For Turner and Chargers, Manhandled Is Just a Loss

Michael Scarr@@scarrpmContributor IOctober 7, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 4:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers looks to throw the ball in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 4, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Some are fans of selective memory, while some advocate amnesia.

Others might even refer to bad losses as turning the page.

Chargers head coach Norv Turner prefers denial.

"I would not use that word," Turner said to reporters when asked if the Steelers had manhandled his team. "I don't think that's fair."

In war, love and often, too, in football, all is fair and yes, coach, your team was manhandled.

Beaten, bullied, shoved, and pushed around even.

And had it not been for Philip Rivers finding his rhythm in the second half against a sagging Steelers defense, the score would have more accurately reflected how one-sided Sunday’s 38-28 loss was for the Chargers.

So, what do Turner and his Chargers do next?

What exactly is the encore to a routine schooling by the defending Super Bowl Champs with the surprising and AFC West-leading Denver Broncos coming to town up next on the schedule?

Certainly those claims of the Chargers being one of the NFL’s elite have been thoroughly discredited with losses already against last year’s best (Pittsburgh) and possibly this year’s (Baltimore).

The idea of being clear favorites in their division has been largely ditched to the curb as well.

Funny how quickly things change once games are actually played and it’s no longer merely a list of names in a fantasy league.

The Chargers have issues and it’s not just the fact they’ve been relegated to the second tier of teams in the AFC.

At 2-2, they are one-loss away from being in exactly the same spot they were a year ago and dropping their fifth game of the 2009 campaign would put them seriously arrears of the Broncos.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

And don’t for a minute think they’ll close a yawning divisional deficit if they haven’t found their identity by December.

That bolt’s not striking twice.

Which basically means their next game is a must-win.

Of course, there are no must-wins until a team is facing elimination.

But if the Chargers were to lose to the Broncos in their next game, they would be at no less than a 2 1/2-game disadvantage.

That would also give the Broncos a leg up on the first tiebreaker with the second installment of the season series in Denver on Nov. 22.

Yeah, it’s a must-win and the bye could not have been better timed.

There have been plenty of woeful excuses made about the injury reports filed by the Chargers this season, but the week off will certainly help.

LaDainian Tomlinson might actually be at full speed Oct. 19, while Shawne Merriman could see improvement from a groin injury as well.

Aside from the notable losses of Jamal Williams and Nick Hardwick, Stephen Cooper, Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire, Malcom Floyd, Travis Johnson, and Ogemdi Nwagbuo have all been slowed by minor injuries and will see limited practice time.

Finding it necessary to put the injuries aside, though, as all teams must face the problem, are Turner and the rest of the Chargers’ brain trust who must rediscover this team’s identity and direction.

One direction they are clearly not going is forward, when they run the ball at least. The teams ranks dead last in rushing yards.

Want another depressing stat? The Chargers occupy the NFL-cellar in third-down efficiency.

Darren Sproles is clearly not an every-down, grind-it-out running back. The return of LT should help, but until "two-one" actually gets on the field and produces, that is best left unsaid.

Where the Chargers excel, however—and this is no secret—is in the passing game. Wasting effort trying to establish the run while Rivers and his wideouts have proven they can move the ball in sizable chunks is ludicrous.

Sproles up the middle worked once. Ray Lewis proved it’s a call to be used sparingly.

The Chargers need to swap out the flavor of Kool-Aid and shift to a pass-first, run-second oriented team, kinda like the Cowboys in the early 90s. The scheme should be familiar. Turner was the offensive coordinator.

Fixing the offense, though, could seem a minor tweak when compared with a defense that has been spotty in the seasons’ first four games. The leak-now, burst-later unit allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 333 yards and his ground units to consume 177 yards.

Teams that can’t stop the run, can’t win at any level and the Chargers are currently ranked 28th in rushing defense.

Maybe it’s time Ron Rivera phoned his old boss Buddy Ryan to see if he can employ some exotic tricks.

And possibly Turner is on to something when he said it’s unfair to claim the Chargers were manhandled by the Steelers.

If his players can buy into that, maybe they’ll believe they still belong.


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