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BLUES AND GOLDS - Week 1, Chargers @ Raiders

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Sep 16, 2009.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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

    <div class="alignright"><a href="http://a.espncdn.com/media/apphoto/823735ef-71f9-4be7-89b1-3bcb760f3363.jpg"><img title="Oakland Raiders tight end Zach Miller, left, is brought down by San Diego Chargers cornerback Steve Gregory, right, during the first quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2009, in Oakland, Calif.(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)" src="http://a.espncdn.com/media/apphoto/823735ef-71f9-4be7-89b1-3bcb760f3363.jpg" alt="Steve Gregory tackles Oakland TE Zach Miller" width="243" height="169" /></a></div>

    More than anything, this was a game of expectations.

    The Chargers went up to Oakland loaded down with the expectations of a fan base and a city dying to see their NFL team in action. Expectations for the Chargers, certainly - much had been said, written, and imagined about yet another talented Charger squad. It was another year of Superbowl prognostications; another year of maturity; another year of growing familiarity and skill for a team that, in many ways, is ripening into a middle age predicted to be more productive than all but a few teams to ever take the fields.

    There were expectations for the Chargers, yes, and heavy ones.

    There was, however, another set of expectations. We, as a fan base, had expectations about the apparent disaster that is the Oakland Raiders. Come on now. They draft some no-name WR. They gut their defense like a fish. They cut Jeff Garcia in favor of JaMarcus Russell. Their Head Coach punched an assistant in the face, for crissakes! This team is in shambles, in disarray, right? They're like some sort of bad joke. If the NFL had lower leagues, the Raiders would have been long dropped away by now.


    Well, I think we should all learn a few things from the second game of Monday's doubleheader featuring these two teams - the powerhouse and the disaster - and learn a little bit about expectations as well.

    First, that the Chargers have some things to work on if they expect to contend as they have been predicted to.

    Second, that the Raiders, perhaps for just one night - OK, three quarters - can muster up some outstanding football.

    And third, expectations don't mean jack squat - it's what shows up on the field that matters.

    Look, I'm guilty as any of you of buying into the "blowout" hype approaching this weekend. It's not hard, especially when you look at the past 11 matchups between these two teams, and the circumstances surrounding them both. The Chargers, perhaps, felt it too. They had immense confidence in themselves, their preparation, and their plan, as we did; and who could fault us all? We've seen them play very well in the preseason, in most phases. We know what our Pro Bowlers can do. Ron Rivera gives us new hope in a defense. We know we're talented. If we go out there and execute, we win.

    But this is the National Football League. The Oakland Raiders are still a professional football team, a professional football team that has had a LOT of chances over the last few years to draft top-flight athletes, and still a professional football team with a lot of pride in their history. 11 straight victories sting. 7 straight opening-game losses stings. Tom Cable, sensibly, appealed to the pride inherent to that uniform, and framed into a symbol of Raider resurgence on this 50th anniversary of the American Football League.

    So the Chargers took their talent, their preparation, and their plan into the Oakland Coliseum; where the Oakland Raiders promptly hit them in the mouth. Hard.

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

    <strong>1. LACK OF PHYSICALITY.</strong>

    Through all the history of Pro Football - from the implementation of the forward pass, to the spread offenses of today, throughout all the tactics, routes, and strategies that have been developed since them - one thing remains as true as the day the first brute strapped on a jersey: you've gotta want to hit somebody. The team with the greater desire to punish the other guy, physically, can overcome a lot of deficiencies and cover up many weaknesses.

    The Raiders wanted to hit somebody Monday night, and boy howdy did they. They barreled right into a San Diego team that, surrounded by plays and offensive formations and routes and situations, forgot that there's a guy over there that wants to knock your head off. For three quarters, the Chargers were battered and bruised by a team that threw the playbook out and pumped up their helmets instead. Nothing was working, and our guys were dropping like flies.

    We should be very familiar with this - it's what we once were, back in the Marty days. Martyball was about lining up and dominating the guy across from you. Plays were fairly simple, nothing like the deep protect routes, screens, and draw plays that define the Norv Turner offense.

    Now, we all know the drawback of this. These teams normally are pretty sluggish when it comes to scoring. Limited to running the clock down and playing defense, you can often be outdueled by a quick strike offense that can stand up to you for a few seconds on the line to get their guys open. Comebacks are normally out of the question, and if the other team gets the ball last while you're protecting a lead, one big play can ruin your whole day. We've seen that too many times with Marty.

    But even as we make our living on the other side of the coin these days - on the side of the complex, quick strike offense - you can't ignore the physicality of this game completely. You've still got to pass protect, tackle, and take on blockers. Well, the Chargers seemed flustered most of the day by how HARD the Raiders were playing. We were outhustled, outhit, out-desired for over three quarters.

    We have a good plan, good plays, good strategy, and goodness knows we have all this vaunted talent. Even with all that, when you get between the white lines, you've GOT to be ready to hit. The Raiders were. We weren't. And it showed.

    This was the root of the problem underlying that game.

    <strong>2. TIME OF POSSESSION.</strong>

    We're an offensive football team. For an offense like ours to run away with a game, our defense has to get off the field and allow Philip Rivers and LT to work.

    Well, we didn't do that well yesterday. The Raiders out-converted us on 3rd downs, 50% to 42%. They also threw in a 4th down conversion - the long bomb that gave them their last lead. They out-rushed us, 148 to 77, getting 4.6 yards per carry.
    This resulted in a Time of Possession imbalance of 3:15 in their favor. For most of that game, they did exactly what a team like them needed to do neutralize a team like us: they kept the ball on the ground, forced punts, and ground the clock down.

    If we're no longer the smashmouth, run-LT-down-the-other-team's-throats-40-times-a-game kind of football team anymore, then that's fine. But we NEED to convert third downs. We need to possess the football, or at least have some sort of plan to do it when we need to. Go to the slant or short-in routes on first down. Get short yardage on 1st down and open up Norv's passing trees on 2nd down. If we can't protect Philip Rivers for three seconds, go to the three-step drop on 1st down. Whatever. But we cannot continue to put ourselves into 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations where it becomes increasingly hard to convert, even for a QB as accurate as Philip.

    This, in my opinion, is the only flaw in an otherwise brilliant offensive game plan. We can go down the field better than just about any team in football this side of New England - we just need a way to put ourselves in the "nightmare downs" for Defensive Coordinators - 2nd- and 3rd-and-short. If we can find a way to play a possession game through the air, this offense will be literally unstoppable. Will it happen? It didn't on Monday, that's for sure.

    <strong>3. DEFENDING THE TIGHT END</strong>

    JaMarcus Russell is not a particularly accurate quarterback. He demonstrated that yesterday - he was 12 of 30, a downright surgical 40 percent completion rate.

    However, there was one receiver he seemingly could not miss - Zach Miller, the starting Raider Tight End. Russell threw at Miller 6 times, and completed all six passes at an average of 16 yards a pop. Miller aggregated 96 yards for the day, tops amongst the Raider receivers.

    The TE has been one of the banes of this defense for at least the past two years; and at least for one week, the trend continues. Do I expect it to continue?

    Well, we all know what expectations are worth by now... so we'll see.

    <strong>GOAT OF THE GAME: </strong>

    Clinton Hart. Without that horrific blown coverage, we're spared all the late game dramatics and ride out the final three minutes in peace. Instead, the Raiders make it too close for comfort. Not good, Clinton.

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

    <strong>1. CHARACTER, FROM THE HEAD COACH ON DOWN.</strong>

    Yes, you read that right - even Norv Turner.

    There are, of course, the negative things you can lay at Norv Turner's feet. His team came into the game mentally unprepared for the physicality involved. As a result, the team simply could not execute - the Raiders disrupted everything the team tried, both offensively and defensively. Then players started going down; Vasquez, then Hardwick; Castillo, Gregory. In the third quarter, the team went through their worst stretch of the game: a 2 minute, 24 second, 5 play drive that gained 0 net yards due to penalties. It was an absolutely brutal thing to watch, and must have been even more brutal to go through for the team.

    It would have been easy to come unhinged at that point.

    Instead, you could see Norv on the sideline talking to each of the players as the game progressed with the same, unflappable air about him. Philip looked to him on more that one of the passes he had to throw away when everyone was covered. Norv simply nodded and commended him for a smart play. When Shaun Phillips extended a Raider drive with a bad face mask penalty, Norv simply calmed him down and sent him back in. His message was unmistakable - hang in there, we'll figure something out.

    And they certainly did.

    A lot of credit, of course, goes to Philip Rivers and his ability in the clutch; right along with Legedu Naanee and Darren Sproles. Norv called the right plays and gave his team the chance to get under Oakland's defense. Philip made all the right throws, led the team down the field, and put the Raiders away. San Diego's final three drives went like this: Touchdown, Touchdown, and Victory Formation.

    Norv's gotten a lot of flak from Charger fans. He deserves some in this game for the team not being able to match the Raiders initially in both intensity and motivation. When it comes down to it, though, Norv's team won the game in spite of being beaten up badly on the field. That's a product of a mentally strong football team, a mentally strong quarterback, and a mentally strong coach. It's character that won this game for us.

    With all the negative things that Norv and the players did wrong in this game, the fact that they found a way to win on the road, in a loud and hostile stadium, against a fired-up division opponent, after getting beat up all game - well, that deserves a Gold from me.

    <strong>2. RED ZONE EFFICIENCY</strong>

    As the NFL measures it, Red Zone Efficiency is the ratio of Red Zone Trips to Touchdowns - in other words, how often you can punch it in for the 7 vs. the 3 (or the zero). I've said it before, but this stat is very much linked to success in the NFL. Simply put, touchdowns win games.

    In this game, the Chargers were an outstanding 75% (3 for 4) in RZE, and 100% (2 for 2) in Goal-to-Go situations.

    Defensively, the Raiders got into the Red Zone 3 times, and only converted for the touchdown once - a 33% clip.

    If the Chargers can maintain anywhere near these percentages, we're going to win a lot of games this year.

    <strong>3. STEPHEN COOPER</strong>

    Remember last year, when Mr. Cooper was suspended for four games? We certainly missed him then. We would have definitely missed him Monday.

    Cooper had an amazing game against the Raiders, posting a ridiculous 13 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 passes defensed (one of which, admittedly, he should have intercepted), and 1 forced fumble, which he also recovered. That's an All-Pro day from an outstanding inside linebacker.

    The next Charger on the list? Eric Weddle (who had a great game himself), with 5 solo and 1 assist. The next closest linebacker was Shawne Merriman, with 3 solo and 2 assists.

    If you want to find a reason for a great defensive RZE performance to go along with three turnovers and four punts for Oakland, Stephen Cooper is a good place to start.

    <strong>PLAYER OF THE GAME:</strong>

    Stephen Cooper. Philip Rivers made a convincing case, as did Sproles; but if everyone played like Stephen Cooper did against the Raiders, the game is a snoozer, even with our offensive troubles.

    <strong>THE GAME IN ONE SENTENCE:</strong>

    The better team wins a game that defies all expectations.

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