Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/19/12
Before Week 15, there were 8 victims of the NFL grind, and with arguable exceptions, they were all declared 'dead men walking' quite some time ago.After Week 15's slate of games, there would be another quartet of lifeless masses heaped upon the Football Nation Morgue, all with just a smidgen more optimism than that original group of tagged-and-bagged cases.As these final weeks play out, the air of frustration surrounding the final batch of departed souls will be thick enough to cut with a Ginsu knife, as that group will have collapsed at a critical pass. Quite a stark contrast to the first few to get wheeled in here.As for this week's collection of cadavers, they fell somewhere in the middle: optimistic at times, but never with blinders.And speaking of blind, maybe a few of em checked off the 'eyes' box on their organ donor cards....Subject: San Diego ChargersDate of Death: December 16, 2012Record at Time of Death: 5-9Contributing Factors to Death:1. Trouble RunningOver the past decade, the Chargers have had an in-flux backfield that boasted a who's who of superstars.From Darren Sproles to Mike Tolbert, Michael Turner to future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, there's no doubt Philip Rivers (and at one time, Drew Brees) had a plethora of attractive weapons at their disposal.What happened?All four backs left the Chargers without San Diego getting anything in return (LT was outright released), and the dice has seen been rolled with 2010 first-rounder Ryan Mathews.The Chargers have the sixth-worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging just 93.1 yards a game.Part of that is on the offensive line, who's been plagued with injuries and general ineptitude throughout the season. Another big part of the problem has been Ryan Mathews, averaging a career 3.8 YPC, with only one TD. He averages 58.9 YPG.Mathews battled injuries himself through the year, and a case of fumblitis even saw him benched in favor of Jackie Battle, an extreme emergency option in Kansas City a year ago.2. Rivers Under AttackThat same offensive line that has been a malfunction in the running junction has also been a pain in the neck of Philip Rivers, perhaps literally.The best example of the breaches in security Rivers has had to deal with can be seen in Week 5, when the Saints scored their first victory of the season. A hobbled Jared Gaither, San Diego's left tackle, was badly beaten by New Orleans' Martez Wilson, who strip-sacked Rivers and ended the game.Gaither was so badly limping (it was later revealed to be a groin injury) that Cris Collinsworth virtually called the forthcoming sack before the ball was even snapped.Rivers has been sacked 43 times in 4 games, the second highest total in the league behind Aaron Rodgers (45). Difference is, Rodgers is noted for his snap release, and has a cast of characters around him that has rotated less than what Rivers deals with.Other than Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, and maybe the emerging Danario Alexander, there isn't a whole lot of reliability around him.And how's this for eye-opening: from 2008-2010, Rivers led the NFL in yards-per-pass attempt in those 3 straight years (8.4, 8.8, and 8.7 YPA respectively).In 2012, his total has dropped to 6.7 YPA. He also has 3290 yards, meaning he'll probably miss throwing 4000 yards for the first time since 2007.3. Give Up the Big PlaysThe Chargers defense has proven skilled at stopping the run (3.84 YPA, fifth best in the league), but other areas of their D have helped contribute to their ruin.Great as their run defense is, they can't make the stops when they matter. San Diego has the fourth worst defensive third down percentage, a 42.6 make-rate. 80 of 188 attempts have been made by opponents on third down.The Chargers are tied for the seventh worst amount of sacks in the NFL with 27 as a team. Those third-and-long situations are much more makeable when your quarterback has more time to throw.It's not as if the Chargers are a bottom-of-the-barrel team that gets crushed week to week. Six of their nine losses are by 10 points or less, and they even beat the Steelers in a meaningful game.It's just when it's time to come up with a stop, the defense simply can't do it.(For all previously written autopsies, including the Eagles, Browns, Bills, and others, click here)
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