In the lead-up to the New England Patriots' week 14 match-up against the San Diego Chargers, I asked John Gennaro of Bolts from the Blue five questions as it relates to the Sunday Night Football match-up.
Knopping: Correct me if I'm wrong, but this Chargers team has seemed inconsistent in 2014. One week, they're knocking off the defending champs, and a few weeks later suffering an embarrassing 37-0 loss at the hands of the Dolphins. What has been the reason for this inconsistency?
Gennaro: Injuries, mostly. I believe they're on their fifth starting center, and a handful of important starts (Ryan Mathews, Manti Te'o, Melvin Ingram) missed more than a month in the middle of the season. They have mostly mended (although rookie stud CB Jason Verrett will miss the rest of the season), which is why the team has started piling up the wins again.
Knopping: Where do you have Philip Rivers ranked among the NFL's best quarterbacks? What makes him great in your opinion? Despite his resurgence over the last two years, it seems like most rank him behind Brady/Manning/Rodgers/Brees. Do you agree with that?
Gennaro: Yes and no. I'd put him with Brees/Romo/Luck in a second tier behind Brady/Manning/Rodgers. Rivers might be the most accurate passer in the entire league (which seems weird when you consider his throwing motion), but he makes bad decisions that result in turnovers too often to be one of the league's 3 best QBs.
Knopping: The Chargers offensive line appears to have taken a step back in 2014. They've had some injuries on the interior, but PFF has them ranked near the bottom of the league in both pass protection and run blocking. Is this a fair assessment? Is there a particular weak spot?
Gennaro: Completely fair. This group greatly overachieved in 2013 and is underachieving in 2014. The particular weak spot is everywhere. Throw your speed-rushers at RT D.J. Fluker for an easy sack. Throw your d-linemen at and of the three interior linemen to shut down the running game. Maybe avoid King Dunlap at LT, but that's it.
Knopping: What is the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of the San Diego defense?
Gennaro: The biggest weakness is the secondary (except for Brandon Flowers, who is a demon). The Patriots game plan should be to throw-throw-throw-throw and then throw some more at anyone and everyone in the Chargers secondary (not named Brandon Flowers, because he's a demon).
The biggest strength of the defense is Brandon Flowers, who is a demon. He is playing at Revis-in-his-prime levels when he's healthy. He is a true shutdown cornerback. Also, the pass rush has potential to be great every week but rarely is, so they might be...but they probably won't be.
Knopping: San Diego was competitive in the Divisional Playoffs a year ago against Denver, and nearly pulled off an improbably comeback. When all is said and done, how far do you think this team can go in 2014?
Gennaro: That game was IN Denver too. Denver's homefield advantage, where the home team can actually breathe oxygen better than the road team, is the best in football. At least, that's my opinion.
I think this year's Chargers team can go about as far as last year's. They'll need more than 9 wins to get into the playoffs this year, but I think they'll make it in. I'm even thinking they can win a Wild Card game (especially if they get to play the Bengals again). However, I don't see them being about to win a playoff game in Denver or in New England.