The criticism of head coach Norv Turner was that he was never able to maximize all the talent that general manager A.J. Smith gave to him, but those days are long gone. Smith is the architect of a San Diego Chargers team that has more holes than a fine piece of Swiss cheese.
Turner’s fate was likely sealed weeks ago, but yet another fourth-quarter collapse at home against the Cincinnati Bengals may have determined Smith’s fate as well. It’s become clear that the team’s losses have a lot more to do with the construct of the team than the construct of the plays.
The Chargers failed to score an offensive touchdown against the Bengals, and Smith’s midseason addition of Danario Alexander nearly doubled the yardage production of players he recently gave long-term deals—Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd. That’s not to mention Smith’s two free-agent signings at wide receiver who caught a grand total of zero passes on Sunday.
Smith foolishly believed that Philip Rivers was a franchise quarterback, or he foolishly believed that a franchise quarterback could produce even with egregious pass protection. If there’s one thing a franchise can’t afford to be wrong about, it’s the quarterback.
Over the years, Smith has replaced weapons like LaDainian Tomlinson with Ryan Mathews, who had 26 yards on nine carries against the Bengals on Sunday. Smith let Michael Turner, Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson leave in free agency without finding suitable replacements.
Smith gave a left tackle with a long history of injury guaranteed money after he played five good games. He made the same mistake in 2012 as he did in 2011 when he failed to find a suitable backup.
Smith has spent years trying to fix a defense perceived to be a problem. For every Donald Butler, there is a Larry English (7.5 sacks in 39 career games). Smith spent his first-round draft pick in 2012 on Melvin Ingram to hopefully solve some of San Diego’s issues with pass rush. To date, Ingram has more penalties (four) than sacks (0.5).
The defense has carried the team the last few weeks, but it was castoff linebacker Demorrio Williams who returned an interception for a touchdown, not one of Smith’s draft picks. It was journeyman safety Corey Lynch who had another interception of Andy Dalton on Sunday, not a player Smith drafted.
Of Smith’s last 17 draft picks in Rounds 1-3, 12 have been on defense. The offensive players drafted include Craig Davis (no longer on the roster), Jacob Hester (no longer on the roster), Louis Vasquez, Ryan Mathews and Vincent Brown (on injured reserve).
The Chargers inevitably choked away another fourth-quarter lead on Sunday, and it would be easy to blame it all on Rivers or Turner. Rivers turned the ball over twice in the final four minutes, and the lack of scoring directly reflects on the offensive architect—Turner.
However, Rivers and Turner are nothing more than products of their environment which is one that was created, shaped and neglected by Smith. With the Chargers now 4-7 and clearly out of the playoff hunt, it is Smith’s job that should be most in jeopardy.