Alright Chargers fans, it's the half way point of the season and needless to say, it has been less than impressive. At 3-5, if you were an outside observer, you would think this team has been devastated by injuries. Well, while there has been some injuries, you can not blame the Chargers' record on them.
Without a doubt, the Chargers have been coached to a 3-5 record. Sloppy tackling, too many penalties, no pass rush and a defense who can't make a stop on 3rd down to save their lives, can all be put on the shoulders of the coaching staff.
I've never coached the game, but, I've played it and have the best seat in the house to see all mistakes when watching the games on TV and the one thing that I despise most when it comes to defense is the soft or prevent scheme.
On the rare occasion, I do find it as an acceptable defense and that's when your team is up by more than 14 points with less than 4 minutes to play. There's only been two games the Chargers have been in that situation and that was against the Jets and the Patriots.
Week 1: The Chargers' first loss of the season came in Week one against the Panthers. With 2:21 left on the clock, the Chargers were up 24-19, the Panthers got the ball back on their own 32 yard line. The Panthers then proceed to throw 11 straight times, with the 11th pass being the game winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.
What defense did the Chargers employ? Yup, the prevent defense. Please tell me what it prevented other than preventing the Chargers from winning. 11 straight passes and only 2 of them were incomplete. The prevent defense let the Panthers march 68 yards in less than two and a half minutes.
Week 2: The Chargers' second game of the season was against the Broncos in Denver. Never an easy place for the Chargers to win, but, the Chargers had some recent success in the land that is a mile high. What the Chargers did not know was that they had two extra opponents they had to play against. A replay booth that didn't work and a ref with a too quick whistle.
The replay, to me, was the game breaker not Ed Hochuli's badly missed fumble that he ruled dead because of his whistle. I did not know this, but, apparently, if the replay booth does not work after trying for 2 minutes, the play stands on the field. Ok, so you are telling me the multi BILLION dollar NFL has NO, ZERO, NONE, ZILCH back up to the replay system?! Inexcusable NFL, completely inexcusable.
Needless to say, once again, the Chargers were up by 7 with 4:22 left in the game, the Broncos marched 80 yards to what people thought would be the game tieing touchdown. Nope, Shanahan went for 2 and the win, well, they got it.
On that 80 yard drive to the winning score, what defense was employed by the Chargers defense? You guessed it, the prevent. Now granted, it was a fumble by Cutler and the Chargers should have had the ball, but, really, had the Chargers forced the Broncos to punt, the fumble really is a non factor in my opinion.
Week 3: The Jets came to town sporting their shiny new quarterback Brett Favre. This had disaster written all over it for the Chargers D. However, Favre and Co., really couldn't sustain drives.
Luckily, like pretty much all season, the Offense had no problems scoring, the defense had somewhat of a pass rush and intercepted a few balls for good measure. This is one game where the prevent defense was an appropriate defense to call. Chargers won this game 48-29.
Week 4: Things weren't looking so good when the Chargers faced the Raiders in Oakland on September 28th. The Chargers offense could not get anything going against a determined Oakland D which shut out the Chargers in the first half.
The Chargers defense played admirably this game by pretty much shutting out the Raiders in the second half. Luckily the Raiders, like clock work, imploded in the second half and gave up 25 points in the 4th quarter. This was the rare game where the Chargers defense played a pretty decent game overall and the Chargers offense was nowhere to be found until the 4th quarter. Chargers win 28-18.
Week 5: The Chargers then traveled to Miami against the worst football team of the 2007 season. Miami had a new play in their scheme called the Wildcat formation. The ball is snapped directly to someone besides the quarterback. It worked on a couple of occasions against the Chargers.
The defense actually held up pretty good this game and kept the Chargers in it the whole way, but, still had problems stopping long drives. However, the Chargers offense decided to take the day off in southern Florida.
Not being able to maintain drives on offense, the Chargers lost this game 10-17.
Week 6: Facing a Tom Bradyless Patriots team, the Chargers had a chance to get to .500 on the year and stay within a game of the Broncos. One had to wonder though which Chargers team would show up. Would it be the Chargers of the Miami game or the Chargers of the Jets game.
Luckily for Chargers fans, it was the Chargers team from the Jets game. The defense played with an intensity that hasn't been seen in a while and the offense came out of the gate shooting. The Chargers only punted 3 times and kept QB Matt Cassell moving in the pocket on several plays and sacking him four times.
This was, in my opinion, the Chargers' first completely well played game from start to finish and surprisingly, they win 30-10.
Week 7: The Chargers headed to Buffalo in northern New York and were facing a quarterback coming back from a concussion. With the way the defense for the Chargers played the week before against the Patriots, one would think that the Bills would be luck to score 14 points against the Chargers.
Well, not only did the power go out in the stadium, but, the power went completely out of the Chargers. The defense couldn't figure out a way to make Trent Edwards out of his comfort zone in the pocket all day.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers offense couldn't do much either. Rivers threw a very untimely interception and just could not sustain drives.
A very poorly played game on both sides of the ball which led to the Bills beating the Chargers 23-14.
Week 8: Ah the NFL's foray into Europe. I'm sure commissioner Roger Goodell was happy to see the Saints and the Chargers both have quarterbacks that can put up big numbers. I'm sure the Saints were happy that they were going to be facing a Chargers defense who probably could not stop a Pop Warner team from driving down the field 90 yards for a touchdown.
The Chargers defense did not disappoint Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense in the first half. If not for a drive that lasted almost seven minutes in the 3rd quarter, who knows how many more touchdowns Drew Brees would have thrown for.
See, here's how you win games, Chargers. You keep the other teams offense off of the field. You get 3 and Outs, you can achieve that goal. Keep giving up stupid penalties and long passes, you don't get to achieve that goal.
In the end, the Chargers' passer friendly defense gave up 339 yards and 3 touchdowns to Drew Brees. They also gave up 2 touchdowns on the ground.
The Chargers offense played good enough to win, but, the Chargers defense, once again, could not get the job done when needed, result? Saints win 37-32.
And now for the Chargers' "Half Way Through the Season" report card.
Offense - B: Not always showing up to games kept you from getting an A. Do better in the second half of the season.
Defense - D: The loss of Merriman hurts, no doubt, but, one man does not make a defense good or bad when you have the talent. Regardless of what the coaching has done, individuals need to step up their performances and learn how to tackle. I'll give you a hint, go for the legs...
Special Teams - C+: If not for Sproles, Kaeding and Scifres being pretty darn good, the coverage team would drag this grade down to a D.
Head Coaching - D: As a head coach, it is your job to prepare your team for each game, this is obviously not happening. There's been no major injuries other than Merriman and some of the plays called on offense have been very suspect.
Offensive Coordinator - C+: Need to mix it up more and don't be afraid to come out on the first play of the game going for the long ball. Quit running the ball on 2nd and 13 situations. The offensive line isn't getting the push off of the snap like it needs to for this to work.
Defensive Coordinator - F: Not sure how you still have a job Ted Cottrell. I don't know you, but, I know your work and it's putrid. You have single handily destroyed the Chargers defense and its ability to stop opponents on 3rd down situations and long drives.
The Chargers could have very easily been 8-0 at this point in the season, but, they aren't for reasons already known to the rest of the world. The rest of the schedule isn't very demanding save, Indy and Pittsburgh. However, if the play of the defense isn't in full gear the rest of the way, the Chargers could very well end up with a 5-11 record if they aren't careful.
Hopefully during the bye week, a light will be turned on, a switch flipped, something, that wakes up this Chargers defense. This defense can be lights out without Lights Out with the proper coaching and defensive schemes and needs to get much much better at tackling.
Thankfully the AFC West is such a weak division that the Chargers could find themselves in the playoffs with a 8-8 record. We shall see...
Photo Courtesy of Robert Hoopes