For the second week in a row, the San Diego Chargers have inspired me to recap their game and summarize their problems before my normal piece that I write along with my (equally poor) weekly picks. Last week, it was the implosion of the special teams, leading to a loss to Oakland.
This week, it was pretty much a team loss. There were many negatives and very few positives to take from this game if you are a Chargers fan.
On the other hand, if you are a Rams fan, you have to be thrilled with how your team played, especially after last weeks drubbing to the Lions.
After watching this game, it became obvious to me that the Chargers have some glaring weaknesses and the rest of the NFL has finally figured them out, even the weaker teams.
Now, like sharks responding to blood in the water, the Chargers opponents are eagerly awaiting their shot at the four time defending AFC Western Division Champions.
Let's take a look at what I have found, shall we?
All we hear in San Diego is how Norv may not be a great Head Coach, but he is a brilliant Offensive Coordinator. Look at his years with the Cowboys! The great Troy Aikman said at his Hall Of Fame induction that he didn't think he would have his rings if not for Norv Turner.
Well, let's see. In Dallas, Norv had Hall Of Famers at quarterback, receiver, running back, and offensive line. If Aikman was having trouble finding Irwin, he could just hand it off to Emmit Smith and let him have a big day. The defense was equally scared of both ways to attack them, through the air, and on the ground.
In San Diego, Turner has shown that, even though he has talent on offense, he really prefers to air it out whenever possible. Why else would he refuse to give his new rookie running back, Ryan Matthews, the ball more than he does. The kid is averaging over five yards per carry and hardly gets to touch the ball. Okay, he had a tweaked ankle so you limit his carries for a while. Now, Matthews only missed one practice this week and said he was fine running the ball and making cuts.
Today, in St. Louis, Philip Rivers was running for his life all game long and Ryan Matthews was missing his blocks as well. However, when Matthews was handed the ball, especially off tackle, he was able to run well and pick up his traditional five yards per carry. Okay, five yards is not 20, but it's better than -10!.
Philip Rivers suffered seven sacks today as the St. Louis defense showed no respect for the Chargers ground game. Wake up Norv!!!
One thing that other teams will pick up from this game film is that Philip Rivers was hit early and often and it took it's toll on him later in the game. I'm not saying that physically he was injured, or unable to throw. I'm saying that there were multiple times where Rivers was chose to run out of the pocket after feeling pressure that was not really there.
In my opinion, his lack of trust in the offensive line made him very nervous. I have never considered him a coward, or a timid QB, but today he looked scared at times. That being said, for you Rivers haters, he has a great history of hanging in there against teams that just miss getting in. I think today he ran into some very good down field coverage that made him hold the ball a little longer than normal, and he didn't have Gates or Floyd to bail him out. The Gates injury had a great deal to do with his problems today.
I'm sure you heard by now that Chargers Pro Bowl receiver, Vincent Jackson, has been holding out all season. He believed that he deserved more than the three million dollar tender that he was offered and took he ball and went home.
Chargers General Manager, A.J. Smith, is not one to be messed with. It's his way or the highway if you want to be a Charger. Now, you add the two DWI''s and another citation that Jackson got the morning of their last playoff game, the odds are better that the US would deal with terrorists than Smith dealing with Jackson. Well, that is coming back to bite the Bolts.
Right now, the Chargers best receiver is Antonio Gates. This season, Gates has been healthy and running uncovered over defense after defense. Today, the situation changed. Gates went out early after a Ram player landed on the back of Gates' ankle and sprained it. Gates tried to play on, but was unable to.
Shortly after Gates exit, number one receiver Malcom Floyd went out of the game with a pulled hamstring. That left Buster Davis and former Cowboy Patrick Crayton to handle catching the ball. Crayton had a fine day gaining over 100 yards and coming down with some big catches.
Davis looked awesome on out patters where he did not have to worry about contact. When he had to cross the field, he played more like Betty Davis than Buster Davis. He was stricken with a bad case of alligator arms and missed key passes that an NFL receiver has to make.
The real bad news is that since A.J. Smith is such a tough guy, if Jackson does return, he will still have to sit for the following three games due to a team suspension. He will finish the season playing six games and bringing home about $200,000 for the effort. Do you think he will play inspired football for that?
Chargers Defensive Coordinator, Ron Rivera
Maybe I'm being too critical, but it seems that the Chargers defense has forgotten that they can go after the ball and even take it away from the other team sometimes. The last two games, the football has been fumbled several times by both teams. The Chargers opponents have come up with every fumble recovery. Last week, not playing to the whistle as well as not noticing the ball was on the ground help lose the game for San Diego.
The Chargers linebackers and defensive backs have gotten hands on passes, only to knock them to the ground. No picks, and no deflections that can be caught by a teammate. It seems every team in the NFL is able to get a turnover here or there, but lately, the Chargers defense has not been able to get their hands on the ball.
As poorly as the Bolts have played the last two weeks, they have still had chances late in the game to win. Against the Raiders, Patrick Crayton ran freely in the end zone in the closing minutes, only to have Rivers lead him too far. Next thing you know, the line opens up like the Red Sea and Rivers gets hit, a fumble occurs, and the Raiders are off to the races to score the deciding touchdown.
This week, the Chargers again had a chance to win the game with just a couple of breaks. First they miss a makeable, yet long, field goal that gives the Rams good field position and leads to a field goal.
Next, the Charger have the opportunity to get the ball back with over a minute on the clock and only down by three. Third and six for St. Louis and the Chargers decide that the Rams will put the game in the hands of their rookie quarterback (he is good by the way), and drop into coverage. The Rams hand the ball off to Steven Jackson who runs straight up the middle for the first down and the win.
The defense had a very nice second half, but when it was down to making one big play......choke.
Chargers kicker, Nate Kaeding, had a very long off-season. He got to sit at home and dwell on the fact that for the second time of his career, he missed field goals that lead to the end of the season for his team, in the playoffs.
The one thing he had going for him coming into this season was that the playoffs were not for another 18 weeks or so. In his career, he has the highest kicking percentage of any kicker in history during the regular season. You would think that he would be fine for now, but he's not.
Kaeding had the opportunity to kick a long field goal to put the Chargers within four points, mid-way through the fourth quarter. Missing such a kick would be disappointing, but somewhat understandable. After all, it was almost 50 yards and he is on the road. But what happened is far from understandable.
Kaeding not only missed, he had the kick blocked! I know what you're thinking. Long kicks start out low and are easier to block than short kicks. Maybe his line needed to block better. Nice idea, but no. Kaeding went to plant his foot and came down on the side of his shoe, slipped, and fell as he kicked the ball approximately five feet in the air. He was lucky the kick wasn't blocked by his own center, it was so low.
This is not something I am seeing around the league. I see clutch field goals made every week, but guys who are not as highly regarded as Kaeding. I don't see anyone falling to the ground and kicking a worm burner, but I saw it today in St. Louis! Sorry, I can't blame field conditions this time either. They were playing in a dome with dry Field Turn to plant his foot on.
Of course, now, Kaeding is complaining about a pulled groin, as if anyone wants to hear his whining. Let's hear about injuries before you choke, not after. It's just an excuse then.
Lets' see....Who have the Chargers tried to replace this year and still play as a team?
La Dainian Tomlinson (Jets)
Jamal Williams (Broncos)
Vincent Jackson (Hold Out)
Marcus McNeill (Finally playing after long hold out and suspension by Smith)
Kassim Osgood (Jaguars)
Brandon Manumaleuna (Bears)
Antonio Cromartie (Jets)
In case you don't follow the Bolts, that is seven starters that they are trying to replace. Six of the seven (all but Manumaleuna) were Pro Bowl players. It is true that Tomlinson seemed less than inspired to play in San Diego the last couple of years and Cromartie had fallen off the map before his exit. Williams was hurt all season in '09 as well, but when healthy is a beast in the middle of the 3-4 defense. Let's not forget that Shawne Merriman was basically released this week as well.
Now, what we are seeing is young players who don't know what to do in pressure situations. As much as I love Ryan Mattews as a runner, I can't stand him as a part of the protection package for Rivers. Today he missed several blitzing Rams who ran freely at Rivers. He needs more time to learn the game but he has to learn under fire.
Personally, I think it is high time that A. J. Smith take some blame for what the Chargers appear to be becoming. He has stripped the roster of many of it's leaders. He has made other players resent him and perhaps not play at their best. He has alienated Pro Bowl players so much that they would rather not play than risk their bodies for him.
He has also drafted players who seem to lack the mental toughness to win in the NFL. Either too much time on the IR (see Larry English and Shawne Merriman), or just not stepping up for big plays, there just seems to be an undeserved arrogance within the team.
Not to fellow Chargers fans:
I know it seems like I am awfully down on the Bolts right now. Well, the fact is that I am! However, I will continue to back this team and I do plan on celebrating a Super Bowl victory sometime in the near future. I feel I have to write pieces like this one to vent my frustrations and to see if anyone else sees what I see.
I keep hanging in there and I keep the faith through all the rough times. However, if something drastic isn't done, and done soon, I fear that this will be the season that the Chargers are unable to pull the rabbit from their collective hats.
Thank goodness that there is not a dominant team in the AFC West. The Chiefs seem like the closest thing, but they have to prove themselves before I will hand them the crown.