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BLUES AND GOLDS – Preseason Week 2, Chargers @ Cardinals

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Aug 27, 2009.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    By BlueandGold
    <em>BoltTalk Contributor</em>

    <div class="alignright"><a href="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20090823/capt.3e490b895c35412ab424d7a43ad6e2a8.chargers_cardinals_football_pnp109.jpg"><img title=" San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles(notes) (43) slips past Arizona Cardinals linebacker Pago Togafau(notes) for a gain during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009." src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20090823/capt.3e490b895c35412ab424d7a43ad6e2a8.chargers_cardinals_football_pnp109.jpg" alt="Darren Sproles" width="233" height="189" /></a></div>

    As I spoke to a few friends of mine Monday morning, I got an overwhelming sense of disappointment about last night's game from them. The reaction ranged from a reasonable "That offensive line didn't look too good", to a more chicken-litte-esque "Well, looks like they're going to suck."


    Sure, there were moments that certain units were, shall we say, disappointing. The starting o-line, for example, did not look very good at first. There were some missed tackles, sure. The running game never really got on the kind of tracked we're used to here in LT-ville.

    And with those negatives from last night's game versus Arizona, two words come to mind.

    "That's football".

    The great German Field Marshall, Moltke, once said, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." So it is with football. The other team has a good idea what your strengths are, and where your weakness are as well. Sometimes, they make it impossible to do what you want to do. The test of a good team, therefore, becomes how you overcome the chinks in the armor.

    A good example of this can be found back in the '08 AFC Championship, when we faced the 17-0 Patriots. That team was known for its domination in the passing game. Brady to Moss. Brady to Welker. All kinds of records broken. The Patriots averaged - AVERAGED - nearly 300 yards per game through the air. So, it would follow that the Patriots would beat the crap out of us via the long bomb, right?

    Well, guess what - they didn't. We held the "invincible" Patriot passing game to 198 yards. How the Patriots actually beat us that day involved not the pass, but the run - specifically, a 9 minute 13 second beast of a drive starring Lawrence Maroney that ended the game. A painful memory for us, sure - but an example of a good football team finding a way to overcome the stifling of its greatest strength.

    That's football... you're not going to do things well all the time, because the other guy's dead set on keeping you from doing it. So you adjust, and overcome. Sometimes, the other team just gets the best of you; and sometimes, you have to accept the fact that ball ain't round, and sometimes it just bounces the other way. All you can do is keep playing.

    Now, this may seem rather over the top for a few folks' impression of a meaningless preseason game; and, perhaps it is. Still, I bring it up because of these strange expectations that people are always have loaded up during this part of the year, and the subsequent crash in morale when the first things go wrong. In my opinion, this roller-coaster of emotion is overdone, and more or less unnecessary.

    The summary of this writer's opinion is this: folks who could not see past the things that went wrong Saturday are denying themselves a look at some very good football played by our very own San Diego Chargers.

    Now, of course, we did have problems yesterday. Otherwise, I wouldn't have BLUES, would I?

    <span style="font-size: medium;"><strong>BLUES</strong></span>

    <strong>1. PASS PROTECTION</strong>

    All in all, the Chargers allowed 4 sacks. Many of the folks I spoke to mentioned Clary specifically, as if he were the source of all our protection woes yesterday. News flash - while he was directly responsible for one sack, he definitely wasn't the sole problem.

    Sack number 1 was on Clary, no doubt about it. He was simply beaten to the inside.

    Sack number 2 was just a great blitz scheme by the Cardinals. They blitzed both middle linebackers on that play, and faked the blitz with the outside linebacker on the weak side (which happened to be Clary's as well). The "Will" 'Backer peeled off to cover LT on the short "in" pattern. The "Moe" 'Backer went in and was picked up by Vasquez and Clary. The "Mike" 'Backer (Karlos Dansby) came in a second later, overloading the side. Clary did see him at tried to step out, but Dansby was just too fast. It also didn't help that Philip tried to run outside on an unblocked LB. If he had stepped up, into the pocket, Clary might have been able to run Dansby out of the play... but it would have been close nonetheless. Either way, it was more of a case of the Cards overloading the weak side with a great blitz package, and it would have taken an All-Pro play by Clary to beat that blitz.

    Sack number 3 was tbe fault of the guy who is, likely, our best and most consistent lineman, Kris Dielman; beaten to the inside by Calais Campbell.

    Sack number 4 was the rookie Luis Vasquez, beaten by the swim move of Bryan Robinson.

    So, it was more than just Jeromey Clary. Obviously, this doesn't make me feel any better.

    The good thing is that these guys will get a good look at some pretty sophisticated blitz schemes in the preseason, and get to see just how they were beaten. Both Vasquez and Dielman will be watching for a swim move for a while, I'll guarantee that, and Clary might pick up on an overload blitz a little quicker next time.

    <strong>2. KICKOFF COVERAGE.</strong>

    Two touchdowns. That was the difference in between victory and defeat in this football game. It also happens to be the number of touchdowns nearly scored by LaRod Stephens-Howling of the Cardinals on two kickoff returns in this game.

    The only thing that saved us from defeat is a lot of great hustle by one Antoine Cason, who I had a lot of trouble NOT nominating as my Player of the Game.

    On the first long return, Cletus Gordon had a great shot at Howling and simply whiffed - not good. On the second one, Howling just found a good seam and broke it.

    Either way, both returns should provide some good film study for Steve Crosby and his Special Teams unit. A lot of credit must go to Stephens-Howling, who opened himself a place on the bench on that Cardinal squad, I think.

    <strong>3. BEND...</strong>

    One of the interesting stats resulting from Saturday's game is the fact that out of the Cardinals' 9 offensive drives, 5 of them ended within the San Diego 30 yard line. 4 of those 5 ended within the San Diego 15!

    This is due, in large part, to the same issue I harped about last week - our method of defending against the pass. We seem, at least at this point in the year, to be very conservative as far as coverage between the 20s. We give recievers large cushions, we let them catch the ball, and then we make the safe tackle.

    This led to a few big completions on the part of the Cardinals. Wide Recievers Anquan Boldin and Lance Long, for instance, had 3 catches apiece, for averages of 17 and 13.7 yards, respectively! Cardinal Tight End Leonard Pope had two catches for a 26.5 yard average. In contrast, no Charger caught more than 2 passes (Naanee, Floyd, Gartrell, and LT shared that stat), and of the four that did, only two had an average catch of greater than 10 yards.

    Frankly, this makes me nervous. Of the teams that we may see in the playoffs, two of them - Indianapolis and New England - share a love for the spread offense and have quarterbacks that are more than able to pick apart a conservative zone defense.

    I'm not saying the coverage unit performed badly... quite the opposite. The Cardinal QBs combined for a horrible 45.2 passer rating. What I'm saying is that the AZ QB's DID manage to complete were the important ones; the ones that went down the field and into San Diego territory. We allowed this because we play a soft zone between the 20s, and this is what concerns me as we move on into the regular season.

    <strong>GOAT OF THE GAME:</strong> The Offensive Line as a unit... an embarassing first quarter for the boys up front.

    <strong><span style="font-size: medium;">GOLDS:</span></strong>

    <strong>1. ...BUT DON'T BREAK.</strong>

    Remember how I said that 5 of the 9 Cardinal drives ended deep in our territory?

    Well, those 5 drives ended thusly:

    INT (Cromartie)
    INT (Hart)

    That, my friends, is clutch defense. Adding to this tremendous Defensive Red Zone performance is the matter of where Arizona started those drives. On the first field goal, they started the drive on the San Diego 7. On the drive that resulted in the second interception, Arizona started on the San Diego 32.

    I can't say enough about this. In my opinion, Red Zone Effectiveness is one of those "telltale" stats as far as success in this league; to put it simply, touchdowns win games. Well, Arizona had 62 offensive plays on the night, and they came away with 2 field goals for all their efforts.

    Last week, Seattle got within the SD 20 four times, and converted two for touchdowns.

    That means, for the preseason played thus far, Ron Rivera's defense is allowing a defensive RZE of 22.2 percent! That is a ridiculous number for that stat, and a very, very good trend. We'll see how things look as we continue to go forward, but my excitement continues to mount as I watch this defense play.

    I am beginning to believe that this Charger team, despite all the firepower on offense, is going to be a DEFENSIVE football team - and, honestly guys, if that winds up being the case, there literally isn't a single game on our schedule that we don't have a legitimate shot at winning. Not a one.

    <strong>2. KEVIN BURNETT</strong>

    AJ Smith has a habit of grabbing a relatively unheralded Free Agent and turning him into gold for us. Roman Oben, Steve Foley, Mike Goff, Keenan McCardell, Chris Chambers - these guys were all cut loose from their former teams, picked up by the Front Office, and turned into vital cogs in the Charger machine.

    Kevin Burnett, at this early stage, is looking like he's going to be very near the top of that list.

    This is the second week in a row that Burnett has led the team in tackles (tied this week with Ellison with 5 tackles). But more than than, he has epitomized what the Charger defenders meant earlier in camp when they said that they wanted to play in the offensive backfield. He was a terror for the Cardinal QBs and RBs this game. He filled and/or shot the gaps he was assigned masterfully, and made every tackle I saw him in position for. He is frighteningly fast, tracking down a few outside runs from behind and locked down the short middle of the field in pass coverage. He's in all the right places, and makes the stop if he's in range.

    If you want to see how a 3-4 middle linebacker should be played, you only have to look at Kevin Burnett over the past two games. He has just been dominant for us, and his presence changes the entire complexion of this defense. It's early, but if he continues to play the way he has, he will become one of the last missing pieces of the Lombardi puzzle.

    <strong>3. THE MATURATION OF LEGEDU NAANEE</strong>

    Remember how you felt when you first saw what Antonio Gates was capable of in a football game?

    I had that feeling again, watching Legedu on Saturday.

    The kid is 6'2", 225ish, with great hands, speed and moves. Against the Cardinals, he was second on the team in rushing with 22 yards. He led all recievers with 2 receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown, including a 49 yard deep bomb from Philip Rivers that opened the day offensively. He's shown the ability to make the touch possession catches, and also shown the ability to stretch and beat a defense deep. He's a mismatch nightmare for linebackers in the slot or at TE, and is big and fast enough to beat CB or SS coverage.

    Norv has spoken glowing of Naanee this offseason, and after seeing him play a number of roles over the preseason, I think Legedu is going to play the "mismatch" role in an already tough offense to match up with. Perhaps most ominously for defensive coordinators around the league is the fact that the former college QB still has a lot of room to grow.

    If former 1st round pick Buster Davis continues to underwhelm, I can at least be satisfied that former 5th round pick Legedu Naanee is picking up the slack.

    <strong>PLAYER OF THE GAME:</strong> Kevin Burnett. We needed a MLB in a bad way, and it looks like we've got one.

    <strong><span style="font-size: medium;">THE GAME IN ONE SENTENCE: </span></strong>

    In spite of some o-line miscues early, a dominating defensive performance gives fans a glimpse of what is to come.

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