Well, I guess it is that time again, eh?
A year ago, after our playoff loss to the New York Jets, I wrote a similar article, and got a great response, and so I thought I might throw it out there again.
I am a career Charger fan of over 25 years. The opinions contained herein are an honest assessment of the Chargers, and meant for fun and a bit of debate. You are certainly welcome to read and critique, but please keep it respectful to some degree.
The facts are that, even though we had a rough season overall, and fell short of expectations, I am still a fan through and through, and will continue to be next year. In saying that I am already looking forward to next year, and this one is barely over! The San Diego Chargers continue on, minus the one thing all of us fans truly want a look at before we are old and grey: the Lombardi Trophy.
Obviously, I am no expert, nor is the Spanos family phoning me for my opinion. This is just a longtime fan of the team, with a few thoughts and concerns from the cheap seats.
Philip creates a very unique buzz around the league. Some love him, some hate him. Some call him overrated, and some call him underrated.
Here is where I am at. Philip Rivers is this era's Dan Fouts. On my wall growing up, I had a picture of Fouts, in a game with a broken nose and blood leaking out all over his jersey, with his teeth clenched calling for the snap. It was a picture that truly personified Fouts' tenure with the team. Blood, guts, effort and a never-say-die attitude.
Philip has that "it" factor and is a great leader of men. We won, or were in a few games this year, that Philip kept us in. He dealt with several factors, including a revolving door of receivers, the loss of one of the premier tight ends in football, the loss of key position players and an occasionally bad performance by the offensive line.
And what do I love about they guy? It is the fact that not only did he not quit, but the adversity actually seemed to make him want to get it done worse. Bar none, if we plan on taking a trip to visit the "Sticky" Lombardi...Philip is our guy. Please, let's not let this kid be another Dan Marino, or worse...Dan Fouts.
Early in the year, this line was bad at times. There is no nice way to put it. But I actually thought that by the end of the year, they came together pretty good. It is still not our greatest asset, but a year ago, watching Jeromey Clary take a never-ending amount of false-start penalties was just plain and simply put, painful. He started the year out on the same note. By the end of the year, they looked like a unit out there, and seem to have fixed some of what was wrong all along.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that they were "all world," either. But they got better under adverse conditions, and you cannot walk until you crawl.
I have been complaining for two years that Mike Tolbert needed a chance in this offense. He is a bowling ball out there, has great hands and a desire to win.
This year, we got to see what Tolbert could do with a chance, and I think he ran with it. Late in the year, he indicated that he and rookie Ryan Mathews would be a great one-two punch going forward.
I say "Hell yes, let's do it." Mike did a great job stepping in and playing hard. Watching him bulldoze through the line is awesome, and he fits the type of runner that the play-calling can use as an up-the-gut, hammer-away-at-the-defense, put-us-in-short-yardage third downs type of guy. He fits the prototype of what works perfectly in the Norv Turner offense.
Keep feeding him the rock. The kid has got the juice.
A year ago, Shaun was in my ugly category, after his antics during the New York Jets game in the playoffs and a season of picking pregame fights and nonsense of this nature. It is important that when you give someone a scathing review, you be able to admit that they came back, changed gears, and started to toe the line.
Shaun did a great job this year. Last year I commented that his mouth and his body moved at light speeds faster than his brain. This year, I would say the opposite was true. He made a lot of great plays and managed to keep his personality in check, and his name and face off of the television under adverse conditions.
His high level of play needed to be accentuated with a professional approach and a leadership role, and he did exactly that this season.
Norv, is just so...I dunno..."Norv." In the dictionary, should he keep going, they are going to have a definition of being "Norved."
This guy goes to work every day with people calling him out, saying bad things about him and a general belief from most Chargers fans that he should be fired. Yet, Norv has continued with the same old "Gee whiz, aww shucks, that's a real doozy..." type of attitude throughout it all. In my opinion, it is a bit of a minor miracle that he holds it all together.
You will find Norv in all three categories of my article, because he was a little of each. However, on a positive note we had a highly ranked defense and offense, despite several key injuries, and holdouts by supposed team leaders. He is at the center of a whirlwind, most of the time, and occasionally finds time to show improvement as a head coach and a game manager. This year was no exception. Norv is slowly distancing himself from his poor head coaching experiences in Oakland and Washington.
In terms of offensive coordinators, Norv can find ways to continually put up yardage and points and exploit defenses. He did so at times this year. Yeah, I said it. Norv Turner is growing into the job.
Ronnie is just plain good at being a defensive coordinator. There are rumblings around the league about him becoming a head coach, and in all honesty, I am not sure that he can do that. Leading a defense and leading a team are two different evils.
I might just be saying that because I do not want Ronnie to leave. He has done a great job of keeping this group of guys focused through a lot of turbulent times this year. Continuity is important in a football program, and it would be awesome to keep him in place in the coming year.
I thought our linebackers did a great job. I am still waiting for the emergence of former No. 1 pick Larry English. Otherwise, this group works together, and efficiently.
There were games where we were unable to stop the run or get pressure on the opposing team's quarterback. But for the most part, this group was better than the linebacker corps on most NFL franchises.
When your special teams is actually costing you games, you have a real problem in that department. Steve Crosby is one of the most well-respected special teams coaches in the league. Yet from week to week, this animal kept finding its way back out of the box.
What is it? Was it Crosby? Was it the departure of special-teams ace Kasim Osgood? Was it personnel? Was it a technical problem? Was it an attitude problem, and a lack of commitment? Was it the rules changes?
Yup. A little or a lot of each.
But it begs the question. How long until we address it?
I realize that your D-line is not a major factor in the 3-4 defense, but in honesty, outside of Garay, I just do not know who we have out there worth keeping. I have always felt that Castillo, Cesaire, Bingham, Martin and Nwagbuo scare just about nobody in the entire NFL. Wouldn't it be nice to have a legitimate sack threat in this group?
This team either needs a step up from the monstrous Martin, a draft pick with some speed, or a free agent. This current group, more often than not, could not get the offense back on the field when it mattered. They do not exactly belong on the "bad" list. But they sure as heck do not belong on the good list. This group needs to improve.
As I said, when a coach does not make the playoffs, a case could be made for them in all three "good, bad and ugly" categories.
The facts are that, the one major strike universally in Charger nation against Norv is that he lacks the skills to motivate men, to do the "above and beyond" that a championship team requires. This team did not show up prepared to play all too often. At times, while it was not at the immediate doing of Turner, we were unprepared in key areas.
We lost to the St Louis Rams, the Seattle Seahawks, the Cincinnati Bengals and two games to the Raiders (all sub-par teams, although the Raiders have legitimately improved, and kicked our asses twice). That has to go onto somebody, when looking at a team that hung around with the Patriots and whooped the Colts. The talent is obviously there.
The facts are that this team needs to show up, every game of the season, every minute and down of each game, play through every whistle, and within the framework of the rules, to have a chance.
When they don't, it has to fall on somebody.
I love Darren Sproles, and think he is an amazing talent. But this last year, it was proven, (in my opinion) that he has no place in the Norv Turner universe.
Darren is a gadget, and toy halfback. He makes a good buck, and touches the ball about seven to 10 times a game. It is too much money, given the circumstance.
But more so, the problem is that our coaches still have never found a way to use him, other than as a change-of-pace back. He runs screens, but we actually ran very few this year. I really hated seeing him out there on critical third-down pass-blocking situations. When you have Tolbert in the ranks, Sproles becomes a little out of his element as a goal-line bulldozer. He is not fumble-prone, and maybe it is just me, but he does have a knack for fumbling at the darnedest times.
It is sad to say, and he was not terrible, per se. But the Darren Sproles experiment is over.
Uhhh. Vinnie drives you crazy because he is a monumentally good receiver, in an Adonis-like frame, with a two-bit attitude.
The suspension, the contract holdout, the team suspension, the return, the injury, the return, the three-touchdown game. It's a 50/50 deal with Jackson. You just literally do not know what you have.
On one hand, you have a beast of a player, able to run at high speeds, shift, jump, catch and intimidate defenses. His chemistry with Philip Rivers, when he plays, is undeniable.
Yet, on the other, you have a guy with a couple of DUIs, who kicks flags at officials and gets caught and in trouble right when you might need him for a playoff game. The hardest part is that Vince blames A.J. Smith for everything, including in a public statement by his agent, referring to A.J. as the "Lord of No Rings" (more on that moniker in a minute). I mean, you just want to ask...
"Say Vince, do you think that makes the Chargers a better team?" Or more precisely, "Do you think you make the Chargers a better team?"
Sadly, with Vincent Jackson, you just cannot answer that question. It is both yes and no, depending on the day and time.
I guess if Vince is a 50/50 deal, so is A.J. I am still not exactly sure if A.J. is good for this team or not.
Given the amount of talent he has been able to patch into this lineup and still bring forth a winning record, with a coach with a career percentage that started out at around 43 percent, you have to say yes. He has positioned us very well in the draft this year, and the move up to get Ryan Mathews, I thought was pretty good. In a way, I love that A.J. is willing to stand in there and challenge the prima donnas of today's game and hard-line those who desperately need to be reeled in (see: Vinnie Jack).
Yet, the "Lord of No Rings" deal, for me, was funny because it is true. A.J. is too old school at times for his and our own good. The firing of Marty Schottenheimer still bugs the long-term fans (I have moved on). The displacement of LT rubbed a few the wrong way (I have moved on). The pick of Terrence Kiel and Sammy Davis, 11 days after the death of John Butler, instead of taking Troy Polamalu, still haunts him (I tend to excuse it as first-day-on-the-job jitters). Picks like Vaughn Martin, Larry English and Buster Davis still remind us of the hit and miss nature of the draft. His reluctance to dabble in the free agent market still miffs many fans. His antics in hard-lining his players may have chased away any marquee talent interested in this franchise in the near future.
The coming draft and offseason should tell us what we need to know about A.J. Smith and whether he took John Butler's team, and lived off of the success, or if he can stand alone. We have a lot of high picks in the coming draft and a lot of situations to resolve. It can take several years to determine if the GM's blueprint is successful or not.
In a year, we should be able to answer that question.
Some of the things that happened to us this year were almost comical. Do you remember the back-to-back too many men on the field penalties in Week 2 against the Raiders? What about the two return touchdowns from Leon Washington? The nine-point deficit after three minutes of game play after two blocked punts in the first quarter in the first game against the Raiders? Dexter McCluster beating us in Week 1 with a return touchdown?
There were times when we were a comedy of errors out there, and unfortunately, that has to be put on somebody. You can't just give games away in the NFL.
At times, when we looked bad, we looked just plain "Ugly." It was just enough to make you say "Gee whiz...aww shucks...That was a real doozy!"
Watching Steve-o flip out after every special teams miscue got to be a little tiresome by the end of the year. I saw Steve Crosby on camera a little too much this year. It is never a good thing when your special teams coach is on TV, throwing his hat and cussing out the players, at least once a game.
While I get that he is well-respected in the league, the facts are that we have a kicker who is one of the most accurate season kickers statistically of all time, who still has never shown the ability to hit a clutch kick (minus the Patriots game, pre-Norv). We have a cover team that can barely cover. We have a kick returner who by the end of the year was not our kick returner anymore, watching Cason do his job (Darren Sproles). And we have a punt cover and protect team that is somewhat like watching a blind man shoot archery in terms of unpredictability.
I am ready for Steve Crosby to be someone else's special teams coach, so that they can see how well-respected he is, and just what an ordinary job he is doing here.
Well, thanks for the read. Healthy debate is encouraged. Do you have an addition? Am I off my rocker? Can this team become relevant again next year? Are we going to get worse yet?
Please feel free to comment below. Enjoy the playoffs, minus the San Diego Chargers.