Sunday, December 27, 2009

Championship Form

Another week and another huge performance for the San Diego Chargers. In dominating the Titans, the Chargers showed they are ready for the playoffs. The worst part about earning the first round bye and earning it early is that the team has to wait three weeks to play their next real game. Coaching decisions become crucial in drawing the fine line between resting players and keeping that edge for the first playoff game.

Who do you play against the Redskins? How hard do you practice?

As for Friday's game, Vince Young seemed to single-handedly give the game up for the Titans. His interception and fumble in the first half were the decisive factors in building the Chargers' lead. Chris Johnson was running on the Chargers as well as he has on everyone else. Young was asked to complete a few strategic passes and simply was not up to the task. He scramble and find the one open receiver. He can run for the first down. Ask him to stay in the pocket, survey the defense and make the right decision? He's not there yet.

Shaun Phillips made a huge play to strip the ball from Young in the second quarter. Young has always carried the ball a bit loosely, going back to his Texas days. Phillips is the best in the league at swiping that ball away. Crucial little talents like this usually end up making the difference in the playoffs. Let's hope so.

The Chargers were able to run the ball somewhat effectively. LT and the line, while not dominating, are getting into some kind of sync. There are holes opening up. Nick Hardwick looked like he hasn't missed a beat in his 12 game absence. The pass blocking--especially picking up the blitz--looks like some of the best in the league. Rivers has time.

He's using that time as well as any quarterback in the league. The national media has noticed how incredibly difficult it is to defend the Chargers. The receivers, the scheme and the play calling are all just too good for most defenses to handle.

On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive backs are turning out to be a strength of this team. This is huge because, as everyone knows, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Indianapolis. Eric Weddle is just a smart player who makes great reads and puts himself in the right spot on both run and pass plays. Kevin Ellison and Paul Oliver have improved each week sharing the other safety spot. Ellison may end up being San Diego's next Rodney Harrison in couple years. The corner play has been absolutely solid.

Watching today's scores, it looks like someone else may be "peaking at the right time": New England. They came out and just destroyed Jacksonville. While Indianapolis may not want to see the Chargers, does San Diego want to see New England come to town? That may just bring back some bad memories. However, what could be sweeter that beating the Patriots and the Colts on the way to the Super Bowl?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Another Huge Game: Chargers vs. Titans

The Chargers will battle to control their destiny in attaining a first round bye as they head to Memphis to face the infamous Titans tomorrow. As everyone knows, both teams are "red hot" and motivated to win this game. Many of the NFL experts are picking Tenessee to win and be the current 7-7 team to separate from the pack and make the playoffs. Vegas has the Titans favored by three.

So despite all the recent success, the Chargers are once again the underdog. Hopefully the lack of respect is motivating them on this short week of practice and game planning late in the season. This game will be close and may come down to who wants it more as both teams (all teams) are banged up at this point in the season.

The biggest injury of the game is linebacker Keith Bullock, who is out for the season after last week. He is the Titans' leading tackler and just an absolute beast in the middle of the field. Outside linebacker David Thorton is also out. Two rookies will make their first NFL starts in their stead.

Strangely, the Chargers' running game will actually be a big factor in this game. With these important defensive players out for the Titans, San Diego should try to control the game more than they have in the past, keeping the amazing Chris Johnson off the field. Eating clock time may be the only way to keep Johnson from having a huge game.

The passing game should work as well for San Diego. The Titans have been getting burned all year, but playing in the cold on their home turf should make them tougher to throw on than the Chargers might guess.

On defense, San Diego needs to focus (as every other team has tried) all its energies on stopping Chris Johnson. While San Diego's run defense has not been great this year, its athletic linebackers and DB's should have a better chance than most teams of cutting off the field and limiting big plays. The Chargers are more vulnerable to power running games than speedy ones.

Shawne Merriman, while not coming up with many tackles or any sacks lately, has actually become a more and more disruptive force each week, cutting off the outside on sweeps and pushing offensive linemen into the face of the quarterback. He is motivated by the dirty play of the Titans that blew out his knee two years ago and should have a big game.

Vince Young has shown steady improvement this year, but he's still no Dan Marino. The Chargers need to limit his scrambling and rushing ability, but Young is not good enough yet to beat them with a precision passing game. Even in last week's big win against Miami, Young only completed 50% of his passes.

If the Chargers have had enough time to prepare well and recover from last week's game they should win this one. If they do, they will REALLY get the attention of the national media going into the playoffs.

Chargers 31, Titans 24

Monday, December 21, 2009

Championship Performance

The Chargers met an emotional Bengals team yesterday that mirrored San Diego in many ways: its opportunism, refusal to give up and solid play from big-name and no-name players. San Diego displayed its supreme confidence and force of will that had commentators Jim Nance and Phil Sims talking about that "special energy" that propels a team to the Super Bowl. You couldn't help but notice it in the inspired play of the Steelers at the end of the season and in the playoffs last year. The Chargers have that magic.

While the Chargers were the superior team, the game was close for a few reasons. Carson Palmer played his best game, making some brilliant throws under pressure. His receivers backed him up with stellar catches in traffic and on the sidelines.

The crucial play that kept the game from getting away from the Bengals was the tipped pass by Antonia Gates that turned into an interception, leading to a Bengal score. At 24-13 in the third quarter before that interception. If the Chargers continue down the field and score, the game is out of reach. However, like the Chargers, the Bengals were determined at able to capitalize on that mistake.

In the Bengals final drive of the game that led to the field goal that tied the game, Ron Rivera became extra conservative, fearing a long pass to Ochocinco for a touchdown. The absolute lack of pressure on Palmer allowed the Bengals to easily move down the field for the go ahead score.

Malcolm Floyd deserves special recognition for getting smacked in the grill on the first drive of the game, then coming back to make the crucial catch that set up Kaeding for the game winning score.

Rivers, despite one big mistake, was again brilliant. The combination of Rivers' field sense, Norv's play calling scheme, and the athleticism of the Chargers' tall receivers is unbeatable right now.

I know the Union Tribune folks are worried about the Titans this Friday, as the they should be, however, I think perhaps the Titans should be more worried about the Chargers. It's official, the Chargers have the best shot at the Super Bowl they've had since '94 when they actually went.

Great game.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chargers vs. Bengals

If the Chargers don't experience a let down this week, they should beat the Cincinatti Bengals at home. The Bengals pose some unique challenges for San Diego, with a strong running game and defense, but once again it's hard to see how the Cincinatti defense can contend with all the Chargers' weapons.

Cincinatti has two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. They may be able to take away the outside passing game and the deep game. This will actually be an interesting challenge for the Chargers' huge wide receivers: How do they match-up against two fast, capable corners? Will they be able use their height advantage against these guys?

Even if the Bengals are able to shut down Jackson and Floyd, it's unclear how they're going to cover Antonio Gates. Against other opponents, Cincinatti attempted to cover the tight end or slot receiver with linebacker Ray Maualuga. While he's a strong run defender (I wish the Chargers would have drafted him) who is a big part of the Bengals' success this season, he's just not fast enough to keep up with Gates, Naanee, and Sproles. Look for one or all three of these guys to have big days catching passes across the middle and out of the backfield.

On the other side of the ball, the Bengals have shown a bruising running game with Cedric Benson and not much passing. They haven't scored a lot of points this season, but have played great defense and controlled the clock on offense. I don't think that formula will work today. With Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, some think the Bengals should be able to explode at any time, but it just hasn't happened this year and it's unlikely to change this late in the season. Some have theorized that Carson Palmer's arm isn't healthy, others that the offensive line, while strong in the running game, can't pass block well. Whatever the cause, the Bengals will have trouble keeping up with the Chargers in scoring today.

The X factor today will be the Bengals' emotional state with the loss of Chris Henry. Will they step up, playing the best game of their season, shutting down the Chargers? I think they will come out with furious emotion and make some plays. However, the Chargers' offense is so dynamic, teams can't beat them on emotion and aggression; they have to be smart as well. Rivers is playing at such a high level that he will capitalize on any mistake. Some Bengals may be trying to do too much today.

Chargers 24, Bengals 13

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Chargers Earn Elite Status

The Chargers played a great game yesterday that wasn't as close as the 20-17 score in beating the Dallas Cowboys. Amazingly, San Diego is still flying under the radar of the national media. Anyone who watched "Football Night in America" after the game saw a boat-load of analysis about "What's wrong with the Dallas Cowboys?" Anyone think to ask what's right with the San Diego Chargers?

I'll answer it since they didn't:

Phillip Rivers has attained near Jedi status in his ability to read the field and know where his receivers are, who is open and how much to put on the ball to deliver it to them perfectly.

Norv Turner has out-coached everyone the past eight weeks. The Cowboy defense looked completely lost out there when in counted.

Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson are dominant. Teams must choose to focus on one. When they do, the other one has a monster game. Pick your poison.

The offensive line can pass block anyone. On crucial third-and-longs, as Wade dialed up his most creative and serious blitzes; we saw wave after wave of silver and blue crash into a wall while Rivers easily found the open big man one-on-one with some poor, short DB tagging along behind.

The defense is stout in the red zone. Everyone saw the huge four-down goal line stand. The defense has done this many times this season. The defensive line has gelled just enough and the toughness and depth at linebacker becomes more and more evident. Don't mess with Siler and Dobbins up the middle.

LT has enough left to make a play when he needs to. One of the plays of the game came on the final drive, when LT was hit in the backfield as the ball was handed to him. He juked the tackler, then shot through the hole for an eleven yard gain and a first down. He also knows how to find the end zone better than any running back in the least better than Marion Barber.

Two shut down corners? Notice how teams never attack the Chargers in the middle of the field deep or down the sidelines? This is because both Cromartie and Jammer are too good and too dangerous to challenge directly. Teams have to run and play the dink and dunk game down the middle.

Lastly, the punting game. If a drive does fizzle? The Scifers to Osgood connection will put opponents inside their own five-yard lines again and again. Those two punts to the one yesterday had as much to do with the lack of Dallas scoring as the goal-line stand.

Overall, the lack of national media recognition may be frustrating for Charger fans, but it's probably good for the team. It keeps that chip squarely on the Chargers' shoulder while encouraging other teams to take the Chargers just a tad too lightly.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chargers vs. Cowboys

Once again, the Chargers are in a game with playoff atmosphere and implications. If San Diego can win today, they may be able to separate themselves from the Cincinnati Bengals in the hunt for the 2nd seed and playoff bye. The Cowboys are coming off a loss and trying to stay in first place in their division. Dallas fans are calling for the head of Wade Phillips as they think their team is underperforming.

The Cowboys' offense is the exact kind that gives the Chargers problems. They have a huge offensive line and a couple of big power running backs, plus the lightning fast Felix Jones. They also have a Pro Bowl tight end in Jason Witten with the hot and cold Tony Romo passing the ball. Wide receiver Miles Austin has matured into an elite "go to" receiver.

It looks like Luis Catillo and Shawne Merriman will be able to start today. If they are actually healthy and can play at a high level, the Chargers will have a better chance of stopping the run and putting a little pressure on Romo. Safety Eric Weddle is most likely going to be out. This is worrisome, as he has become a defensive leader and on-field coach of sorts.

The Cowboys will be able to move the ball up and down the field. Without Weddle deep to control things, the less experienced Charger safeties will most likely get eaten up. This game will come down to what happens in the red zone. If the Chargers can stiffen a bit inside the twenty and stop the run, then they can force the gambling Romo into making some crucial mistakes.

On offense, the Chargers will have to have one of their best games to stay in this one. They are going to have to match the Cowboys score for score and the environment will be loud and intense in the Cowboys huge new dome. The Charger running game most likely won't do much, but look for Darren Sproles to bust at least one big one on the Cowboys' field turf. Sproles has been slowed by some poor field conditions the past few weeks and is "due" to make some plays.

The passing game, of course, will be crucial. The Cowboys don't have the strongest defense backs and one of their starting safeties is out with an injury. The pass blocking has been stellar for San Diego, but they will receive their biggest test this week, as 3-4 guru Wade Phillips is desperate for a win to keep his playoff chances, and job, alive. The crucial match-up will be DeMarcus Ware against Marcus McNeill on the edge. If Rivers doesn't have time to throw, this game could get ugly in a hurry.

If the Chargers had Weddle, I would feel confident in predicting a victory. If Merriman was out, I would predict a loss, but with the overall state of the Chargers' health, I think this one is a toss up. It may come down to one big play from either team. I'm going to go with the "Sproles has a big day on field turf" theory and give San Diego the nod:

Chargers 34, Cowboys 31

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What the Browns Game Shows

Well, the Browns are terrible, and the Chargers let them look like a legitimate NFL team. I know San Diego had numerous injuries and rookies playing in key positions, but the lack of fire and key breakdowns to begin and end the game should be concerning to the team and fans.

The running game is absolutely broken. If the Chargers can't run the ball against the horrible and Shaun Rogers-less Browns, they can't run it against anyone. While LT may not be as quick as he once was, he's not the problem. The schemes, the coaching, the attitude, and the players are just not clicking. San Diego is last in the league in this category and the old excuses provided by the local media ("they faced a tough defense this week" and "they're stacking the box") just don't hold any water. The opposing team is consistently in San Diego's backfield.

This is important going into the playoffs and final three games of the season as better teams who will try to dominate time of possession. The Chargers will be unable to match up against a team in this way. Sometimes the passing game gets shut down. Teams that win in the playoffs can run and pass.

The other side of the coin is the run defense. The average yards per carry against the San Diego defense is simply too high. At some point an opposing coach realize this and stick with the run throughout the entire game. If the Dolphins, Broncos (in SD), Eagles, or Giants had realized this, they might have won their games against San Diego.

Going forward, the Chargers desperately need Shawne Merriman to get healthy and provide some stout run support. Larry English was fast and aggressive last week, but he seems to get pushed around by the offensive tackles he's going against. The platoon of rookies and journeyman defensive tackles have been playing above themselves, but we shouldn't be surprised if they get exposed by a strong offensive line.

All this shows why this week's game against Dallas will be such an important test. Dallas will try to run the ball and test this defense. I can't believe that Wade Phillips won't understand and the exploit these weaknesses better than any other coach. If the Chargers can't run the ball consistently, they will be forced to use the big play to stay in the game, giving DeMarcus Ware and company a chance to test the San Diego pass blocking.

Without Eric Weddle and Shawne Merriman, this game may be beyond the Chargers' reach...unless something changes and some other players step up.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chargers vs. Browns Pregame

I don't expect today's game to be competitive for long. The Browns are terrible to begin with, and now they're dealing with massive injuries, including their best defensive player, tackle Shaun Rogers.

The Chargers are also dealing with injuries to Shawne Merriman, Luis Castillo and Eric Weddle, but the back-ups to these players have proven in the last few weeks that they are serviceable.

Even as the lead mounts today, there will be things to watch. I want to see what Larry English can do, starting and probably getting the most significant playing time he has all season. Also, it will be interesting to see if free agent aquisition John Runyan gets some playing time at right tackle and if he's got anything left. If he's able to shake the rust and age off, the Chargers may have something special going into the playoffs. Nick Hardwick will also get a chance to play, getting back in game shape for the end of the season and the playoffs.

Lastly, LaDanian Tomlinson will have the chance to pass up Marshall Faulk and legendary Jim Brown at #9 and #8 on the all-time rushing list. This could potentially be a huge stat day for LT with the state of the Browns' defense, however, I'm guessing that once the game is in hand and LT has his records, Norv will sit him (wisely) giving him and anyone else he can afford to rest for tough games ahead.

Chargers 38, Browns 6

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Chiefs and Browns are Terrible...Playoff Picture!

The Chargers did not let down last Sunday, showing the Chiefs are who we thought they were. Most concerning were the injuries to Weddle and Merriman. San Diego needs both of those guys healthy to have a shot in the post-season.

Speaking of the playoffs, it's time to start jockying for position. The best way to advance a round is to skip it, which is why the Chargers should keep winning to stay ahead of the Broncos, but also begin to focus on earning a bye.

Assuming the Chargers are not going to catch the undefeated Colts, the end of the season comes down to a contest between San Diego, New England, and Cincinatti. Things can change at the end of the season, but all other teams (excluding Denver) are at least two games back right now. All three teams have easy games next week, but the Patriots are down one game behind the Bengals and the Chargers.

In week 14, two weeks from now, San Diego goes to Dallas, Cincinatti goes to Minnisota, and New England gets Carolina at home. If the Chargers and Bengals lose and the Patriots win, which will be the Vegas prediction for that week, all three teams will be tied again.

In week 15, the Chargers will have their chance at a direct matchup against the Bengals at home-- which of course will be pivotal. The Patriots go to Buffalo. The most likely outcome of this week is a Chargers' win and and Patriots' win, leaving them tied for the wild card going into week 16.

In week 16, the Chargers go to the currently on fire Tenessee Titans. This will be a tough game. New England gets Jacksonville at home, a likely win for the Patriots. Cincinatti gets Kansas City at home. If the Patriots win, Cincinatti wins and the Chargers lose, this puts San Diego and Cincinatti one game behind the Patriots going into the final week of the season.

In week 17, the Chargers play the Redskins at home, not an easy win, but a likely one, as San Diego will have more to play for. New England goes to Houston and Cincinatti goes to New York to play the Jets. If San Diego and Cincinatti win and New England loses there will be a three-way tie in terms of record. San Diego beats out the Bengals if they beat them in head to head competition a few weeks earlier. The decision would then come down to who, between the Patriots and Chargers, has the better AFC record. Right now, it looks like the Chargers may have a slight edge at the end of the season if they can go ahead and beat the Bengals and Titans. If the Chargers lose to either the Bengals or Titans, the Patriots will have the edge.

A bye, a game at home, then an AFC Championship in Indianapolis would actually be a dream trip for the Chargers. It could happen folks.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chargers vs. Chiefs: Sleeper Game?

If the Chargers were going to take a week off and get lax in their preparation, this would be the week. After four playoff like victories in a row, with another huge match-up against the Dallas Cowboys next week, the Chiefs at home, who they already smacked down in Kansas City, might seem like easy pickings.

The Chiefs are re-energized with the addition of Chris Chambers and the subtraction of Larry Johnson. Current starting running back, Jamaal Charles is very fast and agile, averaging over five yards per carry.

If the Chargers don't come out fast, aggressive and creative (this one is on the coaches), and just go through the motions, they might put themselves at more risk than they need to. Because the Broncos, to my surprise, did not fall apart this Thursday, as they went out and beat the Giants, San Diego must keep winning to stay on top of the division (The Giants look like a tired team on the way out).

San Diego also has a huge wild card to deal with in the injury of the least talented starter on the team, right tackle Jeromey Clary. Clary has improved somewhat throughout the season though, while Brandon Dombrowski has never started at this position. Rivers will be at risk this week and next, probably limiting the Chargers' options on offense. Rivers will most likely have to keep the passes quick and short to protect him from the defensive rush.

On another note, if veteran free agent acquisition John Runyan turns out to be healthy and in good enough shape to play at the high level he has in the past, he could be the difference maker of the season. With a solid right tackle who can pass and run block effectively (unlike Clary) the Chargers are much more dangerous going into the playoffs. With Brandon Dombrowski starting? The better teams will exploit this glaring weakness, handcuffing the Chargers' explosive offense.

Today? I'm betting on the veteran leadership on this team to help the Chargers stay focused on doing things right and winning.

San Diego 31, Kansas City 20

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dominating Character Win

The Chargers proved they are once again the class of the AFC West. Through the ebb and flow of the game, San Diego remained calm and confident while the Broncos' Chris Simms, then Kyle Orton and coach Josh McDaniels had that hollow look of defeat, and Brandon Marshall's front running personality melted down, starting a fight with rookie running back Knowshon Moreno and berating his various quarterbacks.

Instead of fumbling on the goal line, LT stretched out for the score. While the Broncos jumped off sides (at home!) San Diego professionally went about the business of winning. The Broncos' coach and players remind one of a college team, more vulnerable to the ebb and flow of emotion throughout a season or a game. When they are up and everything is going their way, they are way up. When the tide turns against them and the magic falters, they fall apart. The Chargers looked like men amongst boys today.

Though the Charger defense looked porous at times, tightening up mostly around the red zone, and the offense failed to punch it in several times, it seemed the Chargers knew they were the better team. Part of the weakness on defense and offense seemed to come from a conservative play calling from Norv and Ron Rivera, disinclined to take chances once they had the upper hand today.

The Broncos just don't have the personnel to compete with the Chargers. Until the franchise rids itself of the talented yet cancerous Brandon Marshall, they will struggle in this front running fashion.

San Diego will go on to handily win the AFC West and can now focus on favorably positioning themselves for the playoffs. The losses of both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh today helps them in their cause. If they can take care of business the next two weeks against the weaker Chiefs and Browns, the League will once again be looking west at the Chargers as Super Bowl contenders.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chargers vs. Broncos Preview

Another week and another playoff atmosphere for the Chargers and their fans. The Broncos know this is a must win for them as they spiral downward on a three game losing streak. This game will decide who is the division winner and who should start hoping for a wild card or making plans for next year.

It seems the league was not ready for Josh McDaniel and Mike Nolan's creative blitzing and stunting 3-4 defense early on and that unit was able to confuse blockers and dominate games. The last few weeks though, teams have figured out blocking schemes that can control all the movement and Denver's sack total and run defense have suffered.

On the other side of the ball, Kyle Orton, in a new city, playing for a new coach on a new team, played above himself and was nearly perfect in the short passing game they asked him to conduct. In the past few weeks though, with added pressure on him because of a sagging defense, the old journeyman Orton has returned. The magic sheen seemed to fade.

The football gods weren't done in bringing the Broncos back to earth as Orton also injured his ankle in a loss to the horrible Redskins last week. The music's over.

All this being said, this game represents a kind of Super Bowl for the Broncos. If they lose this one, there's no doubt their season is over as the team will continue to slide while the Chargers surge. If they win? They might be able to revive that 6-0 magic. Look for the Broncos to come out swinging. Coach McDaniels knows he's in a desperate situation and will throw the kitchen sink at the Chargers: blitzes, trick plays, Ed Hochuli, etc.

The Chargers will have to be at their best early on to withstand this onslaught and break the Broncos' spirit. I think they are up to the challenge. With a new found confidence that comes from winning four in a row, and the calming veteran experience, San Diego will be able to hold it together and win this one.

The Charger offense seems to be using all its weapons now and defenses simply don't know who to focus on. Like a game of Wack-a-Mole, you focus on one threat, and another pops up and bites your butt.

On defense, look for Rivera to call up a few more blitzes this week to put pressure on the rusty Chris Simms who was absolutely horrible last week. They could sit back and let Simms hang himself, but I would prefer they do everything to keep his confidence down in the gutter where it belongs. Don't let him get into any kind of rhythm.

Chargers 20, Broncos 10

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chargers Grow in Confidence

Norv Turner called a brilliant game in the first half to take a commanding lead which the Chargers were able to protect in the second half. I know some fans may have panicked as the Eagles mounted a comeback, but it's impressive how the Chargers coolly went about their business to secure the victory.

The call of the game was the short pass across the middle to fullback Mike Tolbert for the 20-yard score. You're going to double Vincent Jackson? Okay. Focus on Gates? Fine. Shadow LT in the flat? Go ahead: We'll just dump it to Tolbert over the middle. What this, and the entire first half, shows is that all the weapons of the "most talented team in the NFL" are coming together on offense.

Fans have squawked about the conservatism of the second half, but when right tackle Jeromey Clary went down with an injury, Norv did the right thing by playing it safe as long as he could without risking a sack, fumble or injury to Rivers. When the Eagles came back to make it a game, the Chargers smartly switched strategy and moved the ball down the field for the field goal at the end of (Norv Haters: Marty would have stayed in turtle mode until the game was lost.)

On defense, the Chargers did enough in the red zone to handle the Eagles. Donvan McNabb did throw for 450 yards, but he was lucky to, as the Chargers dropped three easy picks. It was unnerving to watch McNabb stand back there perusing the secondary for 10 seconds or so each time he dropped back, but Rivera wisely decided the deep threat was the bigger worry: Make those young phenoms catch passes across the middle and take hits rather than run down the field on long bombs.

Overall, the Chargers have now shown they can consistently play with anyone and have fixed the glaring gaps on defense plaguing them early in the season. LT is not done and defenses still have to worry about him. Gates is playing well. Floyd can make plays if people double Jackson. Nannee is just a football player who can fill any other gap this teams needs him to fill. And just when teams start paying too much attention to these other guys? Darren Sproles will rear his little hobbit-head (he's due) and strike a devastating blow.

With the Broncos' early bloom of youthful confidence collapsing once again, the Chargers will win the AFC West and be prepared to go toe to toe with any team they face. San Diego has a good shot at the Super Bowl folks. Enjoy it now. We all know how long the lean years can last.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chargers vs. Eagles

The Chargers, by virtue of their poor play on national TV earlier in the season, have worked themselves into a sleeper role, while the Eagles are still asleep. I think the Eagles come into this game a bit overconfident that they can handle a "finesse" AFC West opponent with their bruising, NFC East ways, and end up running into the buzz saw of confidence the Chargers will bring at home.

Both teams are 5-3 and both really need this win to stay competitive in their respective divisions, so San Diego fans will be treated to another playoff-like atmosphere. Once again, what more can we ask for?

The Eagles have been thriving on the big play abilities of their extremely fast and dangerous young receivers, Jeremy Maclin and the explosive DeShaun Jackson. However, Dallas had success last week and exposed these smaller receivers a bit by beating them up at the line of scrimmage and bumping them off their routes. Look for San Diego to do the same. Jammer and Cromartie have been absolutely stellar the past few weeks.

While we were all complaining about how horrible the defense was, they figured something out in the past weeks. Most Charger fans would be surprised to hear that San Diego has the 6th ranked pass defense in the NFL. Many of the sacks the last few weeks can be attributed to opposing QB's holding the ball a bit too long because nobody's open. In addition to the great play of the corners, Eric Weddle has hit a groove. Also, those huge breakdowns with wide open receivers haven't happened since the Chargers cut Clinton Hart. Ellison, Gregory and Oliver have provided enough smart play to shore up the gaps in the secondary.

Ron Rivera seems to have found the secret ingredient to help out the defense get off the field on third down: the safety blitz. The mere threat of the blitz forces opposing QB's to get rid of the ball a beat faster than they were earlier in the season (think of all the time Big Ben had). The Chargers will limit and harass Donovan McNabb more than he expects this week.

The Eagles' defense is aggressive in getting after the quarterback and the Chargers' offensive line will have to be at its best this week, but they seemed to also take a step forward last week in their ability to pick up the blitz. Rivers will be sacked this week, but he will also have enough time to get the ball down field enough for San Diego to score points.

The Charger running game will most likely continue to founder, but LT will be enough of a decoy to open holes for the receivers on play-action passes.

San Diego 28, Philadelphia 17

Monday, November 9, 2009

Turning Point

Philip Rivers did step up in the clutch last night and pull off a drive that just might have changed the course of this team's history. San Diego's confidence just took a monumental boost from this game. I can't help but feel this win was absolutely huge for some of the younger and newer guys on this team who might not quite have understood or really believed they could compete with the better teams in the NFL.

From this point forward, San Diego knows it can compete with anyone. With that extra bit of confidence and swagger, the Chargers can make it to the playoffs and be successful this season.

The running game is still horrible, but the passing game and pass blocking is among the best in the league. The defense is starting to make plays. Shawne Merriman is again becoming a force. Eric Weddle made a few great plays against the run and the pass last night. Brandon Siler played well enough to keep the Chargers in the game.

Had the Chargers lost? They would be sitting at 4-4 with low confidence and the Eagles coming into town and no one giving them a chance to win. Now? Philadelphia is much more nervous about this game and they should be. The Chargers and Rivers will come out roaring in this home game, riding that wave of confidence and momentum. If they can beat Philly, the wave will only grow.

San Diego still needs to figure how to run the ball or they will lose games they shouldn't. Nick Hardwick may be back in a week or two, then it will take another two weeks for him and the other guys and LT to get in sync. Hopefully Rivers and the passing game can hold it together until then.

In the playoff atmosphere last night, the soul of this team responded. In a season that had fans wondering if this was the end of era, something stirred. Norv even looked excited after this one. Go Bolts!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chargers vs. Giants

Despite all the turmoil and dashed expectations this season, the Chargers took care of business the last two weeks and at 4-3 are positioned to challenge the New York Giants in a big game that will come with a bit of a playoff-like atmosphere for both teams. Many Charger fans have been unhappy with this season, but I still remember all lean years when there were no "important" games because the team was so bad it never had a chance of doing anything (anyone remember starting QB Babe Laufennberg?)

The perennially strong Giants have been reeling of late with a 5-3 record but having lost their last three games. The run defense and pass defense against the long ball has been terrible. Eli Manning has been forced in to some come from behind situations and has thrown many picks in the last few games. The Chargers should be able to take advantage of this weakened defense if they continue to play at the level they have the past few weeks. Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates need to have big games.

We'll get a chance to see if the slightly improved running game of San Diego is real or just a mirage created by the Chiefs and Raiders. If San Diego can run the ball at all the Chargers have a strong chance of winning today. If the Giants start playing more like they did earlier in the season and in the past few years, forcing Rivers into third and long situations? Look for lots of sacks, fumbles and interceptions going against San Diego.

The Chargers, including Shawne Merriman, say their defense in "back" as they stopped the run, pass and had a few sacks against the Raiders and Chiefs last week. I tend to think they aren't seeing the reality of how soft this defense has become yet, but today will be true test. If the Chargers can have a good game against the strong running and passing game of New York in their house, they are "back." The Chargers face the problem of both Tim Dobbins and Kevin Burnett being out at middle linebacker. Third year player Brandon Siler will get his first NFL start. He's a tough guy, but I don't think he has the physical gifts or experience to consistently stuff the run. All this points to a big game on the ground for the Giants.

If New York can control the ball and time of possession, this game will look a lot like the Steelers game for San Diego. I tend to think the Giants will be able to score, so it will be up to Rivers to have a great game to keep it close, hoping for a few big plays from the defense to turn the tide in the end.

This game is a true test for the Chargers, if Dobbins was in, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. Because he's not, I'm going to give the Giants the nod:

Giants 38, Chargers 31

If I'm wrong and San Diego does win? We all may look back and say this was a true turning point for the season. With Broncos playing the Steelers monday night, San Diego could be right back in the hunt for the AFC West title.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Last Week and This Week

In last week's game against the broken Chiefs who seem to be on their own version of the Trail of Tears, the Chargers looked like a playoff team again. Has San Diego righted the ship or are the Chiefs simply that bad?

The Chargers have shown improvement in one significant area: run defense. I might be the only one, but I'd like to sing the praises of defensive tackle Ian Scott. On multiple third and short downs and one 4th and short, Scott blew up the middle not allowing the Chiefs to get any push. He was pulled back to the squad two weeks ago after being cut by the team after training camp. Presumably, he wasn't in perfect game shape even last week, but look to see if he can continue to clog the middle and stay in the game longer as his stamina improves. If the Chargers are to have any chance this year, they need someone to stand up in the middle and it might just be Mr. Scott.

Another big difference in the run defense was the stellar play of inside linebacker/human missile Tim Dobbins. With 11 solo tackles and an interception, he had the game of his career. Replacing the injured Kevin Burnett, who just couldn't match his strong play in the preseason in the regular season, Dobbins seems to be an upgrade. Dobbins and Scott, with some more aggressive blitz packages involving the safeties, may just be the mix the Chargers need to get their run defense out of the cellar and off the field on third down.

Today look for the Chargers to stack the box to stop the run and attempt to force Raiders' QB JaMarcus Russell to beat them (he can't). This game will actually be a good test for both the offensive and defensive lines, who were manhandled in the first game between these teams. The Chargers should win this one going away, but can they also show a trend of improvement in the stoutness of their offensive and defensive lines?

Also, LT had a couple nice lanes and runs last week. Can he and the offensive line put together another performance showing improvement? If so, this team will have a good chance of getting back into the playoffs.

San Diego will need a bit of luck too though, so fans should be watching those other teams in contention for the AFC Wildcards over the next few weeks.

Today? It all depends on the Raiders. Have they quit after a 37-0 drubbing by the Jets last week? Each time it seems they have, they come back with a strong performance. I would expect so out of their sheer dislike of the Chargers.

San Diego 31, Oakland 16 (but it will seem closer than this)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chargers vs. Chiefs Preview

My wife and I are having a baby on Monday, so I will keep this one short and sweet. If the Chargers lose this game the franchise has officially imploded. Norv and company simply have to find a way to win.

Rays of hope? Rookie safety Kevin Ellison actually played very well last week and could end up as a major improvement to this secondary. The Chiefs have been generally horrible on both sides of the ball even though they got their first victory against even more horrible Washington last week. Though the division title may end up beyond the Chargers' reach right now, the Wild Card race is a virtual dead heat between many teams. If San Diego can win the next two games, they might even be able to control their own destiny going forward.

If they lose this game? Goodbye Norv and Ron Rivera at the end of the season...and the rest of us will be stuck with a lame duck coaching staff and roster for another ten games.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Out Coached & Out Played

Norv and company had two weeks to prepare for Denver and they weren't prepared. Norv couldn't find a way to protect Rivers and Ron Rivera couldn't find a way to get to Kyle Orton. San Diego fans must now come to grips with the fact that the Patriot-style system is superior to the "Norv" system and now instead of waiting to lose against it in the playoffs year in and year out, they have to lose to it twice a year in their very own division.

Sometimes experience and success breeds wisdom and sometimes it breeds complacency. This San Diego team was simply not aggressive enough and not desperate enough last night. Denver was the team with all the fire out there. Denver was in the face of the Chargers and having fun at the same time. The Chargers looked like Madoff investors watching their riches evaporate all night. No joy. No fire. No passion. Just a dream coming to an end.

The San Diego defense simply can't consistently stop the run or (ever) bring pressure on the quarterback. Jamaal Williams is gone. Merriman can't run like he used to and no one else in the front seven is special enough to make a difference.

On offense, the running game does not scare, beat-up, or challenge defenses anymore, so teams can load up on the consistent 3rd and 7's and 3rds and 9's that result. The difference last night seemed to come down to 3rd down, where the Broncos were consistently in 3rd and 3 situations, which they would easily get first downs with short passes to Brandon Marshall or the tight end Scheffler, while the Chargers had 3rd and long and couldn't protect Rivers long enough for the down field passing plays to develop.

It just may be that the wave of divisional success for the Chargers has crested. The past few years, they had their chances in the playoffs, didn't capitalize, and the window is closing. How will the team respond to this new challenge from Denver? In-fighting? Accusations? Excuses? Giving up? Is there still a chance some of the great players on this team could reach back and find something they've lost? Yes, but the chances for this team seem dimmer and dimmer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chargers vs. Broncos Prediction

AJ Smith understands the San Diego Chargers are heading in the wrong direction. Cutting starting safety Clinton Hart last week was an attempt to change that direction and send a message to the rest of the team. Hart was a sub-par player at his position for years who simply never improved enough. At a certain point, coaches and management have to realize this and cut their losses (Raiders fans wish this would happen with JaMarcus Russell).

The Chargers look like they will start rookie safety out of USC, Kevin Ellison, in Hart's place in running situations and insert slightly more experienced Steve Gregory in passing situations. Look for the Broncos to attempt to flip these situations and attempt to get Brandon Marshall or Eddie Royal deep against Ellison in what appears to be running situations. Ellison showed his ability to come up to the line with some pop in the preseason, but the knock against him is his lack of optimal speed for his position. If the Broncos can exploit this lack of experience, it could be the difference maker in what will be a close game.

Denver Coach Josh McDaniels has proven he's a good student, learning the lessons from the Genius in New England and beating him last week. The key feature of the New England and now Denver coaching philosophy is a great ability to adjust, finding and taking advantage of their opponents' weaknesses. San Diego's weaknesses? There are many, but the run defense has been the most glaring, so look for Denver to attempt to pound the run, while taking a few shots down the field against the weak side safety.

If Rivera has been unable to figure out a way to shore up the middle of the defense, this could be a long day for the Bolts. San Diego brought back Ian Scott this week, who they cut after training camp, to shore up the middle. 33 year-old Alphonso Boone, brought in from the street two weeks ago will be used more at defensive end. Travis Johnson, brought off the street after being cut by Houston, then out two weeks with a groin injury, will also fill in at defensive tackle.

Are any of these guys in true playing shape? Were they even good enough to begin with? This position will continue to be the fatal flaw of this defense unless someone steps up and surprises us or AJ manages to pull off a trade and bring in someone who can really play.

On offense, look for the Chargers to pull out all the stops, getting aggressive, tricky and desperate from the start. Despite the Broncos top ratings on defense, San Diego will be able to move the ball and score touchdowns on their home field this week. The run game won't be great, but with a healthy LT, it will be enough of a threat to open up other possibilities.

When it comes down to it, the Chargers are not as bad as they played in their last game, and the Broncos are not as good as they think they are. Kyle Orton is not John Elway, and will be fallible this week. The Chargers, on their home field, in a game that means everything to the future of this organization, will pull out a win.

San Diego 31, Denver 28

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chargers vs. Broncos: Defining Moment

The Denver Broncos are coming off their best performance in years, with a little luck, a new coach and many new players, the franchise has come out revitalized to start the season 5-0. The San Diego Chargers, after many preseason predictions of a Super Bowl, have come out flat, unable to knock people off the ball or intimidate anyone. The Chargers' two wins are the result of Phillip Rivers' mastery of this offense and some huge plays by Darren Sproles in the short passing game and on kickoffs. San Diego is a team in crisis, limping into the bye week after an absolute embarrassment of a whooping in Pittsburgh. Denver is riding a euphoric wave into San Diego.

On Monday night, these differing narratives will clash. Can the Chargers' coaches turn this ship around? Do they even realize the severity of their problems? Is Denver with a rookie head coach and (up to this season) mediocre quarterback playing way above its head, only to come crashing down this week?
Chargers' general manager AJ Smith seems to get how serious the situation is in his comments last week:“Absolutely embarrassing...Everything is wrong with it right now. I'm not the least bit happy in a lot of areas. I've seen us be tough and physical to soft and bewildered.” (Union Tribune, Oct. 8 2009)

AJ is right, "everything is wrong with it right now." He gets it. However, Shawne Merriman's touchiness about these comments, further stories about the team's "quiet confidence," and coaches' comments about everyone just "playing within their roles," makes me think that they don't get it yet. Good teams don't get beat like the Chargers just got beat in Pittsburgh. Turning the ship around won't happen with a few technical tweaks here and there.

Regardless of the schemes, X's and O's, and responsibilities, the players aren't playing tough, aggressive confident, fundamental football. This may be Norv Turner's fatal flaw as a coach. You can scheme all you want, but if you can't get players to execute with passion, confidence and aggressiveness, your scheme is doomed to failure.

If the Chargers don't turn this around on Monday, their season may be lost, and the Norv-AJ brain trust will begin to come under real scrutiny. Those that wish San Diego had never fired Marty Shottenheimer are misguided as well though. Those teams did execute with fire and aggressiveness, but lost the chess match when it came to big games. Now it may be that the Chargers have hired a chess master without the ability to bring his pieces to life. If we could only meld these two coaches together somehow...Bill Cowher?

All this being said, it's not over yet. This team, these coaches and this general manager still have a chance to turn it all around. If the Chargers can come out and play a complete game in all phases, they should beat the Broncos Monday night. The Norv-AJ era is on the line.

Check back tomorrow for my game prediction.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Donkey Trouble for San Diego

After watching the Broncos beat the Patriots yesterday, San Diego fans, players, coaches, and management had a collective "uh-oh" moment and intake of breath in the new reality that is the AFC West. Those that thought the division would belong to the Chargers for years to come as the other organizations lay mired in dysfunction (don't worry were still safe with KC and Oakland), have received a huge wake-up call in the Josh McDanielized Donkeys.

This team plays with aggressiveness, fire, confidence and, even when challenged by a few horrible special teams fiascoes, poise, as they managed to come back and go toe-to-toe with New England in overtime. They're doing all the things the Chargers haven't been doing.

The icing on the cake? The fatal flaw of a pretender? Kyle Orton? The less-than-franchise QB?The guy threw over forty passes yesterday and didn't make a bad throw. I can only guess that McDaniels has this team and quarterback so well prepped, working overtime to get everything perfect, that they have shortened the learning curve and jumped to the head of the class in the AFC West. It frightens me that the San Diego defense is still blathering on about "just playing within our responsibilities." It seems like professionals would have learned this by now.

The good news? The Chargers may match-up better with a quick and talented, but smaller, offense like the Broncos than the bruising Steelers (think Colts). The Patriots smaller corners had real trouble with the huge Brandon Marshall. Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie (if he can pull his head out) should be able to control the big guy better.

Norv haters? You'll find out if he can coach or not this week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


The Chargers showed tonight that they could not physically stand up to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense, for the fourth week in a row, came out flat and was easily pushed around by the Steelers. Even a first half sideline tongue lashing of the whole squad by Ron Rivera did little good.

The pass rush was absolutely pathetic. San Diego's guys are no match for a good offensive line. Rothlisberger had too much time all night. This defense absolutely needs the dominance of Shawne Merriman for it to work.

In the passing game, Burnett, Cromartie, Gregory and Hart often looked lost. Antonio Cromartie, just like last year, doesn't seem to have his head completely in the game. Perhaps the Chargers were out coached as well. Steelers' receivers we often open with a ten-yard cushion around them. They knew exactly how and where to attack this defense.

The offense wasn't very good either until the end, but with the Steelers controlling the ball at home, they weren't given much of a chance to get going. All that being said, the run game is still atrocious. San Diego just doesn't knock anyone off the ball.

I've been a supporter of Norv since he showed he could win playoff games in his first season with San Diego, however, one could argue that this team has steadily lost its toughness and fundamental football skills since Marty Shottenheimer left. One could argue that Norv is a chess player, an X and O guy, and not a leader of men. One could argue he should have stayed in the booth up top calling plays. If this team underperforms even more this season and continues to look like it can't compete with the elite teams, even AJ Smith will have to consider this possibility.

Despite the few lucky plays at the end of the game that kept the Chargers close in points, this game was not close. This team does not appear close to the top teams in the NFL.

If this team doesn't come out of the bye with more fire and aggressiveness, this season may be lost. Denver's defense is for real and they will not choke away a big lead in the standings for the second year in a row. This will be the challenge of Norv's career.

Chargers vs. Steelers Pregame

To win tonight's game, the Chargers will have to do more than they've done all season. Specifically, they'll have to get to the quarterback and run the football.

As the UT's Kevin Acee says here, San Diego must get to Rothlisberger:

With Shawne Merriman still gimpy, whether it's the reconstructed knee or new groin injury, getting to the quarterback more does not look likely. Rookie Larry English has improved weekly, if he takes a huge leap forward in this game and shows some of the dominance he displayed in college, San Diego has a chance, if not? Charger fans will be disappointed as Big Ben saves drive after drive with crucial third and long completions.

LaDanian Tomlinson will return this week and it will be very interesting to see how much the Chargers actually use him. Is his "recovery" just a ruse? Will he just act as a decoy? Because LT was able to practice on consecutive days this week without a relapse, it would appear Norv will actually give him a chance to run the ball. I'm just not sure a less than 100% LT can do much against a Steelers defense that, Polamalu or no Polamalu, can still stop the run.

Maybe Steelers' fans love their team a bit too much!

The Chargers' offensive line has not clicked in any game this year, before or after the injuries in Oakland. I think the run blocking problems may have more to do with coaching than injuries and personnel. All that being said, huge athletic right guard rookie Louis Vasquez returns from injury this week and will get a chance to show if he bend the running game curve in the Chargers' favor a bit more.

With Polamalu out though, the Steelers have some major vulnerabilities to the San Diego offense. Most obviously, the long passing game to Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd should be more open than it has been. Polamalu has also been one of the better defenders of Antonio Gates, and if the Steelers find themselves throwing desperate blitzes at Rivers (and they will) the middle of the field will be open for the San Diego tight end. Perhaps most importantly, Polamalu, in the last two meetings, was one of the best on the Steelers' defense at sniffing out and stopping the screen play to Darren Sproles before it starting rumbling down field. Despite that, the Chargers still hit that play for a few big gainers. Look for Norv to really go after this tonight.

Even with all the Steeler flaws, it seems like Mike Tomlin still has the ability to spark this team onto a superior effort at home against the Chargers. Pittsburgh will come out flying around. Will San Diego? Unless something changes and someone new steps up, without Merriman, San Diego will fall just a tad short in the fire and aggressiveness category, and be playing from behind most of the game:

Steelers 24, Chargers 20

I hope I'm wrong, but someone besides Rivers needs to show some leadership and make some championship caliber plays in this night game on the national stage. If the Chargers do win tonight, and go into the bye week at 3-1 with the tender meat of the AFC West up next on their schedule? The dream season will materialize once again. This game is that important.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Can the Chargers Beat the Steelers?

Yes, but they'll have to change from their first three performances. Keys to victory:

  • Tackle: Suddenly the Chargers have become one of the worst tackling teams in the league. They look like the Colts' defense out there. Does the first guy always have to miss? Someone needs to make some stops in the backfield this week.

  • Get to Big Ben: In the playoffs last year, Ben had too much time. He could scoot around, tippy-toe left, then right, then toward the line of scrimmage, is he going to run? No! He completes a 25-yard pass on a crossing pattern. Merriman may be out again. Larry English and Shaun Phillips simply have to get to the quarterback this week or the Steelers will control the clock at home and win this one going away. The surprise blitzes up the middle last week from Burnett and Cooper were nice, but that won't work consistently against a better offensive line and QB.

  • Run the ball just a little: If the Chargers can gain 75 on the ground, Vince Lombardi may pop up and salute this as a major achievement. Michael Bennett should be in the game on 1st and 2nd down. The guy can play! Save Sproles for 3rd down or long yardage situations! If the little guy gets hurt San Diego is doomed! Getting rookie guard Louis Vasquez back might help in this one. The guy can get down field and hit people.

  • Keep going deep: Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd can and will test this defense. Palomalu is out and his back-up is injured too. This has to be a serious chink in the Steel Curtain. Expose it.

  • Sproles Magic: Darren Sproles needs to have at least one huge play(kick return, punt return, screen pass for 80) for San Diego to have a chance in this one.

Now, this is what San Diego has to do, but can they? If Shawne Merriman is out, it's doubtful, but this is why we play the game. The Steelers have been off balance lately as well. Super Bowl hangover? Any team that can lose to the Bengals can lose to San Diego.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Good the Bad and the Ugly: Miami Post-Game

It looked like the Chargers were slinking their way to another poor game (and possibly season?) when Ronnie Brown gave them a gift by coughing up the ball on the one-yard line out of the back of the end zone. Had Brown not fumbled, the Chargers would have been playing from behind with a serious case of the "here-we-go-agains." Instead, the game stayed close and the defense had some chances to get its confidence back.


On defense, the unit as a whole seemed to gain confidence from a little luck and a few good plays. Defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo made some big plays against the run in short yardage situations. He might just turn out to be a player. Larry English and Kevin Burnett seem to be getting their timing down and had some important rushes of the quarterback. They both hit Pennington on the play he was injured, knocking his shoulder out of joint and turning the tide of the game squarely on the side of San Diego.

As the Chargers gained a two score lead, the defensive unit could relax a bit and play like they're capable of. They haven't had confidence or rhythm all season, and the small lead with the Miami back up QB in allowed them play with a proper sense of aggressiveness. I think they can parlay this into next week's game against the Steelers and the rest of the season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Rivers' timing and ability to hit the long ball with Floyd and Jackson is beginning to look like something special. Remember the Tony Martin and Stan Humphries connection of the '94 run to the Super Bowl? The ability to make the big play consistently is a key ingredient of any "special" season.


The Chargers' offensive line still cannot run block. San Diego found itself again stalled in the red zone several times today. Getting LaDanian Tomlinson back will help some, but no one can help an anemic group of run blockers. I sincerely hope Norv understands what a serious issue this is. Sometimes it seems he, as an ex-quarterback, doesn't understand how important the run game is. His success with Dallas as offensive coordinator was predicated by Emmit Smith and the offensive line setting up everything else. I have yet to hear one comment of concern from the coaches about the blocking in the run game. This must change if the Chargers are going to do anything but "one and done" in the playoffs this year.


Shawne Merriman is injured, stopping his "progress" back to playing at full strength. LT may be out at least another week. Ankle injures can linger for a whole season or longer. Hardwick is out for the season. The Chargers can't do much is the post-season without LT and Merriman.

OVERALL? This team is still fundamentally flawed, but the Dolphins and a little luck helped them gain more solid footing this week. Now they can go to Pittsburgh with a little bit of confidence. The Steelers haven't been playing well and best not underestimate this team even without LT.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chargers vs. Dolphins Preview

Both of these teams really need a win this week, so look for a hard fought battle the whole way through. The Dolphins are probably shocked they've started the season at (0-2) and they lost a close one last week, so they will come out and play like their season is on the line. San Diego can't afford to lose a second home game in a row, especially since they're traveling to Pittsburgh next week to face the Super Bowl Champions. The helmets will fly in this one.

More than super-accurate "dink" passer Chad Pennington, the Chargers need to worry about the Wildcat and the running game with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Last week, the Dolphins exploited the soft middle of the Colts' defense with some option run plays up the middle. With Jamal Williams out, the Charger's middle is now soft as well. Stephen Cooper admitted that last week he wasn't aggressive enough, and Kevin Burnett hasn't shown he can stick his helmet in there and make a stop at the line of scrimmage when it matters. The inexperienced defensive tackles, Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Vaughn Martin were pushed around at times last week, probably due to lack of technique than lack of strength. The Chargers brought in a veteran Alfonso Boone this week, but he is a cast-off of the Chiefs, who aren't exactly stacked on defense. He seems like more of a desperation grab. The whole Chargers D has displayed poor tackling in the first two games. Hopefully they went back to the fundamentals this week.

With this situation, someone else is going to have show some run stopping toughness. San Diego can't afford to fall behind as they did last week, and let the Dolphins grind the clock and keep the ball away from the offense. Hopefully, Ron Rivera will stack the box, forcing the Miami to rely more on Pennington, or dare Ronnie Brown to fling a pass down field out of the Wildcat.

If the Chargers can get a lead and force Pennington to throw, I actually think the defense matches up well with a short passing offense. Both Cromartie and Jammer can play excellent man to man, while Cooper and Philips and Burnett have shown strong athletic ability in coverage. Deep balls aimed at Clinton Hart or Steve Gregory are what give this defense the most trouble.

The Charger's offense has proven it can move the ball against anyone. The challenge this week is going to be punching it in the end zone. Look for Norv to make a much more concerted effort to run the ball with Michael Bennett, who didn't get much of a chance last week.

In the passing game, Rivers will take advantage of his tall receivers again with big plays over the smaller Miami DB's. If the Dolphins focus too much on stopping Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers and Malcolm Floyd, look for Gates to have a big game over the middle.

Lastly, San Diego has that magical wild card in Darren Sproles. Whether on kick off returns or in the screen game, even when you, I, the other coaches, the fans in the stadium and the cheerleaders can see it coming, he manages to make a cut a full speed that no one else can make, and wind his way down the field for huge play after huge play. He will again this week.

Chargers 27, Dolphins 24
Check out the NFL Films video preview:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Norv Haters Relax!

Yes, the Chargers have lost a game they could have won and looked less than great in both match ups this season. They seemed timid versus the Raiders and didn't stand up to the Ravens until the second half.

However, Norv didn't smash LT and Nick Hardwicks' ankles, Louis Vasquez's knee, nor did he rip up Jamal Williams' triceps. Norv actually had a strong offensive game plan for attacking one of the league's best defenses as San Diego moved the ball up and down the field. Some stupid delay of game penalties and pressure up the soft middle manned by backups actually caused the greatest problems in the red zone.

The Chargers' last offensive play call was not the best call despite the UT's Sullivan's rambling defense about tendencies and all the studies the staff does before the game. During the game it's still a chess match and Norv made the wrong move that time.

More important for the entire season than one bad call was the way the heavily depleted offense gained yardage in chunks and how a defense without it's most important piece stood up to the Ravens in the second half. It's important to note that many "experts" have the Ravens currently ranked 2nd in the league in their power rankings behind the New York Giants.

In many ways, the offense looks much better and more polished than it did at the start of last season. I'd like to see more use of Michael Bennett this week (Turner said he thought Bennett should be used more). It just seems wrong to ask Darren Sproles to return a kickoff then come right in and take a hand off up the middle on first down.

This team still has a lot of confidence and fight in it. Norv has something to do with it. San Diego should and will stick with Norv Turner and see what happens. I think this season still has a good chance to be special.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chargers Fall Short in Loss to Ravens

This was going to be a close game that came down to the wire even if the Chargers hadn't lost numerous key players to injury. It did come down to the wire anyway, and San Diego fell short due to weakness in the middle of the offensive line more than anything else.

On a call that I'm sure Norv Turner will wish he had back, Ray Lewis shot through the center of the line on 4th and 2 at the end of the game to hit Darren Sproles in the backfield. Had Nick Hardwick had been in the game at center, maybe that blitz gets picked up and maybe the Chargers go on to score that touchdown and win.

It did seem like a strange choice to run the ball in that situation with a double-tight end set when the passing game was working fairly well. You take away your own options and tell a run stopping defense that you're going to challenge them? With your patchwork offensive line? Fans will be upset, but I'm sure Norval will be having the same thoughts as he tries to sleep tonight: Why not a short pass to Gates? Hester in the flat? Naanee on a quick slant? Another jump ball for Vincent Jackson?

Despite this heartbreaking loss, I think this game showed a team that fought through mistakes, some bad calls, and bad luck to put themselves in a position to win the game in the end against a top tier opponent.

Even with the significant injuries sustained so far this season, the Chargers have shown they still have confidence and fight. They will win the AFC West and make their way into the playoffs again this year.

Because of the ongoing run blocking problems and the absence of Jamal Williams, San Diego will in all likelihood, not have one of the best records in the AFC and will again have to go through Pittsburgh, New England, or Baltimore on their home turf to get to the Super Bowl. It's possible to make it through, but also possible the Chargers will be shaking their heads again this January saying "Only if..." one more time.

Our saving grace on this squad is the amazing Phillip Rivers and Darren Sproles. These two seemed to will the team back into the game time and again. It seems like the offense is already clicking even though the Ravens kept us out of the end zone multiple times today. As long as the run game is broken, the Chargers will have trouble in the red zone, but the passing game seems as if it will be able to gain yards in chunks against any defense in the league.

The defense again had some breakdowns, but overall stood up to the Ravens nicely in the second half with some key stops. If they can find the rhythm and aggressiveness they had when the game was on the line today, San Diego will be close in every game this season.

So, even though the Chargers lost and are literally somewhat broken, they're head and shoulders above the rest of the AFC West and will get one more shot at the Super Bowl tourney.

Jamal Williams Out for the Year

The foundation of the Charger's defense has cracked. With Jamal Williams out for the entire year with a torn triceps muscle, the entire balance of the team and the season is thrown off. If the defense can't stop the run anymore, San Diego may not even win this terrible division and get into the playoffs.

This makes today's game an even more crucial test as the Ravens talented running backs will provide a good measuring stick as to what San Diego is capable of without Williams. In the past with Williams out, the middle of the defense was soft and other teams were able to control the clock and keep the Charger's offense off the field.

Rookie Vaughn Martin and last year's practice squad player, Ogemdi Nwagbuo will have to step up and play better than anyone expects for the Chargers to win today and have a chance this season. Nwagbuo did play reasonably well last week, recording San Diego's only sack against the Raiders. The Ravens will pound the middle and see what these guys are made of.

With the crucial injury to Williams, and LT out what looks like at least one more week, what looked like the most promising season in years is now under serious threat. Someone else on the team will have to step up and start making big plays.

Who will it be? The drama for today's game could not be greater. I'll stick with my prediction: Chargers 16, Ravens 14, but now this is simply a huge roll of the dice. Keep your fingers crossed in Chargerland!

Friday, September 18, 2009

San Diego vs. Baltimore Preview

The Silver and Black stench is clearing up and the Chargers will return to the blue sky and golden sun of San Diego this week. It's their turn to go a little berserk in front of the home crowd and smack the Ravens.

LaDanian Tomlinson will not go, but because the Chargers wisely retained Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett this off season, the Ravens will have to honor the run as Phillip Rivers looks to light up the passing game down field. He needs to avoid the best safety in the league in Ed Reed. Using Antonio Gates and Legedu Naanee across the middle against an older and slower Ray Lewis might be a wise choice and keep Lewis from being to quick to stuff the run up the middle. Look for screens and sweeps to Michael Bennett who still has unnatural speed.

The Charger's patchwork offensive line will be tested by Haloti Ngata (their younger version of Jamal Williams) and their own inexperience. I'm guessing the Chargers will attempt to use quick slants and screens to minimize the impact of the inexperienced line and not give much time for the Ravens to get to Rivers. That's good news when you have Bennett and Sproles in the backfield. Let's face it, the standard run game hasn't clicked for years, why would it suddenly gel this week against the Ravens, with the career back-ups in the game? Norv will have to get creative, BUT be thankful we have him. Martyball won't work this Sunday.

It seems pretty obvious how the Ravens will attack the Charger's defense. Tight End Todd Heap down the middle until the Chargers stop it and deep passes in the direction of Steve Gregory and Clinton Hart, all set up by pounding the running game. The Ravens have some talented running backs in Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and big Le'Ron McClain.

Hopefully, the adjustments San Diego made after the first quarter of last week's debacle against the Raiders will carry through to this week. The Chargers have to hope Jamal Williams is healthy enough to play and be effective. The home field setting should help the defense get a little more pumped up in getting off the ball and making aggressive plays.

Raven's quarterback Joe Flacco looked like a Hall of Famer against a terrible Chiefs defense last week. This week San Diego will expose him as a mildly inexperienced quarterback not ready to be anointed the next Dan Marino just yet.

This one will be low scoring, close and ugly. The Chargers will pull it out by a field goal:

San Diego 16 Ravens 14

Monday, September 14, 2009


The offensive line of the Chargers did not block well, showing a lack of push and aggressiveness. Without the run game working, the defense of the Raiders could pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. The pocket continually collapsed both before and after Louis Vasquez and Nick Hardwick went out with injuries.

Critical breakdowns at the safety position again stung the Chargers... just like last year. AJ Smith thought he could get by without bringing in a proven veteran to this position. Steve Gregory and Clinton Hart (just clueless) have had enough time to show they're not much more than practice squad players. AJ: FIX IT!

The Raiders were home and played inspired football, doing most of the hitting and showing themselves as the aggressors throughout the game. Norv and the Chargers need to question why they have come out slow and with a lack of fire the last few seasons.

JaMarcus Russell showed he's still not a real NFL quarterback, missing numerous open receivers. It's a shame the Chargers couldn't get to him more and let him have as much success as he did.

The Chargers weren't able to get into a rhythm, partly due to first game jitters, bad luck and some inspired play from the Raiders under Tom Cable (maybe choking threats work).

Rivers' last drive and the calm the team displayed at the end of the game show why the Chargers are the best team in the AFC West. However, they still aren't playing complete football. If the Raiders had anyone resembling a real quarterback, they would have beaten San Diego tonight.

Hopefully the injuries to Hardwick and Vasquez aren't too serious. If they are? This could dash the Chargers Super Bowl hopes this season. Rivera also needs to figure out why his linebackers aren't getting to the quarterback. Has the 3-4 defense jumped the shark? Does it no longer confuse anyone?

This game should serve as a wake-up call for the Chargers to rededicate themselves to fundamental football: aggressiveness and blocking. They have a short week to prepare for the Ravens next Sunday. Despite everything, A WIN IS A WIN! GO BOLTS!

Chargers vs. Raiders Pre-Game Analysis

The Chargers should win this one going away tonight. They have a superior organization, coaches and players. The Raiders are a complete mess with ancient owner Al Davis calling the shots. Their head coach, Tom Cable, is not a real NFL coach, and he's only there because he will play JaMarcus Russell and quarterback no matter what happens. Davis had some strange vision that Russel will be a great quarterback leading the Raiders to many Super Bowls and he's going to stick with it despite what reality presents.

Some have said that Russell did better at the end of last season, but in the preseason, he still couldn't make the reads quickly enough. If his first option was covered he was done. Some folks, no matter what they do in college(look across the Bay to Alex Smith), just don't have what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.

This presents the Chargers with some interesting possibilities tonight. Sacks and interceptions should be there for the taking. If the Charger offense has a good night and the Raiders are forced to pass a lot to try to catch up, Russell will be exposed. Shawne Merriman should have a chance to test his burst and see if he can still do it in the NFL. Also, look for some new wrinkles from the Ron Rivera defense. I'm interested to see if the front seven can create more confusion and havoc than last year.

On offense, the Chargers will get to see if an inexperienced right side of the line will hold up. Starting rookie Louis Vasquez at right guard and Jeromey Clary at right tackle is one of the biggest gambles San Diego is taking this season. They will get to face the intimidating and talented Richard Seymour, who just flew in from the Patriots on Saturday. If the line can gel, open holes in the run game, and pass block well, the Chargers will have an incredible season.

I'm also predicting LaDanian Tomlinson will return to form this year. He seems to have absorbed the Marty-Hate for the Raiders (a Raider intentionally cracked his rib in a pile four years ago), so he should be looking for a big game. This game should be a good indication of LT's physical abilities the rest of the season.

Final score? Chargers 38, Raiders 10

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chargers 2009 Record Prediction and Analysis

Wondering how the San Diego Chargers will do this season? Here's a game by game prediction:

RECORD 14-2 & a Super Bowl Victory

Week 1 Mon. Sep. 14 @ Raiders 7:15 PM W

The Raiders will come out pumped up and probably try some desperate trick plays, but soon realize they're in for another season of dysfunction as their losing streak to the Chargers grows.

Week 2 Sun. Sep. 20 Ravens 1:15 PM W

This is a tough early game and will be close, but the Chargers use home field advantage and early season confidence to pull this one out. The Ravens may find out Ray Lewis is getting older and Joe Flacco is a bit overrated.

Week 3 Sun. Sep. 27 Dolphins 1:15 PM W

Teams are more prepared for the Wildcat this season, showing it for the flash in the pan NFL fad that it is. The Dolphins are tough and play hard, but don't have the talent of the Chargers.

Week 4 Sun. Oct. 4 @ Steelers 5:20 PM L

This should be an excellent early season reality check for San Diego, showing them that they may be good, but if they want to win the Super Bowl they're going to have to be great. Hopefully, this will be one of those losses that can be turned into a positive, challenging the team to work harder.

Week 5 Sun. Oct. 11 BYE

I'm not a fan of early bye's, but the Chargers will need it at this point after three consecutive tough, old-school style opponents in a row. Take a break. Hit the beach. Stay away from The Stingaree and women who are named after any kind of alcohol, and start salivating about crushing your woeful division "rivals."

Week 6 Mon. Oct. 19 Broncos 5:30 PM W

Ed Hochuli can't save you now. The Broncos are vying with the Raiders for the "Most Disastrous Off Season Ever" award. All they need to do to catch up is intra-squad choking drills. I'm sure many Broncos would line up to get at Brandon Marshall.

Week 7 Sun. Oct. 25 @ Chiefs 10:00 AM W

I know many folks are saying the Chiefs are the most dangerous opponent in the AFC West for San Diego, but with the state of the division, that's not saying much. They simply don't have the personnel on defense. I'm also not convinced that Matt Cassel can be as effective without "the genius" backing him up. What the Broncos and Chiefs haven't figured out yet is that just because someone worked with Bill Belichick, doesn't mean they are Bill Belichick. The guy who mixed paint for Leonardo Da Vinci probably couldn't paint worth a lick. The "genius by association" theory will prove to be false again this season.

Week 8 Sun. Nov. 1 Raiders 1:05 PM W

By this point in the season, Raiders fans will be wondering again if they can trade Al Davis. There will also be recriminations for releasing their only viable quarterback in Jeff Garcia, because he was too good and might create the dreaded "quarterback controversy." Hey, Tom Cable may even be on trial for felony assault. The good news for the Chargers? Billy Volek gets some valuable mid-season playing time as San Diego wins by 35.

Week 9 Sun. Nov. 08 @ Giants 1:15 PM L

Lest the Chargers get too cocky, here's another reality check for them in traveling to a tough, East Coast, NFC opponent. This should be a great test of the stolidness of San Diego's run defense as the Giants have the best offensive line in the league. Once again though, this loss comes at the perfect time, reminding the Chargers whose heads may be inflating with three consecutive victories over AFC West tomato cans, that the playoffs will be as tough as ever.

Week 10 Sun. Nov. 15 Eagles 1:15 PM W

The Eagles should be another tough opponent, but the Chargers will be up to the task on this one. McNab has a 50/50 chance of being injured by this point in the season the way things usually go for him. Could the Chargers see a starting Michael Vick? Let's hope so.

Week 11 Sun. Nov. 22 @ Broncos* 1:15 PM W

The "Mile-High Mystique" will have thoroughly lost its mojo by this point in the season.

Week 12 Sun. Nov. 29 Chiefs* 1:05 PM W

LaDanian Tomlinson shows he hasn't lost a step with a huge game at home against a weak defense. Doubters will be surprised to see him approaching 2006 MVP stats at this point in the season.

Week 13 Sun. Dec. 6 @ Browns* 1:05 PM W

This could be a "sleeper" game which the Chargers take too lightly after four consecutive wins, but I'm going to give Norv and the veteran leadership on this team the nod here in keeping this team focused to beat the rebuilding Browns.

Week 14 Sun. Dec. 13 @ Cowboys* 1:15 PM W

I don't think Dallas is as good as they think they are. Jerry Jones is kind of an "Al Davis-Lite" in getting too involved in football operations, when he isn't really a football professional. Tony Romo really hasn't proven himself to be much more than a flashy flash in the pan either. They will have a poor season. The blame will fall on Wade Phillips, who will be fired, instead of where it should be placed, with Jerry Jones. Good news for the Chargers? San Diego will be able to bring Phillips back as defensive coordinator after Ron Rivera accepts a head coaching job in 2010.

Week 15 Sun. Dec. 20 Bengals* 1:05 PM W

Anyone see the HBO reality training camp show "Hard Knocks"? Well, it featured the Bengals this season. They look like a tragedy waiting to happen.

Week 16 Fri. Dec. 25 @ Titans 4:30 PM W

This game will have playoff implications in terms of home-field advantage and a playoff atmosphere. The Titans will be much less scary without Albert Haynesworth. The Chargers will tee-off on a slow moving (if he isn't already injured) Kerry Collins.

Week 17 Sun. Jan. 3 Redskins* 1:15 PM W

San Diego's offensive line won't have to shed a tear that they missed Albert Haynesworth in Tennessee, as they will get to face his awesome and cheap shot-taking presence at home this week. The Redskins keep under performing because they don't have a strong quarterback. The main focus here will be getting the win to maintain home-field advantage over the Steelers and Patriots in the playoffs, but another big focus will be staying healthy. I wouldn't put it beyond Haynesworth to pull a late hit body slam or knee slam on LT, Rivers, or Gates (which he's done before) just for the pure joy of injuring someone (he's a real nice fellow).

If the Chargers go into the post-season with any of these three injured again, we must consider that we may have some sort of Chicago Cub-like voodoo curse on our city. The ghost of Jack Murphy (I want my stadium back)? The ghost of Gene Klein cursing the Spanoses for daring to consider moving his beloved team?

I'm one to believe in the reality of the law of averages over curses, so I'm predicting none of this will happen this season. San Diego will get a bye in the playoffs, then go on to beat the Steelers and Patriots at home, then take the Minessota Vikings in the Super Bowl.