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Chargers need to create more turnovers in backstretch of season

SAN DIEGO – Players return to Chargers Park on Monday after taking the entire bye week off to rest and rehabilitate from a rough first half of the season.

The first practice for the San Diego Chargers in anticipation for Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be Wednesday.

At 2-7, the Chargers have several things that they need to improve on through the second half of the season. But from watching film and looking at the stats, we’ve identified five things that could help the team, particularly in the critical moments of the game.

Create more turnovers: San Diego’s failure to force turnovers has been an ongoing issue. The Chargers have nine takeaways this year, which is tied for fourth-worst in the league. Since 2013, the Chargers have forced just 44 turnovers, worst in the NFL over that time frame. The Chargers went three straight games without manufacturing a turnover until Jason Verrett’s interception return for a score and a forced fumble by Melvin Ingram against the Chicago Bears. While San Diego’s defense has routinely given up big plays at the end of games and failed to get off of the field on third down, the Chargers also need playmakers to make big plays when the game is on the line. And that includes forcing turnovers to change the momentum of a game.

Use more pistol: Melvin Gordon has 19 rushes from 67 yards from the pistol formation this season. In the pistol, Philip Rivers is still in shotgun, but closer to the line of scrimmage, with the running back lined up directly behind him. The pistol formation creates more balance for a running offense and puts Gordon in a more familiar position as he would be as an I-back, giving him more ability to survey the entire field. As noted here, San Diego can still run all of the base plays of a pro-style offense out of the pistol, and it allows Gordon to get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. The Chargers used the pistol formation more effectively against the Bears, and should lean on the formation more moving forward.

Run more in the fourth quarter: The Chargers have 58 rushes for 171 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, which is tied for No. 23 in the NFL. San Diego has led in the fourth quarter in three of the last five losses. One of the reasons the team has failed to hold onto leads is San Diego’s inability to grind out the clock and churn out first downs. They could do that by relying on the running game more in those situations. However the Chargers choose to do it, they have to do a better job of staying on the field to keep control of the game, and ultimately scoring points to put the game away.

Get more from special teams: While Jacoby Jones was released two weeks ago because of poor play, he pretty much served as the scapegoat for an entire unit that has been a disaster this season. The Chargers have just 1 punt return yard this year. San Diego is No. 25 in kick return average (22 yards per game). Punter Mike Scifres is No. 29 in net punt yards (36 yards per game). The Chargers got rid of Nick Novak because they wanted a stronger leg on kickoffs. And while Josh Lambo has been solid on field goals, he’s 50 percent on touchbacks, which is No. 25 in the NFL. The Chargers have a small margin of error to win games and must get more from this important third phase of the game.

Finish: Again, the Chargers have had leads in the final quarter, and good teams find ways to finish games. Either they score touchdowns in final drives to put the game away, or defensively they get a stop to seal the victory. That includes better in-game decisions by Mike McCoy to put his team in better position to win games. Like Antonio Gates said earlier this year, the Chargers have to find a way to get a win in order to gain confidence and build on that for the rest of the year.