Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more."
The Raven - Edgar Allan Poe
This last Saturday I was having lunch with my friend Don in Solano Beach, a beautiful beach town north of San Diego, right before we were going to play golf. It was going to be a great weekend. Golf on Saturday and taking in the Charger-Ravens game on Sunday. As we ate, my cell phone was buzzing with Tweets every few minutes. I did not look at the messages as I assumed it was just some news about the Charger game logistics, or NFL merchandising message. After lunch, I checked my cell and there were about 15 messages. The first Tweet was from the Chargers: “Jamal Williams out for the year with a torn bicep”. I felt like I was hit in the stomach as I saw the Charger 2009 season evaporate before my eyes.
The Charger run defense is suspect already. But without the 340 pound Williams clogging the middle, I was wondering who is going to stop opposing teams from running the ball down the Chargers throats? And with the Baltimore Ravens, one of the best running teams in the NFL, coming into San Diego the next day, the Chargers were not going to have time to shore up their defense. As we tailgated before the Charger game on Sunday morning, all I could hear is the Baltimore Ravens squawking “Nevermore”.
My fears came to fruition as the Ravens ran on the Chargers for 130 yard on 32 carries for a 4.2 rushing average. Though, this can’t all be blamed on the interior of the defensive line for the Chargers as there were many missed tackles on the outside by the Charger Linebackers as well. There is no doubt about it, Merriman 2009 is NOT Merriman 2006. He is a step and a half slower. If you can’t stop the run in the NFL, you can’t win. Period.
But on Sunday, the Charger Passing Offensive, lead by Philip Rivers, went for over 400 yards against one of the best defenses in football. Ultimately this aerial onslaught gave the Chargers a chance to win the game at the very end. Until Ray Lewis, who looked like he was shot out of a cannon (seeing that play live is beyond description), tackled Darren Sproles for a loss on fourth down to end the game. Lewis did not merely knock on their chamber door, he knocked it down. And I could hear Ray Lewis screaming “Nevermore!"
But ultimately, what cost the Chargers the game was their inability to score within the Red Zone. For the past few years, the Chargers have been one of the best teams scoring touchdowns in the Red Zone in the NFL. But on this day, they were 0 for 5 including 0 for 4 when they had first and goal inside the 10. This failure ultimately comes down to two things. 1) No LT. 2) A makeshift O-Line. The Chargers left at least 12, if not 16 points on the table. Are the Chargers highly efficient in the Red Zone? With no LT or O-Line - “Nevermore”
So where do the Chargers go from here? Does Rivera have some defensive schemes he can draw up to mask the lack of any type of rush defense? Are the Chargers going to have to play 8 in the box and run blitz, leaving the DB’s on their own? Will the linebackers step up and start tackling? Is LT ever going to come back to even 80%? Will the offensive line be able to run block?
I think we will find out a lot more this weekend when the Dolphins go into San Diego with their Wild Cat offense (which ran for over 200 yards against the Colts on MNF). Rivera, having a week to prepare, will need to put in new run defense schemes. We will see if LT can return (if he doesn’t, then the ankle sprain is worse then what they are telling us). And if he can not play, the Chargers need to use Michael Bennett more before they get Sproles killed. Charger defenders are going to have to tackle. The Chargers defense will need to get off the field on third down. If these things don’t happen – the thought of a successful 2009 Charger Season – “Nevermore”.