By Curtis M. Egan
BoltTalk Staff Writer
The fans of the San Diego Chargers are still mad. It is another year and yet another ‘slow start’ to the season for the Chargers under Head Coach Norv Turner. Many fans are wondering if this is the year where the Chargers do not recover from their early miscues, mistakes and poor performance to make the playoffs at the end of the year.
Who is to say if this is the year or not? The players will of course have a say about that on the field. One thing is for certain, the two games the Chargers lost thus far were winnable games. Both of the losses occurred on the road to mediocre teams, before hostile, loud crowds, but winnable games. Both of the losses were highlighted with terrible performances by the Special Teams units.
Lets be frank, some of the worst special teams play I have seen in a long time was on display by the Chargers in the first three games of the season. The Chargers special teams have in 3 games allowed 3 touchdowns, 2 on kick returns and 1 on a punt return. This is the biggest, though not only reason the Chargers sit at 1-2, instead of 3-0.
Nothing can sap momentum quicker than a punch to the face score on special teams. However as I mentioned the losses are not solely on the shoulders of the special teams. The offense also shares a level of blame. At time in both games the offense did not look like they were on the same page. Though I think it is important to note that the last game looked much better than the first, thus we can see improvement. Arguably that is not the case with special teams however.
Some fans, predictably have begun to come out of the woodwork, pointing the finger of blame and call for the termination of everyone from General Manager AJ Smith down to the towel boy. I call this the Madden syndrome. Because in the Madden game you can do anything and fix your team in moments, rather than have to work day in and day out to maintain continuity and improve.
In the wake of the latest loss, fans have cried for AJ’s head. Explaining how he is destroying the team, tearing everything down. Wow, really? The Chargers are enjoying their greatest level of success since the Air Corryell days. AJ Smith has assembled the most talented, and deep team that I have seen. In the days of Dan Fouts, the Defense was not very good. Today we have a rather good balance between Offense and Defense. I have to laugh when I hear fans talking about AJ tearing down the team. Since AJ has taken over as GM the Chargers are 4th in games won. That is not tearing down anything.
Of course the annual ‘FIRE NORV!’ cries have resurfaced. Even though the offense is currently ranked number 1 in the league, that foe some reason is not good enough. I have never seen a winning coach so dislike by the fans of his team. The problem is not Norv. He needs to be, and is part of the solution. That is not where fans should point the blame, and I welcome anyone to explain where I am incorrect in this statement.
Steve Crosby, the Special Teams coach is also getting called out. Fans have the feathers and are heating up the tar. While I agree, the special teams have been the biggest problem I am not a proponent of making changes to coaches unless things are dire. To change a coach breaks down continuity and momentum. If the Chargers were to replace Crosby now, someone would have to fill the void. There would be changes, and the players have to learn something different. That takes time to get right. So while I am giving the evil eye to Crosby right now, I am not ready to vulcanize him with the tar just yet. One more game like the last one and I may be carrying the pitchfork and torch myself.
So what is going wrong?
Killer Instinct; The Chargers need to come out in every game ‘guns a blazing’. We currently have the number 1 rated offense in the league after 3 weeks. The Chargers should be running up the score and making the opponents play catch up. I understand the Chargers will not score on every drive, and this is of course something that is easier said than done. But with Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and the rest of the talented offensive players we should be able to maintain drives longer.
The offensive line has to do its share, and up until the last game the accounted admirably for themselves. Last game they lost Luis Vasques and had to play Tyronne Green in his place, which proved to be part of the problem, which is to be expected in a situation like this. Brandyn Dombrowski has been playing Left Tackle so far while Marcus McNeil held out. He did well but in the game against Seattle he was beaten a number of times.
Even given the challenges on the offensive line the Chargers have been in position to win all of the games. I can’t help but think that with a little more aggressive play calling we might have won the games. I could be wrong; playing arm chair Head Coach is always easy because we have the benefit of hind sight as we second guess the play selections.
Special Teams; As I mentioned before I think this is the biggest problem facing the team at this juncture. It appears that they are not maintaining their zones of responsibility on returns and that has let some talented and speedy returners eat the Chargers coverage alive.
As you could possibly guess the Chargers have allowed the most returns for touchdowns in the league. 21 points have been scored in result of those returns. Of the 61 points allowed by the Chargers through the first 3 games, 34% of those points are from the 3 returns.
The Chargers will have to focus on special teams if they wish to make that last season run we all hope for, because these special teams have been making it an uphill climb for the offense and defense so far this season.
Why is there reason to have hope?
Defense; simply put the Defense is playing better than it has in the last few years. They are playing well. If you take away the 3 special teams allowed score, then the defense is allowing just 13 points per game. That is some excellent defensive output there! They have allowed only 1 rushing touchdown, 3 passing touchdowns, and 4 field goals in the first 3 games. They are currently ranked as the 4th defense in the league and have managed to maintain the level of play even with injuries hitting the linebacker corps… They are pressuring the opposing Quarterbacks and have even registered a sack early in the last game. Some fans feel the Defense is not playing well, that they are not defending the middle of the field. I simply say the numbers speak for themselves. The Defense is not the problem on this year’s team.
Rivers and Gates; Rivers continues to play at high levels, but arguably Gates is the best player on the team right now. It is like no one can cover the guy, and he must be a mutant, because his ability to catch the ball with one hand makes me think he has suction cups on his fingers. This tandem gives the Chargers a chance each and every game. The offense as aforementioned is ranked #1 in the league, 2nd in passing, 12th rushing, and 5th scoring. The unit all in all can compete with any team in the league.
History; It is infuriating… It seems as if the Chargers have to get their backs to the wall to wake up and win games. They have done it year after year under Turner. So with just 3 games into the season, now is not the time to panic. That said, we have some tough games coming up. He Chargers have to put the wins in the bank now against the mediocre teams.
I believe that is the basis of all the frustration and worry on the part of the fans. These are the teams the Chargers should be beating. They have Arizona, Oakland and St. Louis coming up; they should win all of those. Just like they should have beaten Kansas City, and Seattle... After the Rams, New England, Tennessee, Houston, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati appear on the horizon. These are not ‘give me’ games. So the Chargers need to start winning now, because they may not win all five of those games listed above.
The Chargers can win, they can right the ship so to speak, and they have done it in the past. They could very well beat all five of those tough teams, the offense and defense are certainly playing well enough to win, what is needed is for the special teams step up and do their part! If they don’t, I am sure the Chiefs would not mind winning the AFC West this season.