Not Enough Sproles Magic Against the Baltimore Ravens for the San Diego Chargers

William RisserCorrespondent ISeptember 21, 2009

SAN DIEGO , CA - SEPTEMBER 20:  Darren Sproles #43 of the San Diego Chargers is pursued by Fabian Washington #31 of the Baltimore Ravens before scoring a touchdown in the first half at Qualcomm Stadium on September 20, 2009 in San Diego, California. The Ravens defeated the Chargers 31-26.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

To win in this league a few things are clear; you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run. The San Diego Chargers weren't able to do either in their home opener, losing 31-28 to the Baltimore Ravens despite huge days from Philip Rivers and Darren Sproles.

I was at the game and it was obvious, outside of Rivers and Sproles, the Chargers didn't have much. So on a day when the Bolts lost the turnover battle and mustered only one sack they still were in a position to win the game on the Ravens' 15-yard line with 37 seconds remaining in the game.

The 4th-and-2 call to run Sproles, who Ray Lewis destroyed in the backfield to end the game, was a bit of a headscratcher. Why try to run on the Ravens with the game on the line when your QB is having a career day? Yeah, bad idea.

Both fullback Jacob Hester and pulling guard Kris Dielman missed Lewis as he shot between back-up's Scott Mruczkowski and Brandyn Dombrowski en route to blowing up Sproles.

I guess that one's on Norv Turner. I think Rivers deserved to have that final play on him. Having only amassed 53-yards on the ground, at 2.5 yards per carry, it was clear the Chargers were going to go as far as Rivers could take them. 

Rivers knew it was on him and he responded, throwing for a career best 436 yards. He also had a career long 81-yard TD pass to Sproles on a flare out of the backfield. Vincent Jackson also had a huge day against smaller and slower Baltimore defenders racking up 141 yards on six catches and a TD. 

But ultimately, you can't be that one dimensional. Additionally, the two interceptions thrown by Rivers proved costly. The first, by Dawan Landry, was a result of Ray Lewis pressure that forced Rivers into a seriously ill-advised throw. 

The second was a hot throw deep in Chargers territory that deflected off Chris Chambers into the arms of Antwan Barnes. The Ravens got points off that turnover too. 

Gates didn't seem to be used enough, particularly deep in Ravens territory. He usually had a favorable match-up against a linebacker, corner or safety. And when Rivers looked his way other times in the game, Gates made the play.

Sproles, again, does it all but his 278 total yards weren't enough this time. It was uncanny how he made play after play in all facets of the game. As I've said before, there is no way Sproles is going to be able to keep up this level of production without more rest. 

Without Jamal Williams the defense gave up 4.1 per rush for a total of 130 yards. At least it's better than against the Raiders. That's scary. Vaughn Martin, Andre Coleman, and Ogemdi Nwagbuo simply weren't good enough. 

There were too many runs where Willis McGahee or Ray Rice ripped off runs of ten yards at a time. I was surprised, given the depleted Chargers line, the Ravens didn't run more.

There as also little pressure put on Raven's QB Joe Flacco. Shawne Merriman didn't have a sack but neither did any of the other Charger linebackers, who are counted on to get to the QB. Merriman has six tackles and no sacks in the first two weeks. Luis Castillo had a the only Chargers sack.

The one time Flacco was rushed by Merriman, he threw a hurried ball which was intercepted by Antoine Cason. This is how the Chargers must operate to be successful. But, in the end, Flacco was able to avoid pressure and manage the game effectively. 

There were also some significant breakdowns in the Chargers secondary. On Kelly Washington's TD, everyone got fooled, but strong safety Steve Gregory was way out of position. Gregory also got worked by tight end Todd Heap for a TD. I thought Kevin Burnett was brought in to stop these tight ends.

The Chargers did a good job on third down with Baltimore only converting on 4-of-11. But alas when they got the ball back they weren't scoring touchdowns. Nate Kaeding was 4-for-4 on field goals which was good I suppose. 

The Bolts were 0-for-5 in the red-zone. You don't beat playoff caliber teams not converting near the goal line. Got to get touchdowns. Too many field goals. Jackson's catch setting up a first-and-goal from the one-yard line but the Chargers had to settle for a field goal is example 1A.

Which brings me to the penalties. The Chargers committed 12 penalties, many on the offensive line, for 85 yards. That's worse than last week against the Raiders. Not a good trend this early in the season.

But what it came down to, despite Norv's bonehead call, was the Chargers inability to run the ball and stop the run. Without that, in this AFC, the Chargers are going to find it seriously difficult to get tot he promised land of the Super Bowl.  

Now, the Miami Dolphins come to San Diego for a game, which I believe will be blacked out, the Chargers must have to avoid the bad start they desperately wanted to avoid.

Having to go to Pittsburgh Week 4 will be no picnic, but if the Bolts can win next week they will be in a good position heading into the bye week in Week 5 at no worse than 2-2. 


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