Monday, December 27, 2010

Season-Ending Pall

As Mike Tolbert lay face down on the field barely moving, a pall was cast over this Chargers' team and season. The best news after the game is that he seems to be alright after a scary fall that reminds everyone that even the toughest have their limits.

The Chargers reached their limit Sunday afternoon in a game that showed they had not conquered their early season problems. Playing in an unfocused and uninspired haze, this team does not have the fire, leadership and perspective to properly prepare for every game and play football with passion and a determination to win. The blame here lies with the coaches, players, and AJ Smith.

This team was not prepared to play at a high level early in the season nor were they consistent throughout the season. The blame here can fall most directly on Norv's shoulders. A coach needs to have a strong sense of how well his team will perform in real game conditions based on what goes on in practice. Norv has seemed a bit out of touch with reality this year in thinking this team was going to be one of the best ever in San Diego. The injury excuse has been trotted out time and again, but that seems invalid to me as these problems were evident in the very first game when injuries were not a factor.

In yesterday's game, Norv's call of a reverse on the first play from scrimmage with the Chargers on their own twenty yard-line showed a lack of trust in his team's ability start fast with its standard offense. Most coaches would save that type of play for mid-field situations so that a fumble or large loss wouldn't put the team back at it's own goal-line. The fumble in the exchange between Tolbert and Jackson set the tone for this game, but a team full of players with more heart and faith would have been able to come back from this mistake.

Randy McMichael was quoted in the U-T saying that from the beginning it like "it just wasn't our day." A team with great players and leaders would find a way to make their day. This game, as has already been said many times before, illustrated a microcosm of the season. Lack of preparation, leadership and experience led to terrible in game mistakes; the same qualities led to an inability to recover from these mistakes. This team too often wilted, instead of responded to, pressure.

AJ Smith is at fault here in that he needs to find players with more character. It's fine to draft nice "community" guys who aren't going to get DUI's or weapons possession charges, but a team also needs guys that refuse to lose. It seems right now, despite all its talent, the team hasn't acquired enough of the latter. AJ can rectify some of this, but Norv also has to inspire the players never to give up, prepare for every game properly, and to dominate teams they are superior to. He hasn't done that enough this year.

There are a lot of fans, as expected, calling for the firing of Norv and AJ, but I think things are still salvageable with this group and franchise. Norv will have to reconsider some his coaching practices. AJ will have to show a greater sense of urgency and less complacency in building a team that can challenge for the Super Bowl next year. As safe as their jobs are for 2011, another season out of the playoffs and all bets are off. Even in the midst of mourning this season, I'm hopeful for the next.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chiefs Need a Loss; Chargers Need a Win

As I said in my last post, the more interesting game for Charger fans today should be Tennessee vs. Kansas City. The Chargers are playing well, have had some extra rest, and should get a win against an inferior Bengals team that may be playing for a first-round draft pick more than anything else.

Cincinnati did win last wee though, and looking at their stats, they fall in the middle of the pack in both offensive and defensive categories. They, like the Chargers have had a lot of adversity this season and have found ways to lose with ill timed turnovers and special teams issues. They had a strong performance in beating the Browns last week. If San Diego isn't on, or has a Christmas hangover (they were flying out yesterday afternoon instead of Friday as they usually do so players could have time with families), or don't handle the cold, or overlook these guys in any way, the Bengals could rise up and beat them, virtually ending the season for the Chargers.

With T.O. out and Ochocinco hurting, San Diego should be able to cover their receivers one-on -one and stack the box against bruising running back Cedric Benson, forcing Carson Palmer into third and long situations in which he's given up the ball almost more than any other starting quarterback this season (18 INT's). The Chargers should be able to pressure him enough to get him fantasizing about returning to his offseason home on the beaches of Del Mar and getting out of the frozen nightmare of Cincinnati.

It will be a testament to Norv and the maturity and leadership on this team if San Diego puts in another strong performance today. If they don't? We can speculate about the holes on this team, in personnel, leadership, and coaching that led to the downfall of this season.

In the game that seems even more up in the air in Kansas City, the Titans are holding out on slim playoff hopes in their division. At 6-8 they would need both the Colts and Jaguars to lose out and win out themselves to have a chance. Tennessee is near the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive categories, suggesting they may be worse than their mediocre record implies.

However, they are coming off of a strong performance last week and one could argue (hope?) that quarterback Kerry Collins is shaking off the rust after Vince Young started most of the season. If nothing else, the Titans are a tough team that gets a lot of sacks and prides itself on stopping the run. This could be the perfect combination for stopping the Chiefs. Chris Johnson, though not having a superhuman season like he has the last couple years, is still a great back and also had a strong game last week. If the Titans come to play, they should be right in this down to the end. The Chiefs just aren't that good.

Chargers 27, Bengals 13

Titans 17, Chiefs 13

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Uncertainty

With the Chiefs, Ravens and Jets all winning last weekend, Charger fans must confront the fateful possibility that that San Diego could win out after stomping on division leading Kansas City and still not make the playoffs. Matt Cassel's triumphant return, displaying no ill effects from his appendectomy in beating the Rams in St. Louis should make San Diego nervous. With the Chargers' final games coming against the Bengals and Broncos, games the Chargers should win if they continue to play anywhere near the level they have the last two weeks, in a sense all the drama of this season has shifted to the Chiefs.

Kansas City has two home games remaining against the Titans and the Raiders. Both opponents are coming off fairly strong wins last week and are nursing slim playoff hopes. The Chiefs will be favored in both games, but I think there is a strong possibility they will drop one, if not both. A statistical analysis put out through AP gave the Chiefs an 86% chance of winning the division and the Chargers an 11% chance. Perhaps I'm a bit of a homer, but I'd put the odds at closer to 50-50 with a slight edge going to San Diego.

While the Chiefs are no longer horrible, the Chargers exposed some serious flaws in this team (with or without Cassel). The Kansas City defense is not great and its offensive line isn't going to run over anyone. If an opponent can contain the speed of Jamaal Charles and not make any big mistakes, Kansas City will be incapable of running away with, or dominating any game. This is why both the Titans and Raiders figure to be in their respective games down to the wire in Kansas City the next two weeks. I will be surprised if this Chiefs team can hold it together against the pressure for two games. They definitely fell apart in San Diego. Coming back strongly last week against St. Louis showed some fight and confidence, but the Rams are also a young team struggling with confidence issues and a rookie quarterback in Sam Bradford who admittedly had a bad game.

So in the next to weeks, perhaps Charger fans should pay more attention to what's going on in Kansas City than in Cincinnati or Denver. Fingers remain crossed.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Doubts in Chiefsville

The Chargers not only beat the Chiefs, they destroyed them today in a game that should plant deep seeds of doubt in the minds of this young first-place team. The Chiefs, without Cassel, are worse than we thought they were. The Chargers, as I noted in my previous posts, ran into the perfect storm against Oakland last week and are better than we thought they were.

This game displayed energized offensive and defensive lines that dominated from start to finish. Garay owned the Chiefs interior early in the game, sapping their confidence and setting up the early lead that Kansas City would never recover from with Coryle at quarterback.

Croyle just doesn't have the accuracy, timing, or pocket presence to replace Cassel. If Cassel can't go again next week, I can't see how the Chiefs can win on the road in St. Louis. By winning in the way they did, the Chargers may have created fissures in the Chief's confidence that will cause them to crumble down the stretch.

The game ball for this one should go to both Jammer and Cason who completely shut down Bowe and the rest of the Cheifs' receivers. I don't think either guy could have played better.

On the offensive side, Sproles looked like a new man after his concussion last week, aggressively attacking holes and getting up field without too much dancing around. Tolbert showed his great footwork for a big man, cutting back and twisting through holes that looked too small for his large frame. Ryan Matthews again showed flashes of what he could become. Each game he gets more reps and works on his field vision, the more dangerous he becomes. If the Chargers do make the playoffs he could be real dangerous down the stretch.

Lastly, all the fans that thought VJ was "over" San Diego were proved wrong today. The guy played and made a difference. He's going to help Phillip Rivers run the table and give this season new life.

Looking ahead, Thursday's game against the 49ers is a scary one. The Niners are the type of physical and aggressive team that gives San Diego problems. The fact that the Chargers seemed to avoid major injuries today is a huge plus. The Niners just put a shellacking on the Seahawks though and might be playing for coach Mike Singletary's job. San Diego will have to strap in on and make sure they don't overlook these guys like they did that other team form across the bay.

Must Win...Really

Today's game against the Kansas City Chiefs is one of those franchise defining moments. Win, and the Chiefs' division lead suddenly isn't so solid with starting QB Matt Cassel likely hurting for the next couple weeks. Lose, and Chargers' season is over. Fans will start with the "AJ is a fraud" calls, "fire Norv", evolving into the "let them move to LA anyway" nuclear option.

This game means everything.

As I said in my last post, I think last week's game was a bit of a perfect storm for the Chargers unlikely to be repeated this week. The Raiders ran all over the Chargers and the Chiefs are coming to town with the NFL's number one rushing attack, but the Raiders' particular brand of power running exposes the Chargers' weaknesses directly. The Chiefs, on the other hand, rely a bit more on speed than power. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are great backs, but they usually don't run people over. The Chargers undersized safeties and quick linebackers should be able to bring them down.

The Chargers' defensive line will be the key this week. Antonio Garay hurt his ankle in last week's game and returned to action but seemed ineffective. Can he play at a high level this week? In the first match-up he dominated Chiefs center Casey Whigham. At the defensive ends, Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo were consistently controlled. Those two have to rebound. If they don't and the Chargers lose? Don't expect them to be around next season. Either way, defensive end will have to be a point of focus this offseason.

On offense, I expect Rivers to rebound. The guy is just too good to hold down two weeks in a row. If Vincent Jackson doesn't get a hang-nail, he should help the Chargers stretch the defense for other receivers to get open if nothing else. The Chargers also need step up and run the ball. This may be Ryan Mathews' only chance to show his rookie season wasn't a bust. The Chiefs defense has been good, but they're not as stout and strong as the Raiders were last week. The Chargers, if properly motivated can go toe-to-toe with these guys and push them around.

Ultimately, even though the Chiefs haven't asked Matt Cassel to do too much this season, he's been the key in playing incredibly efficiently and make smart decisions when it mattered. Back-up Brodie Croyle simply won't be able to do that if the Chargers put pressure on him by making it close or taking a lead. As long as San Diego avoids more horrendous special teams mistakes, they will win this game.

Chargers 27, Chiefs 9

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chargers' Season in the Hands of Fate

The Raiders came to San Diego last Sunday and pushed around a Charger team that, after experiencing some early game (early season) adversity, was not ready for a fight. While many Chargers told the media beforehand that they were prepared for Oakland's best, it seemed even Norv and Rivera underestimated the Raiders.

The Chargers seemed to play Oakland straight, without any special plays or packages designed to surprise or confound. It's almost as if they decided after beating Indy easily the week before that they were the better team and didn't have to do anything special for the Raiders, but they ran into a buzzsaw.

After Sproles early fumble, Rivers incredibly errant pass that went for an interception and the Raiders went up 14-0, the Chargers lost their ability to break the Raiders' spirit. I still believe that if San Diego could have struck first and built a lead, the Raiders would have folded as they did against Miami the previous week. In letting the Raiders take a lead, they exposed themselves to the formula that all teams playing the Chargers should employ.

The Raiders pounded the ball up the middle and off tackle, challenging San Diego's athletic but less stout linebackers and undersized safeties. This strategy might sound familiar as the Jets used it last season to kick the Chargers out of the playoffs. I like Weddle and think he's a good player, but he's the kind of safety that works best against a dizzying passing offense like the Colts employ. As I said last week, the Chargers D seems designed to challenge the "offense of the future," but struggles when the old school folks come to town. This truth should frighten Chargers fans, because even if San Diego still makes the playoffs, how will they fare against the likes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore?

On the other side of the ball the Chargers ran up against some match-up problems on the offensive line. With Louis Vazquez out with a neck injury, back up guard Tyrone Greene had to step in and go one on one with the massive Tommy Kelly. He couldn't get much help from Hardwick at center because he was helping Dielman deal (no pun intended) with the other D tackle who happens to be the incredibly strong and dangerous Richard Seymour. The Raiders D-line also utilizes a smart strategy against the Chargers' O-line. Instead of trying to get around the technically sound and well coached Charger linemen, they simply use their strength and height to push them back into Rivers' face. This inhibits Rivers' vision, shinks the pocket, and disallows Phillip from being able to follow through with his throws, causing many errant and high passes (like the one Floyd that caused the interception). Oakland did this in both games, causing the passing game extra problems even when they weren't sacking the quarterback.

The silver lining in all of this (alright...pun intended!) is that most teams don't possess the personell to do this to the Chargers' O-line. So even though this was a horrible home loss that may have cost the Chargers this season, it doesn't mean the team is broken. The Raiders just happen to match-up perfectly with San Diego right now, and when Sproles fumbled the early punt, that perfect storm was set in motion.

As long as the younger players on the Chargers don't lose their confidence, the team is still perfectly capable of winning out and forcing the Chiefs to prove they're for real and earn the AFC West title. With news of Matt Cassel's appendicitis, San Diego's chances to sneak back into the playoffs just increased. The Raiders may be tied with the Chargers and own the tiebreaker in terms of division record and head-to-head, but they have a tougher final four game stretch and haven't shown any sign of consistency this season.

So Charger fans take heart. Though San Diego foolishly left this season to the whims of fate, there is still hope. Things might just look a lot brighter if they can crush the Chiefs at home this Sunday.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chargers Will Roll Raiders

The Raiders were leading at halftime against the Dolphins last week, but when Miami came out in the third quarter and scored on a 57-yard pass play from Chad Henne to Marlon Moore, you could see the team take a collective sigh. The game was over.

With a lack of leadership or a core of great players to inspire the others, this team will simply fold when things get tough. Now that this season has become rocky, it appears the Raiders have already quit. They may come out with some aggression today, but if the Chargers weather the initial storm and build a lead, the Raiders will soon stop believing they can win.

Oaklands' problems are compounded by the fact that they will be starting a quarterback whose confidence must also be shaky after getting pulled multiple times this season to be replaced by the fiery, but inaccurate and unskilled "gunslinger," Bruce Gradkowski. Jason Campbell seems to have the better temperament for an NFL quarterback, but with a 54% completion rate and a 75 QB rating for the season, he hasn't been tearing things up.

The Chargers pass defense has showed it's for real against Peyton Manning and the Colts. This group is feeling confident and will look to feast on some poorly thrown balls by a desperate quarterback. The Raiders know this and will likely try everything to establish the running game and pound the rock early. The strong play of Anonio Garay in the middle and Rivera's likely decision to stack the box and force the Raiders to beat the Chargers through the air will be the key battle to watch early on.

If the Chargers can build a lead of more than ten points and force the Raiders into third and long situations, this game will be over. The strong play of Cason and Jammer on the outside will let the San Diego put eight or nine guys in the box without fear to stop the speedy, powerful, and best player on the Raiders, Darren McFadden.

On the offensive side of the ball for the Chargers, it should be interesting to see who gets the majority of the carries. Mike Tolbert has become the number one running back, but now that he's ailing with an injured hand, will Norv try to give him more of a break by letting Ryan Mathews take more carries? Ideally, the Chargers would like to have both of these guys close to 100% going into next Sunday's game against the Chiefs.

In the passing game, the Chargers should dominate a defense that is 27th in the league in passing yardage given up. Getting Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee playing back at a high level without pulling hamstrings would be a major victory going into the last stretch of the season and hopefully the playoffs. Antonio Gates will once again be a game time decision. The Chargers probably don't need him for this game, but if he practiced this week and didn't do any more damage to his foot, he might as well go. His injury doesn't seem to get worse through use, it just needs time to heal. For the Chargers to have any chance in the post-season, Gates needs to be healthy.

The Raiders are, after a short period of delusion, again, a franchise in turmoil. They still don't have a true NFL quarterback or head coach, which has been a problem for awhile. The Chargers have looked like a team in playoff form these last few weeks, and as long as they aren't looking ahead to the Chiefs next week (and they remember what happened last time against the Raiders...maybe they should watch the video at the top of this to remind themselves), they should win this one easily at home.

Chargers 34, Raiders 10

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chargers Prove they are Elite

The Chargers embarrassed Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts last night in a game that should signal to fans and the NFL, that the team that has gone to the playoffs and dominated the AFC West for years is back on the scene. Will they prove they are even better than those groups who were summarily bumped from the playoffs too early? It depends on some key injuries, but I think so.

The difference of this year's team is the aggressiveness and confidence of the defense. These guys seem to have matured, and they now "get," and believe in Rivera's schemes. The defensive backs aren't giving up big plays, the defensive line is pushing people back, while the linebackers are playing smart, adjusting to the style of each team they face.

Even with the passing game limited with key receivers out or hobbling around in the secondary, the defense and the solid running game pushed through by Mike Tolbert are enough to give the Chargers multiple ways to win games. This is why they are on their way back to the playoffs and the Colts are sliding downward.

Right now, the Chargers are playing with the confidence of a team that is ready to make a run for, and in, the playoffs. The problem? There are still five games left to go and the suddenly stingy Chiefs refused to give any ground this week. Right now, both teams are 1-2 in the division, so if the Chargers beat the Chiefs and lose no other games, and the Chiefs win out aside from losing to San Diego, the teams will be tied in overall record but the Chargers would posses the superior division record, thus breaking the tie for the division title.

The Chargers have the look of a team ready to win out and take this thing, however, we know anything can happen in the NFL. The upcoming game worries me a bit in that the Chargers, even after having lost to the Raiders earlier this season, could come in a bit overconfident after seeing the horrible performance of the Oakland last week. They still don't appear to have a QB and their spirit looked broken after they fell behind just by three points against Miami. I'm sure they'd love to beat the Chargers though just out of spite. San Diego needs to bring their best for the rest of the season. Luckily, while Norv can't seem to start a season well, he's proven he's adept at keeping the guys focused at the end.

The Chargers now have a chance, and that's all that any team should ask for.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why the Chargers Will Beat the Colts

The Chargers go to Indianapolis Sunday night to play to Colts in a game that has playoff implications for both teams. The Colts, at 6-4 are wondering for the first time in awhile if they will make the playoffs. The Chargers at 5-5, and having won their last three games, are feeling more confident after blowing out the Broncos on Monday Night Football. Both teams face significant injury issues and will be relying on their Hall of Fame bound quarterbacks to pull this one out.

The Colts have an advantage in playing at home as they've been perfect there and the Chargers have been generally horrible on the road this year, but the Chargers have a superior supporting cast that will be the difference in this game.

San Diego's defense, as in last week's match against the Broncos, will be the difference in this game. Corners, Jammer and Cason, are playing at a high level and will be up for this game. The Broncos tried to pick on Cason last week and he responded with several break-ups and an interception. Safeties, Weddle and Oliver, have shown they understand the scheme and are showing excellent teamwork and communication in not allowing big plays.

With Joseph Addai out and a suspect run blocking scheme and commitment to begin with, the Chargers front seven will stifle the Colts' running game, forcing Manning to try and win it with his arm. The Chargers' athletic linebackers and sure tackling corners will limit the short passing game's effectiveness, forcing Peyton to throw the ball deeper, exposing him to the mistakes, interceptions and general lack of efficiency we've seen in the last four weeks. Looking at Peyton's stats, his quarterback rating has fallen dramatically over the last four weeks. Some of this can be attributed to injuries, and some to playing better defenses like the Patriots (and Chargers).

On the other side of the ball, the Colts have one of the worst run defenses in the league. The Chargers will take advantage of this and Rivers' efficiency, and methodically move the ball, keeping Peyton off the field. This will further frustrate the Colts, causing Manning to take even more chances. I expect the Chargers to come up with two or three interceptions en route to this victory.

In the passing game, the Colts' defense is stronger, with a lot of the credit going to defensive ends Mathis and Freeney coming off the edge. Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeil has shown he can handle Freeney in the past. We'll see how right tackle Jeromey Clary does with Mathis. In general, the Chargers' pass protection has been extremely solid since the return of McNeil, and they should be able to handle this challenge. If the Chargers do lose this game, it will be because they put themselves in a hole on special teams or with fumbles...or both, forcing Rivers' to make a late comeback with Freeney and Mathis pinning their ears back causing sacks, fumbles and general mayhem. The Chargers showed us last week that they are now a confident and aggressive football team again and I think those major mistakes of the first half of the season are behind them.

A couple other factors will contribute to Sunday's victory for San Diego: Sproles loves the fake stuff. While the little guy may have trouble churning those little legs on the wet and muddy stuff, he thrives on the field turf. Look for him to have an extra spark in the return game, on screens, and sneaky short passes up the middle like last week. He'll have at least one huge play...On the Chargers defense, I noticed something I hadn't seen all year that just might be the harbinger of interesting things to come: the aggressiveness of the defensive line. This group has been in survival mode since the injury and departure of Jamal Williams last year. Last week though, second year player Vaughn Martin and rookie Cam Thomas both had sacks and looked like they were actually having fun out there. Luis Castillo even made a couple of tackles for negative yardage. This group may be realizing their athletic potential and how aggressive they can be. If so, the Chargers can really become a legitimate top defense in the NFL (in accordance with their previously suspect stats).

A victory this week should set San Diego up perfectly to catch the Chiefs, at the same time, put the Indiapolis Mannings'...I mean Colts', season in jeopardy. Both teams are at a crossroads as franchises. The Chargers have attempted to reload with some younger players with great potential that may just be starting to pay off. The Colts may have put too many of their eggs in Manning's basket, with this game being the tipping point to a long frustrating slide downward.

Chargers 27, Colts 17

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Track

As an NFL analyst for ESPN, you would think Keyshawn Johnson would do a little homework while "preparing" his opinions. Last night before the game, he told Charger fans they wouldn't make it this year because they had "several" games to make up to catch the Chiefs, and that was just unrealistic to think things could work out perfectly. Wrong. With a win last night, the Chargers put the Broncos out of their misery (season over) and stayed on track to catch the Chiefs. More importantly, the Chargers are playing at a level that qualifies them for, and makes them relevant in, the playoffs.

Shaun Phillips deserves the MVP award for last night's game. The guy has matured into a versatile and smart player who has emerged as a leader and play maker on this defense. Fans were right to wonder about his character with some of the things he's said and done in the first half of his career. He seems to have taken his past mistakes to heart though and decided he'd rather be great than be a disgruntled punk. His ability to read plays on the fly coupled with his rangy quickness makes him extremely dangerous in the backfield for quarterbacks and running backs on draws and screens. Great game Shaun.

The special teams didn't lose the game this week and I think we discovered one of the major reasons for the poor performance in previous weeks: the injury to Brandon Siler. Back this week, the guy seemed to make every tackle on kickoffs. His big hits provide a spark of aggressiveness that carry over when the defense takes the field.

As I mentioned in my last post, the defense did prove to be the difference in this game, dominating the Broncos after they looking like they hadn't had their coffee yet on the first series. Orton looks good only when everything goes to plan and when the first receiver who is supposed to open actually is. Anyone who thought Orton belonged in the same conversation with Rivers as elite NFL quarterbacks were disabused of that notion by the end of the night.

When I gamed out the season (two posts ago) I originally picked the Colts to win next week's game in Indianapolis, but given the Chargers' confidence and performance and Peyton Manning's horrible game Sunday, this next game looks very good for San Diego. A win at Indy might even get Keyshawn's attention.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Are You Ready for Some Football?

The Chargers will try to prove to a national audience and themselves tonight that they belong in the playoff discussion. Some folks and analysts around the league who haven't been paying much attention may have already written them off. A big win could change all that.

The Chargers are the superior team to the Denver Broncos. While both offenses have been moving the ball and scoring points with ease, the Chargers' defense is for real and should prove the difference in this game. Again, like every other week, San Diego could mess this one up with horrible special teams play and some untimely fumbles.

On defense, I'm looking for Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer, along with Eric Weddle and Paul Oliver, to show they are gelling as a unit and ready for prime time. Many have criticized AJ for some first-round draft picks that haven't panned out, like Buster Davis, Larry English (so far!) and Ryan Mathews (so far!), but Cason is not one of them. In his first year as a starter at corner, he's been extremely solid. If anyone remembers the painful growing pains of Quentin Jammer, Cason seems like a child prodigy by comparison. The Broncos will be able to move the ball and score some points, but also look for this unit to get a couple of key interceptions.

The return of Larry English and Brandon Siler should help the secondary as the linebacking corps will have more fresh legs rushing the passer. English has to be motivated to prove he's not a first-round bust and Siler is fantastic on the sneaky quick blitz up the middle.

On offense, it doesn't look like Ryan Mathews will go. That's fine. Tolbert is capable and should have a good game against a weak and depleted Broncos' defense. Norv would be wise to give Mathews another week or two off to let him get fully healthy as he seems to keep aggravating the same injury.

In the passing game, I will be surprised if Gates makes it on the field this week. He simply needs more time to heal the tear in his foot. On the upside, Malcolm Floyd appears ready to go and should have a big game against a suspect Broncos' secondary. Look for Patrick Crayton and Seyi Ajirotutu to continue getting more and more comfortable with Rivers.

Most analysts seem to be predicting an high flying shootout that comes down to the end. I think the Chargers will be the only ones flying high as their defense will stifle Orton and company.

Chargers 38, Broncos 17

Friday, November 12, 2010

How the Chargers Will Make the Playoffs

After winning the last two games against a couple of the tougher teams on their schedule, the Chargers, even after an atrocious start, have set themselves up to make the playoffs. At 4-5, with a bunch of injured players coming back after the bye week, one could even make the case for the Chargers to be the favorite (again) to win the division. Here's the breakdown of predictions:

Denver at SD: W

SD at Indianapolis: L (although the Chargers could very likely win this one)

Kansas City at SD: W

Oakland at SD: W

San Francisco at SD: W

SD at Cincinnati: W

SD at Denver: W

The last two on the road at Cincinnati and Denver are the scariest, but the Chargers are better, surging, and should win these games. This would put San Diego at 10-6 for the season. Now let's take a look at current division leader Kansas City:

KC at Denver: W (for KC)

Arizona at KC: W

KC at Seattle: L

Denver at KC: W

KC at SD: L

KC at St. Louis L

Tennessee at KC: L

Oakland at KC: W

This puts the Chiefs at 9-7 and one game behind the Chargers for the division. This is precarious for the Chargers because if the the Chiefs step up and win even one game they're not "supposed to," this leaves the division tied, and the playoff decision will fall to tiebreaker scenarios.

Let's take a look at the Raiders (5-4), who also lead the Chargers in the division:

Oakland at Pittsburgh: L (for Oakland)

Miami at Oakland: W

Oakland at SD: L

Oakland at Jacksonville: L

Denver at Oakland: W

Indianapolis at Oakland: L

Oakland at KC: L

This puts the Raiders at 7-9 and out of playoff contention. Although they just beat the Chiefs last week and seem to be a team on the upswing at this point in the season, their schedule is much tougher than KC's or the Chargers' going forward.

Although there are too many variables, and the Chargers should have never put themselves in this hole to begin with, most sober analysts would have to make them the favorite to return to the playoffs. However, it will be unlikely that they will earn a buy, making it more likely that the road forward in the playoffs. May mean a game against an AFC South team at home, then, if they can survive, the road to the Super Bowl would go on the road through Pittsburgh, Indy, New York or New England. If the rest of the season does work out as I've predicted, we'll no doubt hear proclamations of the Chargers being the team "nobody wants to face" after having won seven of their last eight. Deja vu?

Let's just hope they can get in.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chargers Get What they Need in Houston

Well, the Chargers did make huge special teams mistakes AND turnovers in crucial situations AND they couldn't stop Arian Foster on first and second down, but they still came out with a win.


Phillip Rivers did make a bunch of fill in receivers look like stars. The offensive line was great in pass blocking, giving Rivers time to find the open receiver. Norv called a great game with a trick play at an opportune time.

The Texans helped by seeming to forget they had an unstoppable Marcus Allen-Eric Dickerson-Larry Johnson-hybrid running back in the second half who effortlessly glided through holes, arm tackles and around Chargers the whole first half. This guy has the look of a legend. Arian Foster's touchdown reception-that-wasn't shows the Chargers' luck may be evening out as they go forward. Coach Kubiak's decision to go for it on 4th and 1 out of the hurry-up offense was another gift.

Some Charger receivers did step up, including Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu, and Randy McMichael. Ajriotutu made a rookie mistake in the 4th quarter by lining up on the line of scrimmage when he should have been off. Norv went right back to him on a huge third down play and he made a great play in running through a DB to get the ball. He may have just secured himself a spot and a career in the NFL.

This win sets up the Chargers perfectly for strong run for the playoffs after the bye week where they should get back many of their regular starters on offense and defense. The Chiefs just lost to the Raiders, putting the Chargers two games back with seven to go. Charger fans who gave up after week seven need to dig back in their closets for their jerseys.

Oh, and for the love...Please fire Steve Crosby.

Turning Point in Texas

The seriously depleted Chargers go to Houston this week for a game that could determine the fate of their season. Will they build off last week's success, make fewer mistakes, play with passion and win? Or will they go back to their old pattern of making turnovers and younger players showing they aren't ready to compete in the NFL?

The scariest problem is the injury to Antionio Gates. Charger fans have grown used to him playing through severe injuries, but it may just be too much to ask this time. Gates couldn't walk on Monday. This may be the Sunday his consecutive starting streak ends.

Without Gates, someone else on the Chargers' receiving corps must have a big game. At the tight end position, Kris Wilson has only fumbled the ball and Randy McMichael has largely been a disappointment rather than a compliment to Gates. Patrick Crayton seems to be the best candidate at wide receiver, as he looked like he was gaining a rapport with the offense and with Rivers last week. It will also be interesting to see if rookie Seyi Ajirotutu can continue to make plays. The guy looks like someone who has the passion and desire to be a success in this league. Folks hint that he has deep threat speed, but I haven't seen it in a game yet. Look for Norv to give him at least one shot down the field.

If the Chargers win this game, it will be because Rivers plays his best and makes a bunch of back-ups look like regulars. For this to happen, the offensive line will have to have another strong week blocking. The offensive line, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert will also have to make something happen in the running game. Last week was the O-line's best game. Hopefully they've rediscovered their aggressiveness. I still think Mathews is capable (and due) to have a monster game. This would be a great week for it.

The Texans also have one of the top offenses in the NFL. Andre Johnson may be the best receiver in football. Quarterback Matt Shaub has been accurate with his passes. The Texans hit the jackpot with Mission Bay High alum Arian Foster at running back. This team can move the ball and score points. However, I think the Charger defense has been gaining confidence all season and is underrated by Charger fans and the NFL. Andre Johnson is nursing a bad ankle and may be a bit limited. This should allow the Chargers to stuff the run a bit more. If they can hold Foster and the short passing game on first and second down, then look for some crucial sacks and interceptions to come on third and long in what could be the deciding plays in this one.

San Diego cannot afford any horrible turnovers in the red zone or special teams gaffs this week. This would be too much for this fragile team's confidence on the road. If they can avoid those pitfalls, they win this one by a nose:

Chargers 34, Texans 30

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chargers Show Heart

The biggest development from Sunday's game was that the Chargers showed a whole bunch of heart and aggressiveness in knocking down the Titans in the second half. Darren Sproles getting low and powering through a defender on a touchdown run showed some renewed energy. Mike

Tolbert ran and ran over people like a man possessed. This team just decided (despite some more of the same dumb plays in the first half) not to lose.

In reference to my last post, luck was on the side of the Chargers this week as well. With Kenny Britt going down in the first quarter, the Titans' dominant deep threat was taken away. When Vince Young went down with an ankle injury in the 4th quarter on a QB slide (any worse luck than that?) the Chargers could sit back and defend the less (non?) mobile Kerry Collins.

Phillip Rivers continues to show his mastery of the quarterback position. With Marcus McNeill shaking the rust off in his second week back, Rivers had time to dissect the Titans' secondary. Rivers is the reason this team can't be counted out for the playoffs.

Anyone looking ahead at the rest of the schedule will see a very believable path to 10-6. With the Chiefs playing some real football, will this be enough to catch them? Charger fans have to hope for a mini Broncos-style collapse from a team that hasn't yet faced the real pressure games that will surely come down the stretch.

Next week's game on the road against the Texans suddenly becomes very important. This is one of the tougher teams the Chargers will face in what has become an early playoff drive, but this is a very winnable contest. Right now Peyton Manning is showing the weakness of Houston's secondary.

On an unrelated note: Will the Chargers pick up Randy Moss? No. AJ would never deal with this guy. Should they? No. There's been enough drama this season. With a team nursing some fledgling confidence, the last thing they need is the cynical Moss. Let him go to some other desperate team.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chargers Start on Road to 10-6 Record Today?

With Chargers' fandom making accusations about who is to blame for this season's horrible start (Fire Norv! Fire AJ! We should've kept LT, Jackson, Williams, Osgood etc.) I'm going to posit something that is perhaps controversial. Maybe the horrible start to this season is more attributable to bad luck than anything else.

Despite the horrible special teams play, without the fumbles, this team could be 7-0. Fumbles? Think about the timing and physics of what it takes for a player to fumble. A hit or swipe has to come at the exact time and place the ball carrier isn't ready for it. A millisecond to early or too late and....well, no fumble.

Even with all the injuries last week and the fumbles, the Chargers were in position to beat what many have been calling one of the "elite teams in the league."

Bad luck, chaos theory, entropy, or whatever you call is to blame more than anything else for this season. Once again (I know I said this last week) at some point the law of averages should even out. This can't go on.

The Titans have been good this season, but they aren't that good. The Chargers will put together a fumble free game and win this one. If they do, looking ahead at the schedule, there is a fairly sane path to 10-6 and another division title. The biggest question is whether or not the team's confidence has been battered too much from the series of unfortunate events this season. I'm encouraged that Antonio Gates seemed to speak up and take on more of a vocal leadership role this week. Hopefully the Chargers listen.

Chargers 17, Titans 10

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chargers Must Win Against Pats

This week, the so far so sloppy Chargers host the best coach in the game, who was probably drawing up X's and O's in his crib. Bill Belichick will find and probe and exploit any weakness the Chargers have exhibited over the first six games (he'll have a lot to choose from). If San Diego isn't at its best, the 4-1 Patriots will roll over them, then frustratingly control the clock and the game by throwing short passes to their stable quick mini-receivers.

Because the Patriots are smart and well coached, it is crucial the Chargers get off to a fast start and stay very close or keep the lead throughout the game. Another sleepwalking start will be fatal. There will be no charging second half comebacks this week. The Pats are too good.

From listening to the Charger players this week, it appears they realize do or die time is finally here. Dropping to 2-5 with a couple more tough games ahead might just be too devastating to recover from, even in the woeful AFC West. Norv's got to know, despite what everyone says about AJ and Dean's love for him, that if this team fails to make the playoffs this season, some crucial momentum and confidence will have been lost within the franchise (a hard thing to get back) and it will be his fault. Look at the New York Giants, a team that won the Super Bowl a few season's ago, now their momentum is gone, and head coach Tom Coughlin seems unable to get it back (should have been fired last year).

This game against the Patriots might just be the tipping point. Win and you've beaten one of the best teams in the NFL and shown The League you still belong in the elite; lose and you may signal the long slow slide of a franchise back to mediocrity. The window will close.

Perhaps my emotions are getting in the way, but I'm not ready let this era of the Chargers die yet. Playing at home seems to give the younger players more comfort and confidence to perform at their best. My head says I may be fooling myself here (how could a fan not lose faith after the last two weeks?), but I'm picking the Chargers to win this one.

San Diego 27, Patriots 24

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saints Show More Heart and Better Coaching

Something is seriously amiss with the San Diego Chargers. They have a great quarterback and offensive minded head coach. All other phases of the game are seriously lacking, causing losses to some of the worst teams in the NFL. The Chargers simply aren't doing the little things right.

To begin the game, the offensive line was not prepared for the Rams' blitzes, leading to five sacks and increased confidence for a Rams team that is in rebuilding mode. If the Chargers want to win these games against inferior teams, they have to step on their throats early and stay on them until their confidence breaks. The Chargers seem to simply lack the aggressiveness gene this year. Where is the sense of desperation?

After the Rams went up 10-0, Norv seemed to panic a bit and abandon the run game, passing on first down for several series in a row, but the lack of pass blocking led to the Chargers going backwards instead of forwards.

On special teams, San Diego gave up another long punt return and now the field goal unit failed by allowing a hugely important blocked kick. Steve Crosby's units continue to find new ways to let the team down. The guy should be fired.

The only good news out of this week is that Kansas City also lost, so the Chargers are still within striking distance for winning the division. The AFC West is still weak.

Norv needs to focus his energies on all phases and details of the game to turn this team around. He seems so dialed into what's going on with Phillip Rivers and the X's and O's of the passing game that everything else is going to pot. This season has started HORRIBLY, but is still salvageable.

We'll find out what Norv and these players are made of next week as they face the Patriots at home.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chargers Battle Themselves in St. Louis

The Chargers are going on the road to face another bad team this week. Once again, this game is less about their opponent than about the Chargers' own psychological make up. We know Rivers and the offense can move the ball up and down the field and score points. We know the defense can contain rookie QB Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson. What we don't know is if the Chargers can avoid crucial mental errors on special teams and fumbles.

If San Diego can hold onto the ball and not give up huge plays on special teams, they will win. If they don't, they will lose again, throwing this team into further turmoil that could jeopardize this entire season.

The Chargers need one solid game in all phases of special teams to begin to build confidence that they can be consistent throughout the season. If they can get this thing figured out, they might just go on another huge run and enter the playoffs as one of the top teams in the AFC.

We'll find out this week if special teams coach Steve Crosby is capable of fixing this thing or if we are just "being silly" by expecting more out of the San Diego Chargers this season.
I may be foolish, but once again (even though they didn't fire Steve Crosby) they will figure it out enough to win.
Chargers 24, Rams 20

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lights Out for Good

The Chargers didn't listen to my call to fire Steve Crosby, but correctly decided they could no longer carry Shawne Merriman yesterday. His injury problems were just too consistent to wait any longer this season with the team's needs at linebacker and on special teams.

Merriman may have a future in the NFL, but it doesn't appear he will be ready to play at a high level this season. His first three years were fantastic in San Diego, but when the "dietary supplements" went away and after he was the victim of a devastating direct attack by the Tennessee Titans three years ago, he simply has not been able to return to form or stay healthy.

Without a vague hope of Merriman coming back, the team now must look to other player to provide leadership. Just saying this is "Rivers' team," is not sufficient. Great teams need several leaders. After the three horrible losses so far this season, that should be obvious to Charger fans.

Maybe this kid is now crying over losing Light's Out...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fire Steve Crosby

I know it's hard to blame a coach for the poor play of professional football players, but this whole thing needs to be blown up. The Chargers brought in starters and a few free agents in the last two weeks, and the thing is still Pop Warner-style embarrassing. Crosby may have been good once, but sometimes people just lose it, and he's lost it. Kickoff returns, punt returns, now punts? Let's see...what's next? Kaeding would need to have a field goal blocked, or perhaps the field goal blocking team can find a way to give the other guys a touchdown too.

Some of the Chargers have said, we've been good in the past, it's not like Crosby suddenly forgot how to coach. It looks like he has. One would suppose he had some say in which players the Chargers cut or kept from training camp. He's picked the wrong guys. He also should have been able to see this whole thing wasn't working in practice. It's horrible and there has to be someone out there in the world of coaches who is young, hungry and more competent.

On the whole, San Diego has now become the weirdest team in the league. Who else can dominate on offense and defense in all statistical categories (besides turnovers) and still find ways to lose games? One could speculate they have players indebted to the mob, finding more and more bizarre ways to ensure the Chargers don't win.

Rivers, Gates and Floyd are on absolute fire. My other theory (and maybe more serious one than the gambling paranoia) is that Norval is simply focused on the X's and O's of the passing game at the expense of everything else. Chargers fans must consider after the last few years that perhaps the guy is just a really really good offensive coordinator and not a real NFL head coach. Maybe Norv just isn't paying enough attention to ALL the fundamentals and details of the game. Rivera seems to have the defensive side nailed down, but everything else has gone to pot.

Despite all this, we know the Chargers have started 2-3 every year under Norv and usually find a way to right the ship. They are only one game out of first and division is still terrible.

Next week San Diego goes on the road once again to face the worst team so far in the rebuilding Rams. If they can't beat these guys on the road, the season is over.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Here We Go Again

Once again, last week the Chargers proved they could beat a horrible team at home. The best news out of Cardinals game was that the special teams seemed truly improved with some starters and new players added into the mix. The running game also looked great, but we'll have to see if they can do it again this week.

Today, just like two weeks ago, the game is more about the Chargers against themselves than about the Raiders. Can the young guys go on the road in a hostile environment and play at a high level? The Raiders are wounded and starting back-ups all over the place. The Chargers are obviously the better team. Can they play like it?

Despite all the injuries, Oakland's offense is improved. The Gradkowski to Zach Miller connection is very effective, and Michael Bush at running back can catch the short pass and find the hole in the defense. The Raiders will be competent enough to move the ball and beat the Chargers IF San Diego turns the ball over and plays horribly again on special teams.

I think have solved the worst of their special teams issues, and just by dumb luck they're due not to have more stupid turnovers this week. The Raiders are a little more confident this year, but also a little desperate to not let another season slip away so early.

This could be a close one, but San Diego will pull it out.

Chargers 31, Raiders 24

Friday, October 1, 2010

Last Week this Week and Last Year

Anyone get the feeling this season is just an extension of the horrible playoff loss to the Jets last season? The Chargers are 1-2 due to turnovers, poor special teams play and a couple breakdowns on defense. San Diego continues to look like a team with a great quarterback and genius offense coordinator, but falling short on the fundamentals(blocking, tackling, special know, FOOTBALL). I am not one of the sad folks who call for the return of Marty...but some sort of blend of Marty and Norv seems to be what this team needs.

Think about it. If it weren't for Rivers, this team might just be absolutely horrible. His ability to execute Norv's high flying offense makes the difference week in and week out. But who else is really stepping up and making great plays?

The coaches this week blamed the special teams failures on anonymous "new guys," but the blame really has to fall squarely one the coaches' shoulders. If those guys weren't ready, someone should have noticed and yanked them before San Diego lost to Kansas City and Seattle. Terrible. Or, short of yanking them, coaches should have been able to teach these guys how to play special teams. That's their job. What happened in those two losses weren't small problems needing adjustments, they were complete and utter failures. Special teams coach Steve Crosby and Norval should be ashamed.

The defense has looked good, but we all need to remember that they've looked good against three horrible quarterbacks. They'll get another bad QB this week, so the Chargers should be able to pull out a win, but I wonder if the Chargers are setting themselves up for a shock when they face a real NFL QB. The pass rush has not been all that strong. With English down and Merriman on the permanent post-steroidal gimp train, I'm worried this D may not look quite so good against the upper echelon offenses. The only hope is that Antwan Applewhite starts to do amazing things with regularity now that it appears he's the starter.

On offense this week, we'll get to see a healthy Ryan Mathews again, and we can only hope he has his head together after a devastating start in which he fumbled away two balls, one probably leading to the loss in the KC game. I think he's going to be great, but he's had some bad breaks so far.

The offensive line did not look as solid last week and they need to rebound to show they can be better than below average. With LT lighting it up in New York (5.6 YPC), the excuses for the pitiful run game are looking more and more tenuous. I'm tired of reading about how "determined" the line is this year. We need to see some consistency.

I'm hoping some of the turnovers have just been bad luck and bad bounces, and that the law of averages helps the Chargers actually catch a few breaks at home. They need this one.

Chargers 27, Cardinals 13

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Seahawks to Get a Dose of Tolbert

With the Chargers wisely sitting rookie Ryan Mathews with a high ankle sprain, we will all get to see how Mike Tolbert performs at running back over the course of a whole game. While he may have the body of a fullback, he's repeatedly flashed a surprising open field speed whenever he gets his hands on the ball. Might the Chargers have their own version of Jerome Bettis on their team? We find out tomorrow. I'm expecting at least one epic collision between the Seahawks' great middle linebacker, Lofa Tatupu and our own "bowling ball," Tolbert. We'll see who, if anyone, wins that battle.

The Seahawks are currently an inferior team to the Chargers at most positions. However, Qwest Field in Seattle is one of the louder places to play and, once again, it's going to be raining. Many of the younger players looked a bit shell shocked in Kansas City in the rain and rabid environment. This game will provide an excellent test to see if some of the newer Chargers can play at a high level on the road in a hostile environment. Can Malcolm Floyd or Legedu Naanee be consistent and make game changing plays when it counts?

On defense, it looks like Stephen Cooper's action may be limited and Larry English is questionable with a foot injury. Brandon Siler will have another chance to show he can step up and have a great game. At outside linebacker, English's absence will mean more playing time for both Shawne Merriman and Antwan Applewhite. We'll see if Merriman continues to make progress back to his old dominant self (as he's promised us). Charger fans that have been paying attention have noticed that Applwhite just seems to make big plays every time he gets a chance. He seems to have a knack for causing fumbles and getting in the backfield. I'm excited to see what he can do this week.

The Seahawks don't have much of a running game, so if San Diego doesn't get stalled again by the rain, Hasselbeck will be playing catch-up and be forced to throw the ball more and more in the second half. This should give San Diego's secondary another chance to get some picks again this week. I'd love to see this group's confidence continue to grow.

The special teams will be tested by the lightning fast rookie, Golden Tate. After the horrible breakdowns in week one against the Chiefs, San Diego didn't really get much of test last week, with only one punt (which was blocked!). The jury is still out on this group.

San Diego really needs to get a win this week to prove they can play at a high level on the road.

Chargers 24, Seahawks 17

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

San Diego Bounces Back

The Chargers looked much better last week, dominating the Jacksonville Jaguars in a crazy game that featured nine turnovers. The Chargers' three turnovers were somewhat excusable. Ryan Mathews' "fumble" was not a fumble, as he was down. He does need to take care of the ball however. Both of Rivers' interceptions bounced off his own receivers' hands first, so he can't be blamed for those.

The offensive line was actually impressive in both the running and passing game. The Jaguars just got pushed around on the line of scrimmage. Maybe Dombrowski will turn out to be serviceable after all. If Louis Vazquez continues to develop at right guard, the Chargers could do some real damage in the run game this year.

In regards to the run game, Ryan Mathews' second game almost ended in complete tragedy, as he turned over the ball then went out with an injury. It turned out the fumble wasn't real and the injury wasn't serious. For a moment though, San Diego fans saw the season flashing before their eyes. The exciting first round back out for the season after two devastating fumbles? Confidence and an ankle unable to recover? The football gods were kind to the Bolts this week.

Mike Tolbert stepped into the gap left by Mathews and showed his surprising speed and vision in addition to his well known strength. Whether or not Mathews is healthy, Tolbert just played his way into more opportunities this season (pick him up for your fantasy squad now...he's probably undrafted).

Even better news came with the continued strong play of the defense. Antione Cason had a monster game and monster confidence builder for a young player. This first-rounder is no bust. He looks like a serious upgrade from the weird hijinx of Cromartie over the past few years.

Larry English made a big play and Shawne Merriman looked fluid and quick on the field, if a bit tentative in his first game back. Lights Out seems to have come out of this game healthy and will probably turn up the heat for Seattle. Brandon Siler filled in for Stephen Cooper without missing a beat. Antione Applewhite came in and caused a fumble. The linebacking corps is coming together.

On the whole, San Diego looks stronger, indicating that perhaps we can call the KC game a wet sloppy aberration. However, it's easy for young players to get on a roll and perform well in a blow out. How will some of these guys react in the pressure situation of a close game? The KC game showed some inexperience and flawed confidence. This week's game against a lesser opponent on the road should be a good test of some of the young players' consistency and ability to perform under a bit more pressure.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chargers Need to Regain Footing Against Jags

This game is more about the Chargers' battle with themselves than it is about Jacksonville. The Jaguars are a tough but average NFL team. At home, if the Chargers are capable of playing near the level they were at last year, they should win. At home on a 70 degree sunny San Diego day, there will be no excuses.

Questions to be answered today:

  • Will the special teams be righted? Another poor performance and the special teams coach should worry about his job. Also, Sproles needs to show he can still do it. Has the little guy already lost a step at this young age?
  • Will Ryan Mathews get his confidence back? After fumbling and essentially being pulled from the game in the 4th quarter, he needs to come back and have a great game. The guy can be a top performer in the league...if his head is right.
  • Will the front seven continue to create some havoc in the backfield or were the Chiefs just that bad? We'll see...
  • Can Lights Out still do it? If Shawne Merriman has a good game and doesn't pull his hammy again, the Chargers will suddenly be one of the scariest teams in the league.
  • Can the receivers make the the big catches? Teams will double and triple team Gates. Someone else must step up or AJ will hear the Jackson chants for the rest of his career in SD. None of "the replacements" made anyone forget about VJ last week.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Jacksonville 17

If San Diego chokes again and loses this one, I'm not optimistic about a late season run this year. For the sake of the young and inexperienced on the team, they need to have some success now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chiefs Game Revealing but Not Defining

In a wet mess that reminded Charger fans of last year's playoff game versus the Jets, the Chiefs prevailed in a spasm of red frenzy. The only good to come out of this game is that Charger fans can feel lucky they don't live in Kansas City. After the hundreth close up of another red clad, red faced goon screaming in the stands, even with a loss and a team with serious flaws, we can be glad we live in SD.

Because of the rain and the frenzied crowd, I can discount some of the breakdowns and mistakes made by the Chargers on Monday night. San Diego seemed to be slipping and sliding all over the field, right past the more sure footed Chiefs. On the 94 yard punt return by Arenas, Tolbert had him in his sights and lost his footing. Darren Sproles depends on churning those little legs and changing direction faster than the other guys. The wet field seemed to completely neutralize him.

Rain Pictures, Images and Photos
During the worst of the downpour, Rivers couldn't get a grip on the ball as almost every pass fell short of its target. It seemed like it hadn't even occured to the Chargers that it might rain. This, combined with first game jitters, was too much for some of the younger players.

The rain can't excuse everything though. The run game is essentially broken. The Chiefs don't have great personell and the Chargers never controlled the line of scrimmage. The pass blocking was good enough, but Norv's realization of the weakness of the run game was evident at the end when the Chargers ran one draw and passed three times when they had first and goal at the four. After the game, Mathews honorably blamed himself for missing holes, but anyone watching could see the Chargers' offensive line simply wasn't getting any push. This bodes ill for the season. I don't think it's the personell either. The run game hasn't been strong since 2006. I think these guys aren't being coached up correctly on their schemes and technique.

In the passing game, it became clear that the Chargers' recievers can catch the ball, but seem to falter when they need a big play. These guys just don't have the confidence yet to step up on crucial third and long or fourth down situations. Naanee's drop of an easy pass on 4th down was one indication of this. Buster Davis and Floyd missing catches because they fell down in the final series of the game is another indication. The pass blocking was, well...passable.

The Chargers defense essentially shut the Chiefs down except for one major breakdown leading to Jamal Charles 60-yard touchdown run. I would blame this (just like in the Jets game) on weak safety play. Steve Gregory had responsibility for that gap and got blown out of the hole. He simply doesn't have the physical tools to play at a high level in the NFL.

Lastly, while the rain can excuse some of the special teams play, it was evident the Chargers have some guys out there who are inexperienced and just aren't very good at what they're doing. Everyone noted the loss of Kassim Osgood, which is a huge factor, but I would also add the loss of Tim Dobbins into the mix. These to guys made the majority of the tackles and big hits last year. Someone else better step up, or the Chargers will continue to lose games they shouldn't.

Positive things fans can take from this game? Antonio Garay played like an absolute stud early in the game. Part the reason Cassel only had 68 yards on the night was that Garay had rocked him three times in the first half, causing the Chiefs to stick to the run and quick passing game. Coaches should choose to leave Garay in longer instead of sticking to the constant rotation. In general, San Diego was able to get some pressure and chaos into the backfield. Larry English didn't make any huge plays, but he looked more comfortable and natural as the game went on. He needs that experience if he's going to evolve into the great player the Chargers need him to be.

The coverage in the secondary was also solid. Like I've mentioned before, the cornerback position is now a major strength of this team.

Overall, this game was a complete nightmare, but I think it will prove to be more of an anomally than a precursor of things to come. The Chargers must (and will) rebound strongly against Jacksonville next week.

Rain Pictures, Images and Photos

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chiefs a Perfect Opening Test for Chargers

The San Diego Chargers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in a late game on Monday night that should provide a perfect bellwether for how San Diego is going to play this season.

On offense, the Chiefs' undersized front seven (they don't really seem to have the personnel for the 3-4) should reveal if San Diego is going to be able to run the ball at all this season. If the offensive line and the powerful rookie Ryan Mathews can't exert its will on the Chiefs' defense by the 3rd or 4th quarter, it doesn't bode well for the ground game this year.

I would discount the first quarter and a half or so of the game, as the Chiefs are going to be playing on an adrenaline high in their new stadium with a new chance to prove they won't be one of the worst teams in the league. Romeo Crennel will probably have some creative blitzes early on, so the Chargers will have to adjust to the high pressure atmosphere and unique scheme. Ultimately though, San Diego should be able to push these guys around.

In the passing game, the talented Tamba Hali should also provide a real test for Brandon Dombrowski. Even one sack will cause Charger fans to start gathering with torches and pitchforks outside of AJ's office. "Sign McNeill! Sign McNeill!" will ring annoyingly in AJ's ears for every home game...unless Dombrowski can actually do the job. We'll see. My guess is he might be good enough to be an average NFL tackle, but the pressure and expectations will simply be too high. He will make some mistakes, and AJ will work out something with McNeill before too long.

Downfield, the Chargers will get to test top rookie safety Eric Berry, who has amazing potential. Hopefully, Rivers and Norval will be able to make him look like just another rookie a few times in this first game. I wouldn't want to be facing a Norv Turner inspired game plan my first game. We'll also get to see if any of the Chargers' wide receivers can get deep, or will the subtraction of Vincent Jackson shrink the field? I'd love to see a few shots deep to Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee. San Diego needs to find out if they can make the big play.

On the other side of the ball, the Charger defense should stack the box to contain Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, forcing Matt Cassel (who was just horrible last year) to beat them. It will be interesting to see if new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis can actually improve this offense, or were he, Crennel, head coach Todd Haley, Eric Mangini, and Josh McDaniels all just overrated hacks riding the coattails of the genius Bill Belichick? The "truth" arrow points more to "a bunch of hacks" right now. None have shown consistent success and many have been abject failures. When will NFL owners and GM's lose faith in Belichick's disciples? This will be a key season.

If the Chargers can weather the early storm and not make mistakes, they should be able to build a lead. This will force Cassel to pass the ball more, playing catch up as the game goes on. This should give Chargers fans a chance to see if the front seven can bring any pressure on the quarterback. I expect Rivera will hit on one or two safety blitzes, but that doesn't really show much, as more talented teams and QB's will sting the Chargers for taking those big gambles consistently. I want to know if Larry English and Shaun Phillips can get to the quarterback. Can Antonio Garay, Cam Thomas, Luis Castillo and Jaques Cesaire actually get enough push to create havoc and confusion on the offense? If the answer is "no," San Diego's secondary will get burned by the high powered offensives in the NFL. This should make everyone very nervous going into the playoffs in January. If they can bring pressure? This actually could be the Chargers' year to go all the way.

Chargers 27 Chiefs 13

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chargers 2010 Preview

The Chargers will win their division by a lesser margin than last year, but once again go to the playoffs, this time with a 12-4 or 11-5 record. Everyone knows the AFC West is weak, but at some point one of the other teams is going to put together a string of success to challenge San Diego. AJ Smith seems strangely complacent, adding only role players and letting Pro Bowlers sit out. The hungry teams on the outside have a way of sneaking up on the complacent, who realize their powers have diminished only when it's too late. It almost happened last year with Denver. I don't think it will happen this year, but AJ seems willing to risk mediocrity in the present, rather than get into "uncomfortable" contracts with the a new Collective Bargaining Agreement being negotiated next year.

Unless Shawne Merriman regains his old form (which isn't looking likely at this point with his immediate gimpiness upon returning to camp) or one or more of the younger guys like Larry English, Darrell Stuckey or Cam Thomas start dominating, this team will mostly likely be bounced out in an early round of the playoffs.

The defense hasn't shown it can be stout enough against the strongest rushing teams, especially in January when it counts. Weddle and Gregory just don't have the physical prowess. The tackles in the middle are inexperienced, and Cesaire and Castillo are just "guys" in there, not adding much special to the mix. Stephen Cooper is a very strong middle linebacker and leader, but he needs more help. Burnett, at the other middle linebacker position is athletic, but not stout against the run. A team that can play solid pressure defense and run the ball will be able to control the clock, keeping Rivers and company off balance and off the field.

Ryan Mathews should have a good year. The guy just looks amazingly strong, fast and determined. He leaves everything out on the field though and doesn't dodge any big hits. An injury to him would be devastating. He' the only running back in San Diego that will make this offensive line look passable.

Phillip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and should have a great year. He continues to improve and this year folks may start murmering about his ability to go to Canton. However, his big play ability will be limited by the lack of a dominant deep route running receiver. None of Vincent Jackson's replacements have the speed, strength and size. Malcolm Floyd is tall, but not as fast, and he gets out-muscled on some jump balls. The passing game will have to rely even more on the magical Antonio Gates, who can seems able to handle any challenge or any pass.

Here's the game by game prediction:

9/13 SD @ KC: This is a dangerous game as the Chiefs and their fans will be pumped up in the desperate hope of not being horrible again this season. With the addition of former Patriots' offensive and defiensive coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crenel (they should rename themselves the Western Patriots), look for the Chiefs to try any crazy thing to get a win. In the end, talent will win out and so will San Diego.

9/19 JAC @ SD: The Chargers should roll in their home opener against the Jaguers, who are still searching for a franchise quarterback, and may technically be in "rebuilding" mode.

9/26 SD @ SEA: Speaking of rebuilding, Pete Carroll jumped the sinking USC ship just in time, but this team has been on the downward slide and Carroll hasn't proven he can succeed in the NFL, although one could argue USC was a quasi-professional team. Chargers win.

10/3 ARI @ SD Arizona should beg Kurt Warner to emulate the classless Farvre and make a tearful heroic return from retirement. It's the only chance they have. I can't believe they let linebacker Karlos Dansby go last year. The guy was a vicious part of their defense. Chargers win.

10/10 SD @ OAK Going to the Black Hole is never fun. I'm not predicting the Raiders to be great, but they should be improved with the addition of a real QB. The Raiders will be pumped up for this one and expose the Chargers' weak run defense. Chargers lose. Fans question the loss of Jackson and McNeill.

10/17 SD @ STL St. Louis is rebuilding. San Diego wins easy.

10/24 NE @ SD Belichick is a football genius and finds a way to expose San Diego's weaknesses on defense. Chargers lose. Fans wonder loudly if the Chargers can compete with the elite teams.

10/31 Ten @ SD The strong running defensive minded Titans are just the type of team to give San Diego trouble. Chargers lose. Fans wonder even more loudly if "the window" has closed...blame AJ.

11/7 SD @ HOU Some are predicting Houston to be up and comers into the elite. I don't believe it yet. They are cursed until they aren't. Chargers win.

11/22 DEN @ SD Denver is still a mess. They will fall apart further this year and their immature baby of a coach will be fired. Chargers win.

11/28 SD @ IND Indianapolis may be predicted to win the Super Bowl again this year, but they are the perfect match up for the Chargers. This is the one team that can't out muscle San Diego. Chargers win.

12/5 OAK @ SD The Raiders may have beat San Diego in the Black Hole, but they still aren't ready to compete on the road. Their head coach isn't sophisticated enough to out-scheme Norval at home. Chargers win.

12/12 KC @ SD The Chiefs just need better players. Chargers win.

12/16 SF @ SD The Chargers may have more "skill" players, but the Singletary led Niners play smashmout football, push San Diego around, and win a close one. Fans worry about the defense going into the playoffs.

12/26 SD @ CIN The Bengals looked great last year. This year? They implode by this time. Chargers win.

1/2 SD @ DEN Denver will be out of contention by this time and the Chargers will be positioning for the playoffs. Chargers win.

Unless something changes or AJ makes some magical trades to bring a couple difference making players, the Chargers will disappoint again this year in the playoffs, likely falling victim to a tougher team that plays stout defense and is hitting on all cylinders.

All that being said, get to the playoffs and anything can happen. Maybe Rivers and Gates can will the team to a Super Bowl. I'll be watching.

Look for my Chiefs pre-game analyisis this weekend. Happy football season everyone.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Preseason is Over!

Just a few things came out of the ugliest game we hope to see until next preseason:

  • Rookie Safety Darrell Stuckey made more progress, looking a little more comfortable out there, making a few plays and showing his hitting ability. The Chargers need Stuckey to mature, because Gregory, the projected starter, showed that while he's gritty and knows his responsibilities, just isn't up to par physically on an NFL field. He and Weddle are starting to specialize in getting run over by big opposing running backs. This has been a problem in the playoffs the past few years. Last year, while everyone likes to focus on Cromartie's phantom tackle, remember Jets running back Shonn Greene actually ran over Weddle on his 60-yard TD run to end the Chargers' season. A couple years before that, on a crucial third down play against the Steelers toward the end of the game Gregory was run over by Willie Parker on a big run that may have made the difference in the game. The Chargers possess the two least intimidating safeties in the league and need Stuckey to grow into the starting job by the end of the season if they are going to do better than previous years in the playoffs.

  • Larry English made a play! English stopped the 49er running back in the backfield on a well read 4th and short pitch play. It still looks like Antwan Applewhite is the better play maker out there. If Merriman proves injury prone again this season, it will be interesting to see if Applewhite eventually pushes for a starting job.

  • The new guy looks sharp:Recently acquired cornerback (from Houston), Fred Bennett, made a strong play on a deep ball and took it away from the receiver for an interception. This guy is quick, strong, and athletic, making the rusty Nathan Vashar expendable (I thought Vashar had showed some spark and might regain his first string form with time, but AJ & co. seem to have made the right call here).

  • The Chargers generally stood up against the Singletary-toughened Niners, but the defense still looks flawed. San Francisco did not display any passing attack, but the Chargers defense again showed some weakness against the run. To start the season, it's hard to rate the front seven as anything but below average. This fact, added to what was said above about the weakness at safety, should worry fans going into the season. The only part of the defense I'm not worried about is the cornerback position. Jammer and Cason will be great as starters. Strickland and Bennett are experienced and extremely strong nickle or dime backs. If the Chargers could generate any kind of pass rush, this group could get many picks this season.

  • The most notable occurrence on offense was the big night of Buster Davis. He showed he could go deep, across the middle and perform tight comeback routes leaving corners five yards up field. Hopefully, he will stay healthy and continue to develop his confidence. I can see Davis in the slot catching slants across the middle in open space and going for 30+ yards as opposing safeties focus too much on Antonio Gates.

The biggest news in Chargerville had nothing to do with Thursday's ugly marathon slog. In picking up wide receiver Patrick Crayton from Dallas, San Diego added some needed veteran experience and talent. They thought former Bill Josh Reed would provide this, but all he showed this preseason was an incredible ability to drop balls. Crayton is reliable and can still get deep time to time at the advance NFL age of 31. All this may be bad news for Legedu Naanee, who may end up as an occasional slot receiver (the same role he's had the past two years) behind Buster Davis. Norv may let Davis and Naanee battle it out at slot for awhile to see who is more effective.

This team may be reverting to the Fouts era Chargers with a nearly unstoppable passing attack, weaker running game, and even weaker defense. That sounds exciting, but that team never made it to, much less won, a Super Bowl either.

I'll post my 2o10 regular season preview later this week.