Source: USA Today
The Chargers are set to enjoy their bye week in earnest after practicing Wednesday. It was their last workout before resuming next Monday preparing for the New York Jets on Oct. 23.
With four straight days off, the Chargers have a chance to get healthy and reflect on, for them, what has been an unusual start. They sit atop the AFC West with a 4-1 record, a mark they achieved for the first time under coach Norv Turner since 2006.
But the Chargers remember two things, well, maybe three, from that watershed season of 2006: They finished an AFC-best 14-2, but performed a giant face-plant as the top seed in losing to the visiting Jets — which cost coach Marty Schottenheimer his job.
This year's bolt from the gate has done, among other things, quiet the chatter about Turner's job security. Although no one in a power position would ever say it was in jeopardy, he is coming off a playoff-free season and has won but one playoff game in three seasons.
So maybe the heat gets turned down on Turner thanks to his team's hot start. But sometimes numbers can play a trick on you — especially in sports. We offer the Chargers' winning four of five games, but doing so against a NFL dregs with a combined record of 4-15.
The one quality opponent they faced, the Patriots, thumped the Chargers 35-21.
"It creates an understanding that you know you have areas to improve in," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "It hasn't been a smooth few weeks. We've had to fight wins out. We haven't played great, but we've played good enough."
Turner has noticed where that improvement needs to made the most: red-zone situations and rushing offense and defending the run.
So while Chargers Park is filled with smiling faces and happy talk, there's an underlying feeling that this team has yet to be tested. Or when it did — i.e. New England — it failed to measure up.
"Individually and collectively, we'll focus on the things we haven't been so hot at over the first five games," free safety Eric Weddle said. "We'll come in and treat this as this week and prepare for an 11-game season. We're 4-1 to this point, but all that matters is what we do moving forward."
—With defenses aware of how the Chargers can stretch the field with down field threats Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, it is opening up running lanes for the backs. That's among the reasons Ryan Mathews is averaging nearly five yards a carry.
"We're seeing a lot more deep coverage and what you see is that when you break through on a run, there's a lot of open field to work with," coach Norv Turner said. "We're getting better in the running game, and when we start making better decisions with the running backs, they'll get more of those 18-20-yard runs if people continue to play us with two-deep coverage."
—Has anybody had a better month than K Nick Novak? In a span of about four weeks he's gone from being unemployed to kicking for a first-place team. "It's great," Novak said. "A couple of weeks ago I didn't have a job, so now I'm part of something great and I'm just very excited to be part of this. This is a great locker room and a great group of guys."
—FB Jacob Hester has gone from a running back on a national title team at LSU, to a fullback in the NFL, back to being a running back on Sunday when injuries slowed Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. "It's a different mentality, fullback is a little but of go get 'em bruiser position and tailback you have to read a few different things," Hester said. "We carried three backs going into the game so everybody has to be ready." Hester had a career-high 47 yards on 11 rushes.
—The Chargers signed ILB Gerald Hayes, who played inside linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals last season, to take inside linebacker Stephen Cooper's roster spot. Cooper was placed on injured reserve; he tore a biceps tendon on the eve of camp.
"It's part timing and part the fact that his arm wasn't getting any better and was limiting the things he was trying to do," Turner said. "It comes at a time where we can sign a guy and get him acclimated to what we do."
—Don't forget in all the reflections on late Raiders owner Al Davis was that he got his start in professional football with the 1960 Los Angeles Chargers as a receivers coach. Davis was instrumental in luring Arkansas star Lance Alworth to the AFL and the Chargers. Davis was with the Chargers for three seasons before moving on to Oakland. Former GM Bobby Beathard was a safety trying to make that 1960 Chargers team — he didn't — but he forged a friendship with Davis that lasted until his death last week.
"He was the guy most responsible for me getting to do all the stuff I did," Beathard said. "I owe him everything because he was the one that gave me the break to get in the league." Davis, Beathard said, was all about winning. "Some owners talk about how many seats they want to sell," Beathard said. "For Al, it was always about the product on the field. He said, 'If you have a good team, you'll sell your seats.' He was probably the smartest guy in football; I'm telling you the guy was brilliant with his plans. It's funny, a lot of people didn't like him, didn't trust him, but he was great to me, and it was because of him that I was able to get into football and stay in football.
"People mocked him, but I think he was good for the league. Where would the league be, or what would it be like, without the Raiders and the way the Raiders have been over the years? Everybody hated the Raiders, and Al was the bad guy. But again, he was probably two steps ahead of everybody else."
—WR Bryan Walters was a summer sensation, a long shot undrafted first-year pro from Cornell able to make the roster. But his time with the club could be coming to a close unless another injury frees up more chances. With Patrick Crayton's return and him doing well in returning punts, Walters has been drawing the short straw. He has been inactive for two straight games.
—The Chargers have a compelling list of remaining home games, featuring the Packers, Raiders, Broncos, Bills and Ravens. But only of those games is close to selling out - the Packers. The Raiders game, especially with the way Oakland is playing, will probably reach sellout status as well. But those other three games could be blacked out; the team has already had one local TV blackout this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Number of Chargers penalties that were marked off in their win over Denver, the first time that has happened since 1975. They were called for two infractions, but they were either offsetting or declined.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We always strive for balance, and do whatever gives us the best chance to attack a defense. We can adjust well to how another team is playing us, which is an advantage." — Coach Norv Turner's on the team's offensive versatility.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers have a decision to make at running back when they resume play.
Turner almost got caught without a running back Sunday when Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert went down; fullback Jacob Hester moved over and handled their duties.
Turner has said he wanted to have another running back up when the team plays the Jets on Oct. 23.
Most would assume that would be Jordan Todman, the team's sixth-round pick who showed well in preseason games. But the Chargers haven't made Todman a game-day active yet, and there's a chance he won't get an opportunity in the next game.
Turner's other options are Curtis Brinkley, a runner who can get to the edges, or Frank Summers, who is more of a bruiser in the mode of Tolbert.
—TE Randy McMichael, who saw some time at fullback on Sunday, reached a milestone with his four catches on Sunday. McMichael know has 402 career receptions, the 27th tight end in NFL history to reach the 400 mark.
—WR Vincent Jackson is keen at moving the chains. Twenty-two of his 23 receptions have resulted in first downs.
—WR Malcom Floyd is perfect in the first-down receptions department as all 12 of his catches have resulted in a fresh series.
—SS Steve Gregory, who replaced Bob Sanders when he was placed on IR, is coming off an interesting game. Despite the Broncos rushing for 162 yards and averaging seven yards a carry, Gregory didn't have one tackle in the game.
—DL Tommie Harris is being eased into the game rotation but he has yet to make an impact. Harris has been active for two games but has yet to make a tackle.
—TE Antonio Gates (foot) didn't practice on Wednesday but could try and go next week.
—WR Vincent Jackson (hamstring) didn't practice and he will be eased into workouts next week.
—RB Mike Tolbert (concussion) didn't practice and will be evaluated next week. It's believed he will play in the next game.
—RB Ryan Mathews (calf, wrist) didn't work and will likely resume practice next week — he should be OK for the Oct. 23 game.
—DE Luis Castillo (leg) remains out for another estimated six weeks.
—WR Richard Goodman (leg) didn't practice on Wednesday.
—CB Quentin Jammer (hamstring) didn't practice but is considered a go for next week.