Sunday, January 17, 2010
It's raining in San Diego. The Chargers did nothing less than choke this game away. Kaeding missed two, usually automatic, field goals. Jackson and Floyd lost their battles going up against smaller DB's. Hardwick snapped the ball over Rivers' head early in the game. The rest of the offensive line jumped offsides (as if they were the away team) and had no success at creating anything resembling a running game. Rivers did make the rookie mistake of forcing the ball backed up in his own end zone and throwing the crucial interception. Gates dropped easy passes right in his hands. Norv did not have a game plan set up that worked against the creative blitzes of the Jets. Even the Fans choked by booing their own team early in the second half when the Chargers still had the LEAD. The pressure beat this team, not the Jets.
All the criticism of this team is right tonight. The Jets', Raiders' and Broncos' fans who love to call San Diego "chokers" are right. Rex Ryan, who wondered out loud if the Chargers are "soft" is right. Those that think Norv is not ready for prime time (his team was not ready tonight) are right.
At what point do the Chargers become the modern Cubs? San Diego fans, no matter how promising the season, are right to feel trepidation every playoff game. Who will get tight and blow it this time around? We are officially cursed. The only question now is what to call it: The San Diego Seizure? The Charger Choke?
The Chargers simply have no excuse. I feel sorry for LT who probably won't be back next year. With Merriman gone as well will this be the pinnacle of this era of the Chargers? AJ will have to work better magic than he has in the past.
San Diego fans are nervous. We've been here before and seen it our slip through our fingers as the Chargers just weren't ready to take advantage of all their talent and cash in on the advantages of a high seed in the playoffs. But things are different this time.
The stars have aligned for this team. Rivers is on another plane as a quarterback. He will take his place next to the Elways, Marinos, Mannings, Farves, and Montanas in the minds of NFL fans during this playoff run. Charger fans, hopefully, have already realized this, but NFL Nation needs to catch up to this reality. He has evolved beyond the possibility of choking in a huge game like this. Norv's gameplan and the Chargers' talented tall receivers will all come together to make the Jets' #1 defense look like the great Packers' defense that went to Arizona last week.
This playoff season may just be LT's last chance and he knows it. LT may have lost a step, but he's going to play the absolute best game he's capable of today and may surprise the Jets and Charger fans with what he's still able to do. LT thinks a lot about the history of the game and his place in it. He will step up and claim his destiny this playoff season:
On the other side of things, the Jets, despite their fat blowhard of a head coach, just aren't ready yet. Just like Colts made the Ravens look like half a football team last night, the Chargers will remind the Jets and the NFL that you can't make much noise in the playoffs while protecting a rookie quarterback. Sanchez is probably still a couple years away (if he ever gets there) from being able to lead a team in the way a quarterback needs to.
San Diego's defense (perhaps the least analyzed aspect of these teams in the run-up to this game) will show they aren't "soft," and force Sanchez to throw the ball; something he's not ready to do on the big stage. One turnover from the Jets could put the game out of reach.
Overall, look for Rivers to spread the ball around (like always) in the short passing game against the blitzing jets. Gates, Floyd, Naanee, Sproles, and LT will all make significant contributions. Jackson may be forced into the roll of decoy. The Chargers will score points on many of their drives and Rivers will avoid the costly turnover. On defense, the Chargers will allow the Jets to move the ball at times, but stiffen up in the red zone, forcing Sanchez to make some devastating mistakes.
San Diego 27, Jets 13 (And an embarrassed Coach Ryan learns a little humility)
Monday, January 11, 2010
The Jets looked great on Saturday in beating up the Bengals. Their defense completely discombobulated Carson Palmer and their run game controlled the clock and the line of scrimmage.
The Chargers should be worried that a pumped up team with a lot of momentum is coming into town. But isn't that the way the bye week works? While you're resting and getting healthy, whoever comes to town is getting early playoff experience and momentum.
The Bengals fell behind and had to throw the ball to catch up. Their creative blitzing front gave Carson Palmer fits. The Bengals didn't appear to have a short passing game to deal with the blitz. For the Chargers, Rivers, the offensive line, and the receivers have dealt with pressure and blitzing all season. The same strategy, if employed again by the Jets, simply won't work against San Diego. When the blitz comes, Rivers will check down and find the open guy.
The Jets have the number one rushing defense? Do the Chargers care about running the ball anyway? The run game is nothing more than a place setter for San Diego. The increased run production of late has more to do with the dominance of the passing game and running out the clock than much actual improvement.
Last weekend the dominant running and strong defensive teams (excepting the crazy Cards-Packers game) seemed to have the upper hand. This playoff season will put to the test the theory that a strong running game is a necessity. The Chargers will not try to pound the ball against the Jets 46 defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Jets will try to pound the ball against the Chargers. They need to protect rookie Mark Sanchez from making mistakes and probably (given the arrogant Rex Ryan) have convinced themselves the Chargers are "soft." New York will probably be able to move the ball in between the twenties. The question is, what happens in the red zone?
If the Chargers can hold up on the goal line when Brandon Siler and Tim Dobbins are in the game at the same time, sticking people on the goal line and forcing the Jets to kick some field goals, they will win the game.
Other keys to victory? On the offensive side of the ball, San Diego simply has to weather the early storm. Even though this is a road game, I'm guessing the Jets' defense will come out with extreme intensity, blitzes and general mad-dog craziness. If Rivers can come out and simply take what is given, not hold onto the ball too long (sacks/fumbles) and avoid throwing stupid picks, the Chargers can settle in and do what they do. If Rivers comes out early and tries to do too much? We all saw last weekend how an early mistake can set the tone for a whole game. If the Chargers come out and are forced to punt the first two series? That's actually a good sign.
I'll have more analysis before the game.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
This game only matters for the Chargers in the sense that they play the fine line between keeping the starters fresh, avoiding injury, and resting those that are already injured. In general, the sense of timing is more important for the offense, both the line and passing game than the defense. I would expect Rivers, Gates, LT, Vincent Jackson, Sproles, and the starting offensive line all to stay in for the first half, showing the sharpness of execution they've maintained over the course of this winning streak.
On the defensive side, anyone who is even a little banged up should sit. This should include Merriman, Phillips, Jammer, Bennett and any of the defensive tackles in the rotation that need rest.
Washington is a flawed team, but they have a good defense and may be motivated to finish on a winning note. This might be their Super Bowl.
Even with the second string for the Chargers in for much of the game, if the Chargers come out sharp, they should win this game. This game means nothing playoff-wise, but I think losing would put a bad taste in everyone's mouth, incrementally slowing the steamroller of momentum built up over the last ten weeks. The Chargers already have enough of a momentum challenge in dealing with the bye week, a loss would just add to that.
This game may come down how sharp Billy Volek is in the second half. Unless the Chargers are already blowing out the Redskins, look for Norv to open up the playbook a bit for Volek, giving him the chance to show what he can do in the down field passing game. I predict the strong running of Mike Tolbert and a few key big plays to third-string tight end Kris Wilson will be the difference in this one.
Chargers 27, Redskins 17