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.