No one knows, from sea to shining sea, what is wrong with the San Diego Chargers.
Not unlike their counterparts in Dallas, the Chargers are a top-seeded team wallowing near the bottom of the barrel. Their schedule was supposed to be a kind of panacea to previous years of early struggle.
Yet here they sit at 2-4, losing to the Chiefs, Seahawks, Raiders and Rams, four teams with a combined record of 15-49 from a year ago—a woeful 23 percent winning percentage.
What has transpired this year, in simplest terms, is a nightmare for the Chargers, and hearing head coach Norv Turner utter something platitudinous after every loss like “we’ll address the problem and get it fixed” somehow fails to inspire either confidence or assuredness in the team’s fans and perhaps even the players.
In my view, what the Chargers might consider is something on the matrix between a monastic vow of silence and a heavy dose of humility. By approximate count, there are about seven spoonfuls of humility that not only the Charger brain trust—Norv Turner, his coaches and GM A.J. Smith—need to swallow, but the players themselves too.
The first spoonful of humility, and a giant one at that, is for GM A.J. Smith, whose steadfast, iron-fisted management of negotiations and player contracts approaches the tyrannical.
How many players under contract with the Chargers harbour resentment for the state of siege they were forced to undertake to achieve remuneration that would have been readily available elsewhere? How many are tearing around the field at full speed knowing that their heart and soul are mostly in it, but not quite all in?
The Chargers have ditched out on a lot of players this past year. Irrespective of whether “they no longer had it,” which was the claim, are the intangibles as to what some of those players provided in terms of leadership and chemistry.
Let’s give Smith a second spoonful of humility too for the players he felt were no longer serviceable and the players he decided were competent replacements. Does Antoine Cason really replace Antonio Cromartie? The current tandem of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert really replace LT? Does Antonio Garay really replace Jamal Williams? Did you think that the now departed C.J. Spillman was really going to replace Kassim Osgood?
A medium spoonful of humility for defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. In spite of a defense boasting a top five ranking, the fact of the matter remains that in the Raider game and again yesterday, your defense did not make a critical stop when it absolutely had to.
In the Raider game, the problem was schematics: Dropping into a prevent defense in the second half allowed the Raiders to waltz down the field twice on long, time-gobbling drives that kept the Charger offense off the field. The Raiders moved down the field at will, converting several third down opportunities when just one big stop could have stemmed the flow.
Yesterday, when the lacklustre Chargers finally got around to a second half surge and desperately needed the ball with three-plus minutes remaining, Rivera’s defense caved and allowed the Rams to hog the ball while the clock petered out.
A spoonful of humility for the Chargers offensive line and stay behind blockers: You get the F-bomb for failing to protect your quarterback two weeks in a row. Adding malcontent Marcus McNeill to the mix didn’t help either; the Rams defense got the best of you and deservedly broke through your tenuous ranks.
A tiny spoonful of humility for Philip Rivers. John Madden always used to say that “great players make great plays to win ball games.” Make no mistake about it: Rivers is a great player, the best player on the team and one of the best players in the game. But in nearly every loss this season, you brought the team to the penultimate cusp of winning, making tremendous plays to nearly pull out a salvageable win.
But then, you didn’t.
A huge spoonful of humility for the Chargers special teams. Virtually every commentator on the planet has laid the Chargers' early season woes at the feet of Steve Crosby and the special teams, and there is nothing I can add except to say this: Until further notice, I will watch special teams with one hand raised to eye level, poised to cover them in a flash.
Finally, a healthy spoonful of humility for Norv Turner (not that his nervous media countenance can likely absorb too much more scrutiny). The fact of the matter is that his primary responsibility is to get his players physically and mentally prepared each week, and that deficiencies in the physical and mental preparedness of his players are his responsibility.
While one realizes that coaches cannot and do not play the game themselves, there has been ongoing criticism that Turner does not instill the kind of bestial savagery that may in fact be requisite to win it all. Watching the Charger players this season, one wonders what in fact has been instilled in them, other than a kind of “we don’t get serious until November” kind of attitude.
That may come back to bite them. The Chargers are not losing to New England and Indy—yet, at least. They are losing to among the league’s worst teams.
Only time will tell if they can find their way out of this mess, or whether the 2010 Chargers really aren’t very good. For now, some humility at knowing the latter appears to be the case.