One Less Deer In the Headlights
Clinton Hart is not a household name, even in NFL circles. He has seldom distinguished himself in a photo finish race to a perfectly spiralling ball, never made a critical interception in a playoff game that helped his team win, or swatted away a sure touchdown with a Herculean circus leap ala John Jefferson or Wes Chandler. Until today, Clinton Hart was a safety for the San Diego Chargers, a player whose credentials are so nondescript, one wonders how he could possibly have been a starter in 33 of the Chargers last 34 games, how he could possibly have survived with the Chargers since the 2004 season. But no more. Hart was released by the Chargers earlier this afternoon.
I even wonder how it is possible that Clinton Hart is newsworthy, let alone blog worthy. Don’t you have anyone better to write about, Dave?
Apparently not, and here’s why: Because Clinton Hart is not the problem in San Diego; part of the problem, yes. But not the real underlying problem.
A year ago, when the Chargers defense was floundering early in the season (31st in the league against the pass), all pointing fingers levelled on defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell . Ted, you are the problem. Goodbye.
The defense improved slightly. The Chargers salvaged an 8-8 season and a playoff berth only because the Broncos folded like a deck of cards in a maelstrom.
Last year, the Chargers couldn’t stop the pass. This year, they can’t stop the run or the pass.
Clinton Hart is the new scapegoat. He is this year’s Ted Cottrell. But the problems in San Diego are manifold. Among them:
1) Antonio Cromartie has been awful at cornerback. In the Chargers most recent humiliating experience at Pittsburg, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball Cromartie’s way every chance he could because Cromartie was playing either too far off or too tight, the latter which translated into at least two costly penalties. Last year, Cromartie blamed his performance on the distractions related to having seven kids with five different women. Sorry, Antonio, but the expiry date on that excuse has passed.
What the Chargers need to do with Cromartie is demote him to nickel back, and promote Antoine Cason to starter. Cason is more physical than Cromartie, and not nearly as soft in his coverage skills. The Chargers leadership of Norv Turner and Ron Rivera have been reluctant to touch Cromartie, but I would have demoted him before cutting Hart.
2) Shawne Merriman’s big mouth: Anyone who follows Merriman’s tweets must realize by now that he is a bag of hot air. Though allegedly hampered with a groin injury, Merriman continues to spout garbage about his overrated “lights out” identity, yet he has done zip on the field...zip to warrant the confidence he displays, zip to the offensive lineman who have had no problem flicking him off like a mosquito. Through four games, Merriman has no sacks, and a single hand is plenty to count the number of tackles he has made. Oh, but I forgot. Poor little blue mohawk Shawne has a sore groin.
3) The defensive line: Losing Jamaal Williams was a blow to the Chargers defensive line, but if you watched the season opener against the Raiders, even Williams was gashed by the Raiders running game. Further, newly acquired Travis Johnson, though injured, is hardly a daunting presence, which leaves Luis Castillo to shoulder most of the trench work. That is unfortunate. If the Chargers defensive line was in a tug of war where the loser is splattered in a cesspool of mud, the people at Tide would build a detergent factory next to Qualcomm.
4) The linebackers: The linebacker play of the Chargers has been extremely disappointing. Stephen Cooper has been below average. Kevin Burnett the same. Merriman nonexistent. Shaun Phillips doesn’t seem to want to get his hands dirty; if you read his twitter postings, he seems basically silly, unserious. Rookie Larry English has done an excellent job being five yards up field from where the action is happening.
That doesn’t leave much, but the most salient characteristic of the Chargers defense this season has been the sense that everybody is out of position, that nobody knows what they are supposed to be doing. They look both confused and soft, if that is even possible. What I have seen is eleven guys shoved backwards.
Today, one of those guys, Clinton Hart, paid the price. But from what I have seen of the 2009 Chargers, Hart’s departure means just one less deer in the headlights, one less deer frozen in the frenzied panic of not knowing what to do.