THE CHARGERS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: After a couple of sub-par seasons, Philip Rivers has re-emerged in 2013 as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. After posting a passer rating under 90 each of the last two seasons, Rivers is at a robust 105.9 this season. He also has completed 71.6 percent of his passes, putting him on pace to break the NFL record of 71.23 set by Drew Brees — who Rivers backed up in San Diego at the start of his career — in 2011. Rivers, mind you, has accomplished this despite being without the team’s two best wide receivers, Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd, both of whom are on injured reserve. Tight end Antonio Gates and former New England running back Danny Woodhead are Rivers’ favorite targets.
THE CHARGERS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: Yet another factor making Rivers’ performance this season impressive is a shaky offensive line. The addition of first-round pick D.J. Fluker has helped, but the Chargers still have their problems up front. Rivers has been sacked only 16 times this season, but that speaks more to his ability to get rid of the ball quickly than of great pass protection. The Chargers have had their issues in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Their touchdown percentage of 52.9 in goal-to-go situations is among the worst in the league and the most glaring failure came at Washington two Sundays ago when San Diego had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line but ended settling for a late game-tying field goal in a game they lost in overtime.
THE CHARGERS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: It’s almost impossible to come up with anything that qualifies as a strength on this Chargers defense because San Diego ranks near the bottom of the league in practically every significant statistical category. The Chargers did have a couple of good outings, beating Indianapolis 19-9 and Jacksonville 24-6 in consecutive games, but no player on their defense has more than one interception or more than three sacks.
THE CHARGERS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: The Chargers have struggled against the run (allowing opponents 4.8 yards per carry), but they’ve really had problems against the pass. San Diego is ranked 28th in passing yards allowed per game and last in passing yards allowed per play. Opposing quarterbacks have compiled a 104.4 passer rating against the Chargers, who benched starting cornerback Derek Cox for a few series after he was victimized on a long touchdown pass against Denver on Sunday. Veteran linebacker Dwight Freeney was brought in to help the pass rush, but he sustained a season-ending quadriceps injury in a victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4. Now, the Chargers find themselves without an elite pass rusher.
THE CHARGERS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: With Mike Scifres and Nick Novak, the Chargers have a very good punter-kicker combination. Novak has made 17 of 20 field goal attempts this season, including a perfect 7-for-7 mark on attempts from 40 yards or beyond. Scifres has been San Diego’s punter since 2004. His current gross average of 44.0 is on track to be his lowest since 2006, but his net average of 41.4 is the second-best in the AFC behind the 42.6 mark of Dolphins punter
THE CHARGERS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: The Chargers had a dangerous kick returner last season with Micheal Spurlock, but he’s now with the Detroit Lions and San Diego has not been able to adequately replace him. The team’s longest punt return was a 21-yarder by rookie third-round pick Keenan Allen and the longest kickoff return was 42 yards by since-gone Fozzy Whittaker. The Chargers haven’t given up a kickoff return longer than 46 yards this season, but they are ranked only 26th in the league in kickoff return average allowed.