess who most agreed with? Neither of you! The majority said it doesn’t matter who is on the schedule.  They have no say in the hand they are dealt, and vowed they’d have the same focus no matter who was on the docket this week.  That being said, they did agree that AFC West games are the most important, so from that point of view, this week does take on extra meaning.

Q:  How are we faring in the red zone compared with the rest of the teams because I feel like we are in there a lot but not getting too many touchdowns?– Calvin Czynko

A: You are right.  The Chargers have entered the red zone 18 times, which is tied for third most in the NFL. However, they rank 23rd in red zone touchdown efficiency, finding pay dirt 50% of the time with nine scores inside the 20.  Six of those came on Melvin Gordon touchdowns as the running back leads the NFL in rushing scores. Still this is an area the team knows it must improve. Even just one or two more TDs inside the red zone instead of settling for three could have swung the Chargers record over the first quarter of the season.

Q:  When was the last time the Chargers returned a punt return or kickoff for a score and what do they need to do to improve in special teams play? Thank you.– Willie Silva

A: The last time actually came by the same player in back to back weeks in 2012.  Michael Spurluck had a 63-yard punt return for a score against the Jets in Week 16 that year, and followed it up with a 99-yard kickoff return one week later vs. the Raiders. As far as this year goes, it’s no secret the Chargers aren’t happy with their production so far on special teams.  Head Coach Mike McCoy pointed toward a poor decision by Dexter McCluster to bring a ball out from deep in the end zone to begin the second half last week a momentum killer.  He is also disappointed in the punt return game, noting Travis Benjamin must catch more balls rather than let them hit the turf.  McCoy pointed out a need to block better for him as well.  McCluster and Benjamin are both proven talents as returners, but better decision making is required.   

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