Answers by Bolts from the Blue lead author John Gennaro.
1. The Chargers were once 5-7 with slim hopes for the playoffs, what changed for this team?
On offense, King Dunlap finally got healthy after an early-season concussion and a pretty serious neck-strain in the loss to the Broncos. The Chargers don't really have a left tackle to back him up, so his absence screwed up the entire offensive line by shifting D.J. Fluker over to LT, and Jeromey Clary from RG to RT. In addition, LG Chad Rinehart has returned from injury in December and seems to be getting better every game.
On defense, Melvin Ingram returned from a torn ACL injury that occurred in May. The team is 5-0 since his return, and he's greatly improved the consistency of the Chargers pass rush, which has allowed Defensive Coordinator John Pagano to get creative with his schemes and offer more help to the secondary. Most notably, Darrell Stuckey (formerly a special teams player only) and Jahleel Addae (undrafted rookie) have been playing a lot of Cover-2, while Eric Weddle has been running around the field playing a "Joker" position that looks straight out of Dick LeBeau's playbook and Marcus Gilchrist has moved back to nickel CB to replace Derek Cox (who was benched due to being terrible).
The win in Denver on Thursday night was the first game where we saw how effective Pagano can be when he doesn't have to worry about trying to create pressure with his inside linebackers. Now he can use them to take away short passes, and can have his cornerbacks play close to the line of scrimmage with deep help from the safeties. It's amazing to see it, because it usually isn't the case, but Ingram has completely changed the way that this defense operates and the results are staggering.
2. What is the biggest change between a Mike McCoy and Norv Turner in terms of how they run the team?
I think the most drastic change has just been the attitude. Norv Turner would've never let someone else call the plays, and would've never taken input on the offense. It was his and it worked. If it didn't work, it was because the players weren't good enough to run it properly. If the defense didn't play well, it was because of the players or the defensive coordinator (Norv went through 4 defensive coordinators in 6 years).
With McCoy, I think there's more of an emphasis on execution rather than talent. The belief system seems very close to "Next man up". The belief is that the team can be just as good with the backup running back, backup wide receiver, backup offensive line, as long as the players on the field execute the plays properly. It's not about skill as much as it's about eliminating mistakes, like turnovers and penalties. This all makes sense, because McCoy has Ken Whisenhunt running the offense and calling the plays. That leaves McCoy to worry about "the little things" while everyone else worries about the plays that are being run and the talent on the field.
The end result is a team that doesn't kill itself with bad penalties or stupid turnovers. It's a team that is in every single game they play in, and one that doesn't slow down when someone gets injured. It's really a breath of fresh air after Norv's system.
3. The San Diego defense has steadily improved over the season, which players have stood out?
Outside of Melvin Ingram, who I mentioned above, and the usual cast of characters (Eric Weddle, Donald Butler), undrafted rookie Jahleel Addae has been a great surprise. Rarely does he make a mistake in coverage, and his hits over the middle have started to get a reputation. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Manning avoiding those short underneath routes to Wes Welker when he sees Addae hovering close be. Any time a single player can take away part of the field that way, good things are bound to happen.
4. What are your predictions for this game?
It's a game between division rivals, so it's bound to be a close one that comes down to a penalty, or who has the ball last. I'm allowing myself to get excited about what is happening with the Chargers right now, but I am constantly reminding myself that the Broncos are one of the two best teams in the league this season and will be tough to beat.
I predict Overtime, and a game-winning touchdown for whichever team gets the ball first.
5. What is up with that bolo tie?
Well, first you have to understand Philip Rivers. Rivers is an Alabama boy, and he loves country music, God and pick-up trucks, just like everyone else in that state. Also popular in the deep south? Bolo ties, which are regularly worn in place of regular ties.
Apparently, Commissioner Roger Goodell recently put in place a rule that players have to wear a suit and tie when traveling to or from a game. Rivers and Charlie Whitehurst, who is from Georgia and loves him some cowboy boots, figured that the game in Denver would be a good time to have some fun with that rule, so Rivers sported the bolo tie. It all took off when he was invited by NFL Network to their post game set, and since then it's been a bit of a joke, or a good luck charm, or just something to keep the guys loose.
Fans have come up with phrases like "Bolo Up" (instead of the often used, and terrible, team slogan of "Bolt Up") and "Bolo Knows" (because we could all use a reminder that Bo Jackson exists), and apparently they've gotten in the habit of wearing bolo ties and making bolo ties to give to Rivers to wear. At this point, I think everyone is just having fun with it because it's ridiculous and harmless. Also, Chargers fans are somewhat relieved that Rivers is finally getting attention for something besides being "whiny" during games.
Big thanks again to Bolts from the Blue for taking the time to answer these questions!