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)