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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Charger Defensive Backs 2009 Starting Grade: B-

This group was much maligned last year as the Chargers pass defense ended up ranked 31st in the league. Make all the excuses you want: lack of pass rush, a high scoring offense forcing teams to pass to keep up, etc. but 31st is just terrible.

One of the key questions going into this season, I think, has been answered. Can cornerback Antonio Cromartie regain his 2007 form after playing with an injured hip all last season? When he jumped in front of a Kurt Warner pass in the end zone against Arizona in the preseason, then returned it for 50 yards with a nice stiff arm to the jaw of Warner on his way out of bounds, I think we had our answer. Cromartie still needs to work on his run defense and tackling. Sometimes he looks like Deion Sanders at is worst with his arm tackles and lack of "stoutness" on the edge. But if he can get by in the run game and regain that freakish athletic ability against the pass, the Chargers will be in good shape in 09.

The other corner is almost forgotten because he's become so good. Teams don't want to throw at Quentin Jammer anymore because he's all over the receivers. San Diego fans have been rewarded for their patience in the development of one of the finest corners in the league. The preseason reminded us that he still has hands of stone (anyone remember stick-um?), but he is a true shut-down corner at this point in his career. Unlike Cromartie, Jammer is vicious in the run game, as one of the bigger hitters on the team. If he wasn't so good at corner, he would make a great safety.

Speaking of safeties, Eric Weddle has developed nicely into the smart player and leader of the defense AJ Smith envisioned when drafting him. He is undersized and isn't going to intimidate any receivers coming across the middle, but he seems to be in right place consistently and not miss tackles. This will only be his third year, so expect him to show even more improvement and make some picks this season.

The strong safety position is the biggest question mark and perhaps weakness of the whole team. Clinton Hart works hard and tries his best, but seems to have critical mental lapses in coverage, giving up big plays. Some of this was evident in the preseason, though he managed to make some strong plays as well with some crucial tackles in the run game and a stunning interception. The question is, can San Diego win with his inconsistent play? Will AJ Smith's failure to bring in an experienced veteran to this position (Brian Dawkins?) be the biggest factor in the Chargers' failure to win a Super Bowl this season? We'll have to watch and see.

The team has been high on safety Steve Gregory in camp and there's a chance he could be starting at some point. Also rookie safety, Kevin Ellison, out of USC made some monster hits in the preseason and looks like a real NFL starter. The problem is that it's scary to trust a rookie to this crucial position that can give up game winning touchdowns if it isn't played right. I think Ellison will have to wait and apply his big hitting prowess to special teams this year.

Third cornerback, Antione Cason has developed nicely as a first-round draft pick and could be a starter on just about any team in the league. If Cromartie relapses into terrible play again this year, he will be somewhere else next season and Cason will be starting.

So this is a make or break year for this group that should be much, much better than 31st in the league.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Chargers Defensive Line Starting 2009: B

In any discussion of the d-line, we must begin with the great Jamal Williams. He is one of my favorite Chargers, bringing a swagger and confidence to the whole team. His powerful presence allows the linebackers to run around and make plays. Watch how he consistently pushes double-teams into the back-field. His age and his knees are the only thing to worry about as the season goes on. Reports from camp say he is doing better this summer than last and should be set to have a good, and full, season.

At left end is the hard to figure out Luis Castillo. He had a promising rookie season a few years ago, but was slowed by recurring ankle injuries for two years after that. Last year he was healthy, but didn't seem to have that same spark and play making ability he once did. The 3-4 defense is hard on ends, as they absorb a lot of double-teams. Is he better suited to play outside in the 4-3 defense? The Chargers like his team spirit and work ethic, but this is a pivotal year for Castillo. He needs to show a bit more or the team may be looking in another direction. A great year from him could be a pivotal factor in San Diego reaching the Super Bowl.

The right end position seems to be a bit of mystery going into the season. Jaques Cesaire was slotted to start early on, but he has been injured for most of camp and didn't play in any preseason games. He did start last year as Ron Rivera favored him over the disappearing Igor Olshansky (now with Dallas). Cesaire has been announced as the official starter next week against the Raiders, but can he really be ready to go?
Ryon Bingham was supposed to be the experienced back-up, but he was recently put on injured reserve with a torn triceps. The Chargers also drafted rookie Vaughn Martin out of Canada. He's an amazing athlete with great potential, but needs more experience before he's ready.

Recently, San Diego gave up a sixth round pick to the Houston Texans to pick up DE Travis Johnson. The Texans were going to cut him, frustrated because he seemed to always be injured. He currently has a sports hernia and there's some question as to whether he will be ready to go Sunday. If he can heal and regain the form that made him a high draft pick years ago, he could be a surprising steal for the Chargers and end up starting.

So overall, this is a group with a ton of potential but some significant question marks. We'll have to watch closely the first few games to see how it all pans out.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Shawne Merriman and Tila Tequila?

I know these players are young and living the life, but even for a 25 year-old it's probably not the wisest idea to be hanging out with a hammered Tila Tequila at your house at 3:45 AM before the start of what many think is your franchise's best shot at a Super Bowl. Probably not a good idea when you're rehabbing back from a severe knee injury and illegal substance accusations in the last year of your contract and trying to prove to the NFL that you can still be a dominant force.

Shawne Merriman has been a great player, but I can understand why AJ Smith might let him go. I doubt any of the Patriots or Steelers are out this week getting involved in this kind of insanity.
Maybe his hubris will be his downfall. I can party, be a rock star and one of the best players in the NFL on my way to the Super Bowl. No you can't. I can play through a knee injury and heal myself through my superhuman will. No you can't.

Hopefully, Merriman's story, that he was simply trying to restrain Ms. Tequila from driving drunk, turns out to be true. But whatever the outcome, he needs to rethink who he's hanging out with during the season. People thought Jessica Simpson was bad for Tony Romo? She's June Cleaver next to Tila.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chargers 53-Man Roster

AJ Smith and company show they are serious about contending for a Super Bowl this year by taking some risks in yesterday's cuts. They keep running backs Michael Bennett, Gartrell Johnson and fullback Mike Tolbert. This necessitated at least one surprise cut somewhere else.

They cut guard Kynan Forney, who was slotted as the starting right guard until he sustained a neck injury a few weeks ago. They also cut veteran tackle LJ Shelton. This means they have confidence in, but are taking a risk on, some young starting offensive linemen in guard Louis Vasquez and tackle Jeromey Clary. The back-ups for these guys are also young and inexperienced. The Chargers are only keeping eight offensive lineman, fewer than the overwhelming majority of NFL teams feel comfortable with.

Will this gamble pay off?

We will have to see as the season develops. If Gartrell Johnson and Michael Bennett contribute in some way and the Chargers do well, these will look like great decisions. If the run game falters because Clary and Vasquez aren't getting it done (which they haven't really proven they can do in the preseason) it may look like a foolish risk. We'll have to wait and see, but I agree with the decisions to keep all the running backs over some under performing offensive linemen.

Another possibility is that AJ Smith is holding onto Bennett, or Johnson for that matter, in case a team in desperate need for a running back comes calling. The Chargers are only keeping three corner backs, thinking an extra safety can fill that spot in dime-back passing situations. If the right corner gets offered, one of these extra running backs could be out the door.
The drama continues! Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Charger vs. 49rs Post Game Analysis

Well, rookie running back Gartrell Johnson looked much more comfortable in the offense tonight, allowing his blocks to set up and consistently running over the first tackler (though mostly against the 2nd and 3rd stringers). He displayed great power and more quickness if not great speed. His toughness is something special though I still worry he's going to get hurt. He did drop an easy screen pass and almost fumble but overall, he simply had a great game and deserves to make the 53-man roster.

The problem? Michael Bennett, though he had fewer carries, made the most of it looking like a veteran starting running back. Many teams would like to have this guy. On one screen pass he leaped over a tackler then made two quick moves completely spinning around a corner back and running right by him.

If it comes down to a decision between Johnson, Bennett and fullback Mike Tolbert, I think Tolbert should be the one pushed off the plank to the practice squad.
Starting full back Jacob Hester also had a nice night catching a couple passes in the flat, then using his speed to turn the corner. The play-action pass to Hester will be consistent 5-yard gainer all season long. How can defenses cover him well with all the other weapons on the field? I just hope his run blocking improves.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chargers vs. 49rs Preseason Preview

The best thing about tonight's game is that it's the last preseason game and we get to some real football in two weeks (next week against the Raiders doesn't count). This will probably be the least eventful game in terms of seeing much from guys who will play in the regular season and it looks like just about all of the roster decisions have been made as well.

The UT has reported that the Chargers will probably keep full back Mike Tolbert over running back Michael Bennett. While I'm feeling wise and vindicated as this was my original prediction weeks ago, Bennett's recent play has changed my mind. I think they should find a way to keep Bennett. Here's why:

  • With an aging LaDanian Tomlinson and a Shawne Merriman in the last year of his contract, this isn't the year to plan for the future. The Chargers should make the run now and Bennett is capable of making huge plays, while Tolbert is just a back-up and good special teams player who wasn't greatly effective before he got injured last year anyway.

  • Tight End Kris Wilson played a version of full back in Kansas City and can back up as needed.

  • Rookie running back Gartrell Johnson hasn't shown much yet in preseason. With the way he runs straight up and gets popped, he has a greater chance of getting injured as a back- up than LT as a starter. Let Bennett fill that role.

  • Tolbert may be able to be put on reserve on the practice squad without getting picked up, while Bennett will be immediately snatched by a division rival like Denver or even worse, a good team like the Patriots that we'll have to see in the playoffs.

I'm a big fan of AJ Smith, but I hope he doesn't stubbornly stick to preconceived notions here without considering what Bennett might do for us this year.

The only other thing I'm looking for tonight is for Larry English to get some more playing time and see if he can get to the quarterback and get more comfortable in the defense.