With defense playing well, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers knows the offense needs to pick up its game

You’re more likely to see Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers toss four interceptions than a four-letter word, his preferred cussing substitute being, “Shoot.”

That the defense kept the Chargers in the game despite his poor performance in the first half last Sunday? “Shoot,” Rivers said. That the team has 13 more chances to get things right? “Shoot,” Rivers said.

That the team is 0-3 and still looking for a win? “Shoot.”

In his weekly briefing with the media Wednesday at the Chargers’ facility in Costa Mesa, Rivers talked about something that might deserve a less G-rated turn of phrase.

Through three games, his team is averaging 16 points, better only than Chicago, Carolina, the New York Giants, Cincinnati and Miami.

“I have to believe, and history would say I should believe, that if we keep holding teams to 20, right in there, we’re going to win a bunch of games,” Rivers said. “You look at the last 180 [games], we’ve scored over 20 in a lot of them. So if they keep them there, we’re bound to win. Hopefully, that starts here on Sunday.”

Well, shoot, that sounds like a challenge — so here’s how things shook out when the Chargers have scored fewer than 20 points.

It’s happened 63 times in the 184 regular-season games in which Rivers has appeared. It’s occurred four more times in his nine playoff games.

The team’s record when they’ve scored 20 points or fewer is a miserable 9-58.

If you lower the threshold, the Chargers are just 3-33 when they score 16 or fewer.

Holy shoot that’s bad!

When talking to players about why this offense is still spinning its tires, especially after a dominant preseason, a lack of rhythm is often fingered as a culprit.

“We’re not clicking,” running back Melvin Gordon said.

To hear starting guard Kenny Wiggins describe it, the right kind of offensive rhythm starts with a healthy dose of Gordon, and the team being able to work from there.

“It’s total balance — being able to run, being able to protect, play-action [passes]. That’s what we all want,” Wiggins said. “It’s not to just let the defense pin their ears back and rush us like pass rushers every play. It’s kind of like that. We want to keep them on their toes.

“If we could run the ball every play, we’d run the ball every play. But, we know that’s not going to happen. Defenses don’t allow it. The best rhythm is getting a good mixture of everything.”

The problem, in the broadest sense, is that the offense hasn’t been good enough at enough things for long enough to find a rhythm. The running game will look good, as it did in the first half last Sunday against Kansas City, but Rivers will turn the ball over. Rivers will be sharp, as he was in Week 2 against Miami, but the ground game will be a non-factor.

The Chargers’ average drive is lasting 5.8 plays and 33 yards. The team has had a third of its drives move fewer than 20 yards.

And shoot, that’s not good enough.

But Rivers, Wiggins and the rest of the Chargers have seen enough signs in film work to say the numbers aren’t truly representative. They’ve seen plays where, Wiggins said, they are a shoestring tackle away from a huge game. A better throw here, a better block there and the Chargers are the kind of offense that’s capable of much more than 16 points per game.

“Let’s just win a game. Let’s just win a football game — and then I think we have the capability to go on a run. We’ve got to win one first. The way we lost the first two, and then last week, it can cause you to go, ‘Shoot, are we ever going to win one?’ ” Rivers said. “It seems like in years past … we’ve played our best when we’re a little bit backs against the wall, and a little bit nothing to lose. And I don’t mean that we have nothing to lose, but just play a little bit — not reckless — but just go play. Don’t worry about the 0-3. Don’t worry about the percentages of teams that bounce back. Don’t worry about the other teams in the division.

“Just go play. Find a way to win a game. And hopefully, we can kick-start a run.”

Lock down

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and Rivers both said they’re unsure if players will continue to lock arms during the playing of the national anthem.

“Just the fact that we're still talking about this really gives those divisive remarks legs, power," Lynn said. "I just choose to move on."

Rivers, who didn’t want to specifically comment on President Trump’s comments on players protesting police brutality and racial inequalities, said the arm-locking gesture was a sign of togetherness.

“At least from my point of view, it was showing love for your neighbor and love of your country,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what wins out. Love will win when it’s all said and done. So I think that was the best way, as a team, we could show that.”

Etc.

Gordon, who was slowed last week with left knee soreness, was absent from Wednesday’s practice as expected. Starting right tackle Joe Barksdale (foot), wide receiver Mike Williams (back) and linebacker Hayes Pullard (knee) were all limited. … Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said wide receiver Keenan Allen’s recovery from season-ending knee surgery a year ago has progressed quickly since he got back on the field. “He’s looked better and better every week. He’s an explosive player who’s made some big plays. It’s nice to see him playing that way.” … The team added defensive end Whitney Richardson back to their practice squad after waiving him two weeks ago.

dan.woike@latimes.com

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports

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