As I have stated in this column before, there is no such thing as a bad win in the NFL. But this one was a little smelly for the Chargers.
Where it looked like the Dolphins were going to run it down the Chargers throats, somewhere along the line the Miami brain trust decided they would spread it out more and throw against the Chargers. This put them in numerous third in longs, and when Chad Pennington went out with a shoulder injury, the game was virtually over. An inexperienced QB comes in, throws horrible passes, throws a gift interception, and the Chargers pull out the win. If Miami would have stuck with the run, they would have won this game.
In last week’s article I thought we would learn a lot more about the Chargers from this game. Not sure if I learned anything new, but here are some observations/opinions.
1) There is no QB in the NFL that throws a better long ball than Philip Rivers. The passes to Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson were spectacular. But so were the catches. The thought of having to try to cover the 6’ 5” 225 pound Jackson, the 6’5 “ 230 pound Floyd, and 6’ 4” 260 pound Antonio Gates - all who run like deer and do not drop anything that touches their hands - must give defensive coordinators nightmares. Throw in Legedu Naanee, and the excellent decision making and accuracy of Philip Rivers, the Chargers have the most dangerous passing game in the NFL (again, with regrets to New Orleans and Drew Brees).
2) Until LT comes back, the red zone performance will be very inefficient. Again, 5 trips to the Red Zone and the only guy who could run it in for a TD was Philip Rivers (mind you I could have run it in when the Miami Defense opened up like the Red Sea). I still do not understand why Turner is not getting Michael Bennett more involved in the running game. Isn’t the reason why they kept him on the roster was to act as an insurance policy in case LT went down? The Chargers need to get Bennett in the game so he can get into a rhythm. They can’t just put him in when they are in the Red Zone.
3) Sorry, but Merriman is done - at least with the Chargers. A groin injury can take the whole season to heal. And not being able to play last Sunday, nor this Sunday against Pittsburgh, puts his comeback that much farther behind. I love his passion but it is going to take 2 years for him to come back from the knee injury and by that time he will probably be on the Washington Redskins. The perfect type of player Daniel Snyder would want, and Merriman is from Maryland. You heard it here first.
4) Larry English was a very good pick. He is becoming much more active. He is very smart (a great non play of not throwing the QB to the ground after the whistle – most rookies would not have had that restraint), and broke up a critical 3rd down pass. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your new Shawn Merriman.
5) Luis Castillo is off to a great start. Let’s hope he can stay healthy. He is holding that patch work defensive line together. But you have to love the Ogemdi Nwagbuo effort and story. He is holding his own. To think he was working at a rental car agency a year ago making $15/Hour. He must pinch himself every night. (I do not know what his contract is but the league minimum salary is $310 Thousand Dollars – I think that works out to more than $15/hour). You got to love it.
So I have three questions...
1) Why do the Chargers always start off the game so slow. Both offensively (it has been 20 games since they scored a TD on the opening drive) and the defense gets run over in the first half? For the Chargers sake, thank goodness Turner (and it appears Rivera as well) adjust very well within the game.
2) Will LT make a difference in the running game when he returns? The O-line seems to be playing pretty well – you can’t run Sproles off tackle - sorry it doesn’t work with a 5’6 RB consistently. So will LT be LT when he gets back? If he is, watch out.
3) Can English progress fast enough so that there can be some semblance of a pass rush? Burnett played very well, Cooper may be headed toward a Pro Bowl, and Philips motor is running very high. If the defensive team can keep over achieving, once the adjustments have been made, the Charger defense might be able to be respectable. Which is all they need.
So the Chargers are now 2-1 and move on to Pittsburgh for a Sunday Night Prime Time game against the World Champions . The Chargers could not be getting the Steelers at a better time (though the Chargers are a MASH unit at the moment). The Steelers have not discovered their running game, Polamalu is out, and Philip Rivers and his receiving corps are on fire. No doubt, Heinz field is a difficult place to play and the Steelers are going to be mad as hornets due to their loss at Cincinnati last week; but if the Chargers can keep it close they might, just might, be able to steal a game that they should lose.
3-1 sounds so much better then 2-2. And a lot less smelly.