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.