Chargers’ O-line root of loss to Steelers

Neil Hornsby breaks down the issues along the San Diego offensive line, and highlights areas that need improvement moving forward.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Chargers’ O-line root of loss to Steelers

There is obviously more than one reason the Chargers lost Monday night, but for the purposes of this article, let’s stick with the most glaring: the poor play along the offensive line.

First up, the Pittsburgh defensive line was far from “the Steel Curtain.” They have one Pro Bowl type player on the defense—Cameron Heyward (our sixth ranked interior lineman)—and a few other good ones, but that’s not enough to scare anyone with a reasonable front five.

Unfortunately, at the moment, that’s not something the Chargers have. They have a feast of moveable parts (due to injury and poor play), few of whom are playing to an acceptable standard.

The Chargers have excellent weapons across the board; but, if like last night, Philip Rivers doesn’t have the time to use them, they are simply expensive ornaments.

Let’s consider what’s gone wrong, and what the best case scenario in San Diego is moving forward.


Left tackle

When the season started, the Chargers had King Dunlap here. That’s a good enough option when he’s on the field (80.6 season grade), but he’s still in the concussion protocol. For the second straight week, Chris Hairston had to play, and he’s been a penalty machine to date (five), as well as a below-average run and pass blocker. Things changed again when he was forced to leave after 17 snaps, forcing the one good player available, Joe Barksdale, to come across from right tackle.


Left guard

The Chargers spent big in free agency to sign one of the premier players available, Orlando Franklin, from division-rival Denver. He was having significant issues with pass protection (not completely surprising for a player moving to a new team) before he went out with ankle problems. This brought un-drafted free agent Kenny Wiggins to the role, and he has had real problems as a run blocker.



A lot went pear-shaped when new starter Chris Watt crashed and burned in the first three games. When he was injured early in Week 3, he was ranked 30th at the position, although he was improving slightly. Trevor Robinson, an ex-Bengal for a reason, took over, and has struggled even more than he had previously in Cincinnati. Two sacks and seven hurries are a lot for a center in 210 snaps, but couple that with a poor run blocking grade, and this position has been (and remains) a huge issue.


Right guard

When you draft an offensive lineman 11th overall, as the Chargers did with D.J. Fluker, you need him to be a superstar at a key position (tackle or center), not a borderline starter at guard. So far, his grade of 66.3 sees him as our 39th ranked guard, which is a long way short of fair return. As you may expect for such a mountain of a man, his run blocking is in better shape than his pass protection, but when even that is barely average, it shows the depth of the problem.


Right tackle

As mentioned above, Joe Barksdale is a good—and somewhat underrated—player. He’s performed well in earlier seasons in St. Louis before a bad late-season slump in 2014 saw him available to the Chargers. His 80.3 overall grade is only a hair behind Dunlap, and if they get both playing together, it does give them a solid set of bookends.

If everyone is healthy and Orlando Franklin finds his feet, this could turn into a better-than-average unit. They have two good tackles, a high quality left guard in Franklin, and an average (although hugely overvalued) one in Fluker. The major problem is at center. Neither Watt nor Robinson seem to be the answer, and the play of J.D. Walton in New York suggests he’s not it either.

Unless something dramatically changes soon, expect the Chargers to address the position with vigor in the postseason.

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • Chris

    Fluker injured his ankle in week 1 and has been playing injured ever since (because quite frankly, there’s nobody else to play). When healthy, he should be an above average RG. The rest is accurate.

    • sjt2115

      When “healthy”. So then… never. This O-line has an injury curse on it or something. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost players to spontaneous combustion, or maybe stigmata.

      • Malachi

        a curse or their strength and conditioning staff needs to be reexamined, but yea curses are more real than science

        • otaybob

          Yeah, when they CAN’T push the defense off the line of scrimmage, that is either strength and conditioning, or the O line coaches fault. (or both)

        • sjt2115

          Ya, I’m sure it’s the strength coach’s fault that Dunlap has had 3+ concussions in under 3 years. A few more leg raises probably would have prevented that. And what’s the exercise you can do to not get hurt when hundreds of pounds of human being rolls up on your leg in the middle of a football play? Maybe they should try that. Science!

          • Malachi

            As if Dunlap is the only injury, and chargers have been consistently one of the most injured teams for the last 4 years based on games missed by starters. Math!

  • machomaas

    Really was painful watching Robinson get stood up play after play after play. Just completely outmatched. On the other hand it was really awesome watching Rivers make adjustments at the line. In the 4th quarter the offense was really running through him.

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  • LT4life

    Let’s look ahead to next week.
    An immobile QB behind a garbage oline going up against a defense that’s been improving their pass rush/speed since Kaep ran for 200 yards on ’em… ugh!

  • Backinmd

    Hope Seattle watched the Steeler’s game — Last play reminded me of the Super Bowl..When it’s 1st and goal and your on the one,one,one , you run, run,run for the winning touchdown ..Bell had a tremendous game …

  • Backinmd

    Hope Seattle watched the Steeler’s game — Last play reminded me of the Super Bowl..When it’s 1st and goal and your on the one,one,one , you run, run,run for the winning touchdown ..Bell had a tremendous game …

  • John Vu

    Give Chris Watt time, this is his first full year starting at Center. The Chargers will be fine when the starting lineman come back. They’ll play up to their potential. The problem is will they be out of the playoff hunt by then though? Luckily, KC lost their starting running back for the season, Oakland still isn’t that good, and Denver is about to have a quarterback controversy because it’s over for Manning. The season isn’t over yet for the Chargers.