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Chargers Talk: Jeff Miller, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Jeff Miller, the Los Angeles Times' Los Angeles Chargers beat writer, on the Chargers' matchup with the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 4:05 p.m.

Question: The Chargers entered the 2019 season with big expectations, but they are now 4-8 with their playoff hopes essentially eliminated. What's the mindset entering Sunday?

Answer: I think they're really disappointed. This is the opposite of what they figured they would be. Speaking to some of the players Sunday, it's almost like they have kind of resigned themselves to it and they just realize, "This is what we are." It's almost like they've come to accept it and there's no doubt there's a lot of disappointment.

Q: From your view, what went wrong? Injuries?

A: Kind of an overarching thing: They had a lot of injuries and they had [running back] Melvin Gordon holding out to start the season. Once the games started, their offense hasn't been very good and they've had way too many turnovers. They don't generate turnovers and they keep giving the ball away. It's one of those kind of years where they just never sort of came together. It really goes back to training camp starting and Melvin Gordon wasn't there. Then left tackle Russell Okung wasn't there [after an offseason pulmonary embolism]. They started having guys get hurt, then once the season started it mostly has been their offense and turnovers.

Q; The Chargers' stadium situation obviously is unusual. They play in 27,000-seat Dignity Health Sports Park and will move into SoFi Stadium next season as co-tenants with the Rams. Has that situation hurt the team on the field this season?

A: I don't think it has anything to do with what has happened on the field and the results. I know it's not very comfortable for the team or for the players. I'll be doing stories in a few weeks about the last game they're going to play there. I'm sure most of them are going to say what they're supposed to say, but deep down I'm sure they will be glad to be out of there. It's a great venue to watch a game, to be at a game, but they can't draw their own fans there because people are selling their tickets and making money. It's a really awkward thing and I think they will be glad to be out of there, but I don't think it had any great effect on the field this year or last year. They're almost a team that plays a lot of neutral-site games. They don't travel well. They don't have a lot of fans on the road, then a lot of their home games have been dominated by opposing fans. When they're not, it's usually like 50-50 so they haven't had many real home games.

Q: When the Chargers are right offensively, what are they? Is the offense still based on 16-year veteran quarterback Philip Rivers? What does this team do well?

A: They really haven't been able to recapture what they had during stretches last year when they were really good. When it comes down to it, they're like most teams: they need balance. It sounds silly because everybody says it, but these guys are the perfect example of that. Rivers at this point of his career can't go back there and throw 45-to-50 times. It's just not going to work. He's just not that kind of quarterback anymore. He can't win a game by himself anymore. They need to have running, they need to have passing and it needs to work together. Part of the problem this year is they have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams – and that's it for wide receivers; they really don't have anybody else. They have a bunch of weapons with Gordon and Austin Ekeler in the backfield, and Hunter Henry is good tight end. But they still are lacking another dependable wide receiver. They just haven't been able to figure out how to score consistently. They move the ball a lot and gain a lot of yards, but they have not been able to score like they should be able to.

Q: The Chargers were one of the NFL's best defenses last season. Do they still have flashes of that?

A: They're pretty good actually. They have had a couple of off weeks defensively this season. But otherwise, they have played pretty well. They only gave up 218 yards Sunday [in a 23-20 loss to the Denver Broncos]. [Safety] Derwin James hadn't played until Sunday. He's a pretty dynamic playmaker to not have and they're still pretty good. Both [defensive ends] Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have had stretches where they've played like All-Pros. They haven't been consistent all season, but they both have been very good for stretches. Their defense is pretty good. Their problem is they fall behind, the defense tightens up and don't give up anything, but they just can't score enough to get back and win these games.

Q: This isn't a building situation, so with the Chargers at 4-8 what are the last 12 games about for this team?

A: I think the biggest thing is going to be what happens with Rivers and how he plays. I do think it's that significant. Everyone thinks he's going to be back and that he wants to play another season and they would like him to come back. Until the last month or so, it was kind of a foregone conclusion that that's where it was going. He was OK Sunday, but he had back-to-back games [in losses to Oakland and Kansas City] where he was terrible. He really cost them those two games. The biggest thing all of us are going to be watching these last four weeks is that. A lot of times it's, "Let's look at the young guys." It's actually, "Let's look at the old guy and see what he has left." I couldn't even give you odds on how it's going to play out right now. It could go either way. He's a little bit of a different guy. He has no aspirations of playing into his 40s like [New England Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady. He could get to the end of this season, sit down with his family and they might decide, "I'm healthy enough; let me just get out of here." He's so competitive that I don't think he'll do that, but these next four weeks could have a pretty big impact on what he does and what the team does.

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