What's Wrong With the San Diego Chargers?

Despite an excellent season from Phillip Rivers, the Chargers are only 2-6.

I encourage you to read this whole article, but I understand we live in a fast-paced world, so maybe you don’t have the time.

As a service to you, I’ll answer the titular question with one sentence:

What’s wrong with the Chargers? Basically, everything that does not involve Philip Rivers.

For everyone still with us, the Chargers are 2-6 and rank 20th in our nERD ratings with a score of -3.01. This means we would expect San Diego to lose by about three to an average opponent on a neutral field.

Only Detroit has a worse winning percentage than San Diego, but as our nERD ratings indicate, they are not the second worst team in the NFL.

They are 23rd in average margin of victory, and all but one of their games have been decided by one score (a 17-point loss to Detroit in Week 3 is the outlier). The Chargers seem like a bad team that has gotten some bad breaks, rather than a downright awful team.

This is probably little consolation to Chargers fans, as we give their team less than a one-percent chance to make the playoffs .

Don’t Blame Philip Rivers

Despite his team’s struggles, Rivers has outplayed most of the quarterbacks in the league.

Rivers has completed 269 of 390 passes for 3,033 yards, 19 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and has gotten sacked 21 times for 139 yards.

He is seventh in the league in both raw net yards per pass (7.04) and adjusted net yards per attempt (7.20) and also acquits himself well in terms of our advanced stats.

Rivers is fifth in the league in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) and is tied for eighth among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs in Passing NEP per drop back. He is also sixth in Success Rate (the percentage of plays that yield positive expected points), meaning Rivers has been one of the league’s most consistent passers.

He has done so despite inconsistent line play, as the Chargers have allowed the third most quarterback hits, per The pressure is not translating to sacks though, as despite ranking so highly in hits, he has only been sacked 12th-most often.

Rivers has not done it all by himself, of course, as his receivers have the second-lowest drop rate in the NFL, according to SportingCharts.

Keenan Allen had been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL before getting placed on injured reserve two weeks ago, as he ranks sixth in Reception NEP and eighth in Target NEP.

Allen was by far Rivers’ most targeted receiver, as his 89 targets are more than Steve Johnson (47) and Malcom Floyd (41) combined.

Floyd has been one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL, ranking fourth in the league in yards per reception (19.5).

Among the 78 receivers with at least 30 targets, Floyd ranks 67th in catch rate (51.2%), but is ninth in Reception NEP per target, a testament to his big play ability.

Ladarius Green is also sixth among tight ends in Target NEP, while Danny Woodhead leads all running backs in the metric.

No Success on the Ground…

The Chargers rank 12th in opponent-adjusted NEP per play, but this is almost all due to Rivers and the passing game.

In terms of our opponent-adjusted metrics, San Diego is seventh in NEP per pass, but 29th in NEP per rush.

Woodhead has done well with his 57 carries, ranking 15th in Rushing NEP per rush among the 48 running backs with at least 50 carries. He is also eighth in Success Rate.

First-round draft pick Melvin Gordon has struggled, though, as the rookie has only gained 413 yards on 113 carries (3.6 yards per carry), and has fumbled four times.

In terms of Rushing NEP, Gordon has been the worst running back in the league, and he is 45th in Rushing NEP per carry and 31st in Success Rate.

...Or on Defense

The problems in San Diego have been confounded by an inability to stop opposing offenses.

The Chargers are 31st in yards allowed per play, 28th in points per game (27.7), and 29th opponent-adjusted NEP per play.

They have essentially been equally bad against both the run and pass, allowing 7.5 net yards per pass (tied for 29th) and 4.9 yards per carry (tied for last).

San Diego is 23rd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, with problems both upfront and in the secondary. According to data from SportingCharts, the Chargers are 28th in pressures per drop back (hurries and sacks per drop back) and 29th in yards per attempt.

They’ve been even worse against the run, ranking 30th in opponent-adjusted NEP per carry.

Finally, to top things off, the Chargers are 30th in special teams NEP.

Like I said at the start, unless Rivers is involved, the Chargers are probably bad at it.