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.

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