Before the season began, I wrote an article, “2011 NFL Predictions: 7 Reasons San Diego Chargers Are Headed to the Super Bowl.”
It was early, optimism was high and I had reason to believe the lockout and the new collective bargaining agreement had leveled the playing field. It wasn’t that I thought the Chargers were suddenly capable of getting out of the gates quickly, or that they were now capable of playing smash-mouth football with the big boys; it was more that the other 31 teams were now forced to run the same Club-Med training camp that the Chargers had perfected under Norv Turner.
Well, that was then; this is now, and it’s time to reassess. So now I give you, “7 Reasons Why the San Diego Chargers Are Not Headed to the Super Bowl.”
When Ron Rivera left for Carolina, the Chargers had their pick of available assistants to bring in as their defensive coordinator, and they chose former San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. In his four years with San Francisco, Manusky’s defense never ranked higher than 13th.
Currently the Chargers defense is ranked seventh in yards allowed per game, fourth in passing, and 18th in rushing. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize the Chargers have only faced two teams in the top half of the league in total offense (New England and Green Bay). But what’s really killing them is their rank of 27th in points allowed. Last time I looked, yards don’t get you beat; points do.
The San Diego media has had a curious hands-off approach to this coaching staff. Apparently no one is to blame for anything that happens on the field except for the players, even though most of the same problems crop up year after year. That has begun to change this season, but the problems were apparent three years ago and nothing was said.
Without outspoken critics, nothing changes. At least not until the fans revolt, as they did in 1973 to oust (then) general manager/head coach Harland Svare after (then) owner Gene Klein rewarded him with a five-year contract extension for bringing in a 4-9-1 season.
In an article published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Chargers team owner Dean Spanos is quoted as saying that he thinks the players are fighting for their beleaguered head coach. While this may be true, they wouldn’t have to fight for him if they would actually play for him. And while there is no quit in this team, as Spanos also asserts, there’s no cohesion either.
Spanos should stop looking for silver linings and start looking for hard answers. This team has sputtered mightily the past two seasons and three of the last five. At this point, inconsistent play is not an aberration, it’s the norm.
This Chargers team is not known for its clock management skills. If you added up all the time they’ve wasted in the past four-and-a-half years, the Chargers have probably frittered away a whole quarter.
In a game against the Jets earlier this year, the Chargers were at their own 24 with just under a minute-and-a-half to play, had no timeouts and needed a touchdown to win.
On first down, Philip Rivers hit Antonio Gates on a 17-yard pass to the 41. The Chargers then proceeded to wander up to the line like a high school freshman team at their first scrimmage, wasting precious seconds getting the call in from the sidelines and changing formations.
23 seconds burned off the clock before they put the ball in play again. 23 seconds, nearly one-third of the time they had left in the game. They then ran two underneath patterns that didn’t gain much yardage and, more importantly, didn’t get out of bounds to stop the clock. Rivers then fired off two 25-yard incomplete prayers when they only needed three yards to move the chains.
At no time did they attempt to stop the clock by spiking the ball.
Philip Rivers isn’t right. Something has gotten in his head.
Rivers had the second highest quarterback rating in the league last year. This year, he’s 20th. Maybe Rivers is playing hurt. I don’t know, but if we take anything away from the 2007-08 AFC Championship game, it’s that the Chargers and Rivers aren’t above obfuscating the truth when it comes to injuries. What I do know is that he leads the league in interceptions.
Among other things, it’s Smith’s job to hire coaches and select players. On the coaching front, he hired Norv Turner in 2007 to provide “continuity” to the franchise when Marty Schottenheimer was let go. I guess the question here is: How is that “continuity” thing working out?
In terms of players, there have been eight drafts on Smith’s watch, and overall he has had nine first-round picks. Of those nine, three have either been traded or outright released. (I count the draft/trade of Eli Manning for Philip Rivers as a draft pick retained. Otherwise that number goes up.)
Of the remaining six, one is injured, another is always injured, and one is in the coaches’ doghouse for poor play. That leaves just three first rounders contributing on a regular basis. Not a good track record.
The rest of Smith’s picks haven’t fared much better. Less than half of the 60 players he’s chosen in those eight drafts are still with the team. Not a terribly surprising percentage until you realize the emphasis with which Smith places on building the team through the draft. At this rate, it will only take 16 years to replenish the roster.
Which brings us to the number one problem: Norv Turner.
In that previous article, I stated I believed Turner had the ability to learn from his mistakes. Apparently I was wrong.
From poor team preparation to inexcusable clock management to scratch-your-head stupid ways to lose games, nothing has gotten better. Everything Turner’s critics said about him when he took over five years ago has come true. Turner’s Chargers are seldom prepared to play their best football at the beginning of the season or at the beginning of a game. They are unfocused and lack discipline. (They are currently tied for 10th in the league in penalties, and in the past three games, all losses, they have been flagged 33 times, more than any team not based in Oakland.)
They are also prone to stupid, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot mistakes. And when they do somehow manage to miss putting a smoking bullet hole in their cleats, they hit the field with the cohesion of a team assembled out in the parking lot just prior to kickoff and assigned positions on a play-by-play basis.
The Chargers became very efficient under previous coach Marty Schottenheimer. They ran off records of 12-4, 9-7, and 14-2 in his last three years at the helm for a winning percentage of .729. Right now, for all his celebrated success, Turner has a winning percentage with the Chargers of .625. Apples to oranges, you say. I’m cherry-picking Schottenheimer’s three best years?
Well, Schottenheimer’s overall record with the Chargers was 47-33. Turner has to finish the season at 6-10 just to equal that record, and at this point, that is not a given. But the big difference here is Schottenheimer took over a team that had gone 14-34 the previous three seasons and taught them how to win. Turner took over a team that had gone 35-13 the previous three seasons and taught them how to lose.
The Chargers may yet win this division. This team is known for their late-season surges.
But at some point someone has to ask why it has to be this way. Why must they struggle every season to overcome adversity that they themselves have caused? Isn’t there an easier way to do this?
Perhaps not with this regime.
Bottom line? Until Turner realizes and corrects his mistakes, or A.J. Smith realizes and corrects his, the San Diego Chargers are not headed to the Super Bowl, this year or any other.