Bolts Report Card: Week 9

The Chargers are disappointed with their 3-5 start to the season, yet remain in strong position in the sub-par AFC West. hands out the midseason grades for a team that has endured more downs than ups during the first eight games.

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Philip Rivers continues to prove he deserves to be mentioned among the NFL's top quarterbacks. He finished the first half as the NFL's top-rated passer, and he leads the league in touchdown passes. He has been prone to turnovers at critical junctures the past two games, but that doesn't overshadow how well he is playing. The pass-blocking has been good this season, and that has allowed Rivers to spread the ball around to the numerous targets at his disposal: Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Gates is getting healthy, and the same goes for Chambers. Jackson continues to blossom, and Floyd took advantage of his playing time when subbing for Chambers. Not much wrong here.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- LaDainian Tomlinson, the key to the Chargers offense, has had a slow start. He has fewer rushing yards through eight games than at any time during his Hall of Fame career. The run-blocking has been spotty, but it has come on of late as the first-string unit is starting to round into shape after various injuries. Darren Sproles remains a capable option on third downs and on gadget plays, but he's not quite built to carry a heavy load of the rushing attack. Tomlinson is feeling chipper and again making moves that have put him among the all-time greats at his position.

LB Stephen Cooper
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty

PASS DEFENSE: F -- Terrible -- no other way to spin it. With the pass rush a thing of the past with Shawne Merriman out for the year, opposing quarterbacks have carved up the Chargers and plopped them in dead last in stopping the pass. The hope is new defensive coordinator Ron Rivera will call more blitzes and be more aggressive -- whether he has the personnel to pull it off remains to be seen. OLB Shaun Phillips (3 1/2 sacks this year) isn't nearly the same player without Merriman on the opposite side. And CB Antonio Cromartie, so far, has talked a good game but been unable to back it up. The play at safety with Clinton Hart and Eric Weddle has also been subpar -- tackling here, as with the linebackers, has been a big issue.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Nothing special, and that's not how the Chargers run defense is usually described. The good news is DT Jamal Williams is moving better after two knee surgeries, and that allows him to gobble up two blockers while the linebackers swoop in for the tackles. But the inside linebackers' play has been inconsistent -- Matt Wilhelm lost his job to Tim Dobbins, and Stephen Cooper missed four games with a suspension. Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo, the defensive ends, have been non-factors this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Sproles continues to be among the most dangerous return men in the NFL. P Mike Scifres is among the league leaders in key categories. The coverages? No complaints, as this unit, led by two-time special teams Pro Bowler Kassim Osgood, has been keen since opening day. K Nate Kaeding is having another solid year and has added distance to his kickoffs. Special teams coach Steve Crosby deserves to take a bow.

COACHING: F -- Norv Turner has been given the keys to this Ferrari, and it is running along like an old VW. To be fair, the offense he directs is humming just fine. But as the head coach, he allowed the defense to become passive and meek, and that has been the team's biggest problem. The Chargers blew out defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell at midseason -- that tells you all you need to know about how badly it was playing. Turner also must prove the players will keep buying into his mantra that it's how you are playing at the end of the year instead of at the middle of it. That's true, but Turner has to be careful his disappointed players don't start tuning out his message. He is helped by showing them the standings, which reveal that despite their shoddy play, they are but one game off the AFC West lead.

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