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NCTIMES: Bolts need a jolt in various spots

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by ChargerRay, Sep 23, 2005.

  1. ChargerRay
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    ChargerRay Producer/Host of BoltTalk Staff Member Super Moderator Podcaster

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    By: JAY PARIS - Staff Writer

    SAN DIEGO ---- Just how did the Chargers get in this fix? They're winless as the NFL season greets Week 3. What's wrong with the defending AFC West champions?

    Their 0-2 mark resembles the ones fans grew accustom to before 2004, before general manager A. J. Smith massaged the roster and produced a 12-4 season, before the Chargers' offense developed three Pro Bowlers. Before the defense got nasty against the run.

    "If we were 0-14, there would be some cause for alarm,'' coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "But we are 0-2 in two games that we had an opportunity to win ... the roof is not falling in.''

    OK, but the ceiling is a tad lower than when they trotted out on Sept. 11.

    Here's a look at five critical areas in which the Chargers fell short while landing in the AFC West basement following season-opening defeats to the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos:

    1. The new kid on the blocks isn't a player

    The only difference from last year's offensive line and this year's is the coach, Carl Mauck. And he's not really a kid, this being his 34th NFL season as a player or an assistant.

    The Chargers' offensive line was among the reasons for last season's stunning revival. But its architect, coach Hudson Houck, fled to Miami when the Chargers didn't offer some $1 million in annual compensation.

    Now it's the Chargers compensating their offense, forced to keep extra players in to keep quarterback Drew Brees upright. With more people staying put, that's fewer serving as possible receivers.

    Brees, though, is sticking by his men in the trenches.

    "I wouldn't trade the five guys we've got for anyone,'' Brees said. "I love those five guys, and I think they're going to do a great job.''

    Nothing like a back-slap when things are out-of-whack. If nothing else, the unit will likely have a different look Sunday with Kris Dielman replacing an ailing Toniu Fonoti (broken hand).

    Currently, this offense is broken ---- 41 second-half yards Sunday in the loss to Denver and ranked No. 27 in total yards ---- because the front line hasn't performed.

    2. California scheming

    So is SoCal's lone NFL team getting outcoached? Hard to say with a certainty, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to accept partial blame for a group that has treated running back LaDainian Tomlinson as a leper.

    Thirty-eight touches by one of the NFL's elite players? How is it that Tomlinson, the single-season franchise-leader with 100 receptions, doesn't have a catch? Schottenheimer notes that man coverages and numerous blitzes are forcing Tomlinson to stay in the backfield. While that's true ---- pass protection is job No. 1 in a passing game ---- can't Cameron scratch out some quick tosses to get Tomlinson in space?

    "That's an emphasis,'' Brees said. "Just getting him the ball, period, is important."

    Duh.

    One senses the Chargers are surprised ---- why, we can't understand ---- by the blitzes. Everyone knows Brees throws more to receivers on underneath routes than the downfield ones, and that Tomlinson is the main cog. So why the shock when defenses squeeze the line of scrimmage? Why don't the Chargers have an answer for what was a predictable approach by their opponents?

    3. Third-down woes

    Schottenheimer forced a grin, asking reporters if they had any ideas for third-and-11 plays. It beat crying.

    Because of their failures on first and second downs, the Chargers are looking at third-and-long with regularity. That's a toxic mixture, as defenses know the pass is coming and set sail for the quarterback with a vengeance.

    The Chargers have cashed only 11-of-26 third-down attempts. In Denver, they misfired on their final seven chances, and all six in the second half.

    On defense, the Chargers can't get off the field. They have stopped offenses only 52 percent of the time, which is ranked 29th in the league.

    4. You can't run from the run defense

    It's an often heard Qualcomm Stadium chant: "You can't run, you can't run.'' Ah, the joy of living in the past.

    The Chargers' run defense last year was nastier than Steve Foley's scowl. Rivals earned a mere 81 rushing yards per game, as the Chargers proudly spouted about their No. 2 ranking.

    But something is missing this year. The Chargers have been punched in the nose for 22 additional yards per game.

    The first week, Julius Jones rushed for 93 yards and a score. On the Broncos' final drive Sunday, journeyman Ron Dayne rumbled through the defense like Jim Brown, collecting 38 yards.

    There are mitigating circumstances. Chief among them that sinful third-down conversion rate. With the offense not moving the chains, the defense is asked to return to the field after barely a Gatorade sip. That shows late in close games, when teams are draining the clock against a run defense which has its tongue out.

    Plus, defensive end Igor Olshansky ---- among the team's best run-stuffers ---- didn't play Sunday. His calf is healed enough that the Chargers' giant should go against the New York Giants.

    5. No kicks from punting game

    No lie, Mike Scifres nearly wore a lei in February with first-alternate Pro Bowler status.

    But there's no status quo here. Scifres' late shank against the Cowboys helped arrange their winning drive. And the Chargers were constantly swimming upstream in the Rockies with poor field position.

    The Chargers' net punt average is a measly 33.8 yards, 27th in the league. That's nearly 5 yards shy of what Scifres and the punt coverage unit delivered last year.

    With the offense struggling, it's imperative it has some short fields to work with. So far, that's been a tall order for the Chargers.

    Contact staff writer Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com.

    A game plan

    What will it take for the winless Chargers to get right? Here are five critical shortcomings the team must overcome to regain its swagger:

    > Improve blocking

    > Be more creative in game plan

    > Prevailing on offensive and defensive third downs

    > Upgrade run defense

    > Fix punting game

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