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Chargers talk: Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer


JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer on the Chargers as they enter Sunday's game against the Jaguars at EverBank Field in Jacksonville…

Question: The Chargers are 3-5 coming off their 2017 bye this past week. They have won three of four games after a 0-3 start. How good are they as they head to Jacksonville?

Answer: They're capable, and they're pretty consistent. They have an excellent quarterback in Philip Rivers, who is still really good. Philip can force some things at times and has gone through ups and downs in his career where he has been better or worse, but he keeps you in games. If you look early in the season with the Chargers, they lost at Denver (in the regular-season opener) – but it was a field goal that they made and the Broncos called time out, and they (the Chargers) kicked it again and Denver blocked it. They lost to Miami on a missed field goal. They hang around in games. They're around at the end. They have the pieces in place. They have great pass rushers on the edge. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are two of the best in the league pressuring quarterbacks and hitting quarterbacks. They have capable receivers, Rivers is excellent and Melvin Gordon is a back that has had big games. They can be a dangerous team, but it's going to be tough for them going across the country.

Q: Rivers historically has had great games against the Jaguars. Is it still a case with the Chargers where they always believe they're in games because of him?

A: Yes – and they typically are in games. Around this time of the season they're generally clawing their way out of a hole. The last several years, they dig a hole and they claw their way back to relevance. This team's accustomed to that. This team's younger and there aren't a lot of guys who went through those years. It's basically Rivers and [tight end] Antonio Gates, but they're a team you can't really write off. They're a bit of a zombie team that keeps coming back. When you have a quarterback like Rivers, you're capable of doing that. He can bring you back.

Q: This is the Chargers' first season in Los Angeles after 56 in San Diego. How has the move impacted the team? It is an unusual situation.

A: It has a cumulative effect – the fact that Rivers travels an hour a day to get from his home in North County San Diego to the practice facility, then another hour to get to the stadium … that's going to wear on you after a while. I think it has worn on this team. There's a significant degree of distraction – more, I think, than the Rams moving from St. Louis. This is the closest move proximity-wise, I think, in NFL history. You have an entire fan base that is seething and they don't want anything to do with the Chargers – and they're less than two hours away. There's a lot of negative energy – and in Los Angeles, there's not a lot of interest in the Chargers. They haven't moved the needle. They're playing in a 27,000-seat stadium and more than half the fans there are cheering for the other team. It makes it 16 road games in a season. There might be a little bit of an us-against-the-world novelty to that, but after a while it wears on you. I can't think of a parallel situation to this. L.A. and San Diego are so close proximity-wise, and different and so distinctly separate. You've never had a relocation where teams that moved are trying to lure its old fans. The Chargers came to L.A. without a story. The Rams had a story: "We played here for 50 years, we're paying for the stadium, etc." With the Chargers, the story people heard was, "San Diego wouldn't buy us a stadium, so we're here."

Q: Back to football: Everyone knows about Bosa and Ingram, but how good is the Chargers' defense? Is it just those two guys, or can they do it otherwise?

A: I think they can do it otherwise. The defensive backfield is suspect, but they get it done up front and they have good defensive tackles. I like [defensive end] Chris McCain as a pass rusher, and he's a guy who can create all sorts of problems. He's operating in the shadows of Bosa and Ingram, but he can wreak havoc in the backfield. Their big thing is getting to the quarterback quickly and they tend to do a really good job of that.

Q: What do they do when they play well? What's their formula to win?

A: Don't fall behind, get to the quarterback, play well defensively and create some problems. They have done some nice things on special teams and they have an explosive player in [wide receiver] Travis Benjamin. If they can establish a running game and get the play-action pass going, create some opportunities for the big receivers, then they have a chance. It's tough to play on the road and it's tough for an East Coast team to play on the West Coast, but they have a real experienced quarterback.

Q: Final question: So many obstacles and so much adversity for this team … will they be able to overcome it?

A: I wouldn't expect this team to recover to the point of making the playoffs. There's an outside chance, but it's a way, way outside chance. It's not the core group of Chargers that we saw eight-to-ten years ago with a lot of experienced veterans who lived through these sort-of-digging-out periods. There are a lot of younger players, but they can beat most any NFL team when they're on their game. It's just a little random as to when they're really on their game. But I will say this: Most of their losses have been very close. They hang around and if you give Rivers the ball down by less than a touchdown with a minute left, you could wind up losing.

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