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Balance key to Chargers' five straight wins

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Nov 29, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    By Kevin Acee

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    Norv Turner thought for a moment, mulling over last December's improbable run to the playoffs and a January postseason victory. Then he nodded in assent.
    The coach who rarely has heard an assertion by a reporter he can't in some way refute, shrugged and agreed that this past month is the best the Chargers have played since the end of the 2007 season.
    These five weeks, which have seen them go from 2-3 to 7-3, placing them atop of the AFC West and into conversations about the teams that could be playing in February, the Chargers that host the Kansas City Chiefs today are certainly as balanced and complete and consistent as they have been in a while.
    The man who took so much wrath for saying in September his team was not as good as people thought is now guiding the team he figured he would be in later November — still with blemishes but getting better and learning how to play with each other.
    “It's not an offensive deal,” Turner said. “It`s a team deal. It has to do with your kicking game and not giving up points. The better you play on defense, the better you can balance out your offense. Obviously, the better balance you have on offense, it helps your defense.
    “You could sit here and debate which has the stronger effect on each other, but I do know they affect each other.”
    The Chargers have scored 30 points in three of their past five games, something they didn't do a single time in the first five games of the season.
    Yet, while it might be an offensive renaissance that has turned the Chargers around, it has not been an offensive explosion.
    The Chargers were averaging 361 scrimmage yards per game, 14th in the NFL, in starting the season 2-3. Since then, their 338 yards a game ranks 23rd.
    And that's just fine with them.
    In four of the past five games, the Chargers have run more than they've passed. And while they're paying their quarterback a princely sum, they'll gladly turn him into a ball-handler and game manager rather than regularly relying on him as a savior.
    Consider: Since 2006, the Chargers are 8-1 in games in which Philip Rivers passes for 145 yards or less, including last Sunday.
    Rivers has in the past two games thrown 47 passes, just two more than he threw against Baltimore in September and fewer than he has had in consecutive games since victories over Oakland and Houston (32) in October 2007.
    Now, Rivers has completed 37 of those passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns (for a 121.3 passer rating) while his running backs have gained more than twice as many yards running the ball (591) in the past five games than they did in the first five (288).
    “Philip is playing well,” Turner said. “(Controlling the ball) does help the quarterback play well. As I feel, you've got to be a complete team.”
    The Chargers' 20 sacks is their most in a five-game stretch since former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took his brilliance to Dallas following the 2006 season.
    And since Denver's Eddie Royal returned a kickoff (93 yards) and a punt (71) for touchdowns on Oct. 19, the Chargers have allowed just two kickoff returns longer than 30 yards and two punt returns longer than 10 yards.
    Save for the last-minute victory in Giants Stadium, this five-game winning streak has been characterized by a balanced offense and a defense that gets off the field quickly in most cases.
    The Chargers' average time of possession in their first five games was 27:15. In the last five, it is 30:44, and that includes the 22:13 they had it against the Giants. The 37:52 they had the ball last Sunday against Denver was their second-highest TOP in Turner's 43 regular-season games as Chargers coach.
    The Chargers' defense, after forcing just eight three-and-outs the season's first five games, has forced 14 three-and-outs in the past five. Overall, they are getting off the field 69 percent of the time on third down during the win streak, compared to 49 percent in the first five games.
    And they are playing well early.
    The Chargers have led by at least two touchdowns in four of the five victories, the exception being their 14-7 halftime lead against the Giants.
    “Being able to jump out to early leads is something we weren't able to do early in the year, and it's really helped us these last few weeks,” Rivers said. “ It's really set the tone for the games. Most teams are at their best (when playing with a big lead), but we really feel like we're at our best. Offensively you feel like you can pull from anywhere, defensively you can put them in a position where you can almost make them one-dimensional and it allows those guys to turn it loose.”
    The Chargers were tied or trailed in each of their first four games. And this might be a six-game winning streak if not for Royal's two kick return scores in the fifth game.
    The Chargers led 20-17 at halftime on Oct. 19 against Denver, the season's fifth game. A bigger lead would have enabled them to play the way they've played most of the winning streak — more aggressive on defense, less so on offense.
    That is a clear formula for victory.
    “Any time you get a lead on a team and you can dictate how you want the game played, you have the advantage,” said linebacker Shaun Phillips, who has all of his team-leading six sacks over the past five games. “It allows you to make more plays. It opens it up for different people to make plays. Once one person makes a play, it becomes contagious. It becomes contagious around the team — offense, defense and special teams.”

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