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Charger Team Report - 10/21/10

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by ChargerRay, Oct 21, 2010.

  1. ChargerRay

    ChargerRay Producer/Host of BoltTalk Staff Member Super Moderator Podcaster

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    Source: USA Today

    The wobbly Chargers will entertain the New England Patriots on Sunday, with their season on the brink.

    A bit of an overstatement? Maybe — especially considering how the Chargers have rallied in the past four years when winning the AFC West.

    But the Chargers greet the Patriots with a dreadful 2-4 record, with the four losses coming to lower-level teams: the Chiefs, Seahawks, Raiders and Rams.

    All four defeats have come on the road, so the Chargers are hoping some home cooking will fire up their embers again.

    But they picked a tough foe in their effort to turn things around. The Patriots are riding a three-game winning streak, and that includes an impressive overtime win over the Ravens on Sunday.

    Although the Chargers have strong points on offense and defense, there are several reasons why they are struggling.

    The special teams are poor. The running game has yet to show. The pass protection is breaking down, allowing seven sacks last week. The defense is good until when it needs to be the most — on third downs.

    Still, the Chargers check where they hang their shingle, and it's the AFC West. And for that, they praise the NFL gods.

    Yes, the Chargers are 2-4 — but they are well within striking distance of the first-place Chiefs (3-2).

    "I don't think there is a sense of panic, but it is a valid concern that we don't need to press, we can't press, because we don't play very well when we do that," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "At 2-4, we have to fool ourselves and play like we are 6-0. That is when we play good and are confident."

    But that would require more than a sleight of hand. The Chargers might fall back on the belief that they have rallied before, but many of the players who helped them do it are no longer around.

    This roster has undergone a dramatic change, with an exit of talent. Gone are LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Williams, Antonio Cromartie, Kassim Osgood and others.

    With that core, maybe the doubt was kept at arm's distance. But with so many new players, one wonders.

    "When you get out there, you can start doubting — is this fixing to happen again?" Rivers said. "I don't think that is the case, and we have to make sure it isn't."

    What's certain is the Patriots have the Chargers' attention. These teams have had some epic regular-season and postseason battles, so just maybe this is the perfect opponent to get the Chargers right.

    "If you can't get excited about playing the Patriots at home, regardless of your record ...," Rivers said. "We'll be ready to play, and it will be a great game."

    The Chargers have looked like a different team at home, blowing out the Cardinals and Jaguars. That team hasn't shown on the road, but for the next two weeks, the road woes aren't a concern.

    "I know we can play at that level, (but) I've been doing this long enough to know there are no guarantees," coach Norv Turner said.

    Here's one: If the Chargers don't flip their play and persona, they could miss the playoffs.

    "When it gets like this, you find out a lot about your team," Rivers said. "The AFC West is still there; we are in the thick of it. But we just have to win one game."

    And maybe one turns to two and away the Chargers go.

    Or they continue their inept play over a three-game stretch that sees them play the Patriots and Titans before traveling to Houston.

    "We have to understand this thing can get away from us," Rivers said. "We've done all these great things in the past, but there have been teams before that are 2-4 that it just blows up.

    "I'm confident this group is not going to let that happen. But I can only say that so much."

    SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 18-14-2. The Chargers thumped the Patriots in their last go-around, to the tune of 30-10 in San Diego in 2006. The Chargers have significant wins over the Patriots, including their 2005 conquest that snapped New England's 21-game home winning streak. But the real history here is in the playoffs. The Chargers' lone league title came in 1963, when they dominated the Patriots in the AFL Championship Game, 51-10. Lately, the Patriots have bounced the Chargers from the playoffs, beating them in the 2007 AFC title contest and in a 2006 divisional-round game.

    NOTES, QUOTES

    —The Chargers aren't taking any chances with PK Nate Kaeding and his groin injury. The team signed veteran Kris Brown, and he'll likely replace Kaeding on Sunday.

    To clear a roster spot, the Chargers cut No. 3 quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.

    —Left tackle Marcus McNeill said getting Philip Rivers sacked seven times, as was the case in the loss at St. Louis, is unacceptable. "Sometimes you have to take sacks when the coverage is good and the quarterback doesn't want to put it in a bad spot, but there were some we should've picked up easily and we didn't," McNeill said. "It doesn't matter how it happens. We have to keep Philip off the ground. That's one of the main things we have to take care of this week."

    —According to coach Norv Turner, among the reasons Ryan Mathews and the running game has yet to get untracked is the Chargers' woes on third downs. They converted but four-of-12 in the loss Sunday. "We did not convert third downs," Turner said. "We had three-and-outs, and we were not able to keep the ball. When you're not able to do that, it's hard to get consistency in the running game."

    —Rivers said there is a need for the NFL to look at the vicious hits being delivered of late.

    "I certainly am aware of and see the need for safety. More and more guys are getting injured," Rivers said. "Personally, and I think a lot of people would agree, it's tough to watch when a guy gets hurt, especially those head injuries.

    "Sometimes extreme measures are warranted when things are getting the way they are. It's such a violent and physical game. Some of it, though, is unnecessary."

    —Say this about cornerback Antoine Cason: He took ownership of a day in which he struggled. The worst came when rookie Danario Alexander flew right by Cason and secured a 38-yard touchdown reception late in the first quarter to give St. Louis a 10-0 lead "I got beat," Cason said. "That can't ever happen, but it did. I have to get it fixed."

    —Former Chargers great Junior Seau was released from a hospital after sustaining minor injuries when driving his car off a cliff; he said he fell asleep. Seau, hours before, had been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

    "I just have the greatest respect and feeling for Junior," Turner said. "I was here with him, and I was in Miami with him. I think he knows how I feel about him. I can't comment on anything else. I don't know anything else."

    —Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes is getting plenty of playing time since his recent signing. The team is thin at that spot, and Barnes has quickly found his niche — although he had a critical roughing-the-passer penalty Sunday. But he did supply some push off the edge.

    —Chargers general manager A.J. Smith got his first NFL job with the Patriots as a part-time scout from 1978-1980.

    —At mid-week, the Chargers' home game Sunday still wasn't sold out. The Chargers were hoping to move the 2,000 or so tickets so they could televise a home game for the first time this season.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — Long snappers the Chargers had on their roster through the season's first six weeks.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope not. That's not what our intention was. That's not what my intention is now. I don't think any one of our players feels that way. I don't want it to turn into that. We've got a lot of work to do though. Obviously we've dug ourselves a hole, and we have a pretty demanding schedule coming up as we continue through this." — Coach Norv Turner, on whether this has turned into a transition year for the struggling Chargers.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    The Chargers have turned to rookie Cam Thomas to help shore up the run defense.

    Thomas, a fifth-round pick, wasn't active the first four games but has played a significant number of snaps on running downs in the past two games.

    It seems Thomas has lapped Ogemdi Nwagbuo, or is getting close to it.

    It's imperative the Chargers handle the Patriots' mediocre running game so they can get Tom Brady into some obvious passing situations and let their pass rush loose.

    If Thomas, who is being asked to do more, can deliver, the Chargers could put Brady into those situations.

    PLAYER NOTES

    —WR Patrick Crayton has shown he knows the offense and is eager to produce. With injuries to the Chargers' pass-catchers, he will be asked to contribute again this week. He is coming off a 117-yard receiving game, the fourth 100-yard game of his career and his first with the Chargers.

    —WR Buster Davis is getting a great chance to show that he can be part of the Chargers' future. He scored his first touchdown in the St. Louis game, but the former first-round pick had numerous drops. Davis is in his fourth year, and the time is now to show that he can be a contributor.

    —ILB Kevin Burnett could be having the best season among San Diego defenders, outside of Shaun Phillips. Burnett is decent in run support but has really been shining on pass plays — he has five sacks, just one behind Phillips. He also has five quarterback hits, an interception and three passes defensed.

    —TE Randy McMichael could be asked to step in if Antonio Gates is compromised with his toe injury. McMichael has spent most of the year as a blocking tight end; he has four catches for 60 yards.

    —WR Legedu Naanee (hamstring) could help the Chargers' ailing pass-catching corps if he can play Sunday. The team had big plans for Naanee, and he had 10 catches and a score in the first three games. But he's been slowed by his leg injury, and he didn't play last week. In the Chargers' last three games, he has only one catch for four yards.

    —SS Steve Gregory still has two games to go on his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. He will be replaced again by Paul Oliver.

    —T Ryan Otterson was released from the practice squad; his spot was taken by WR Gary Banks.

    GAME PLAN: In the past, the Chargers would have attacked the Patriots' questionable secondary with an array of receivers. But San Diego is missing a significant portion of its receiving corps because of injuries or contract issues. So instead the Chargers will attempt to gain territory on the ground by finally giving the ball to rookie Ryan Mathews numerous times.

    Plus, Philip Rivers isn't going to survive the season if the Chargers continue to lean on his passing so much — he was sacked seven times last week.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers running game, led by a healthy RB Ryan Mathews, vs. Patriots run defense, which is ranked No. 17, allowing 109 yards per game. Mathews doesn't have any more issues with his ankle, so it's time for his coming-out party. A quick look at the Patriots shows their pass defense — ranked No. 30 — is their biggest downfall. The Chargers will test that bunch, but only after getting the running game going against a defense that has a rookie at inside linebacker (Brandon Spikes) and a defensive front not playing at the level it displayed in years past.

    Chargers special teams, which have been a season-long embarrassment, vs. Patriots special teams, which rank No. 2 in kick-return average. It was more special teams woes for the Chargers last week when K Nate Kaeding slipped on a field-goal attempt and it was blocked; coverage units also allowed a 42-yard punt return. Maybe this week returner Darren Sproles can get untracked, as the Chargers continue to wait for more of a payout for the $7 million they are paying Sproles. The Patriots, though, are No. 6 against punts but only No. 20 against kickoffs. The Chargers' coverage units will be tested, as the Pats' Brandon Tate already has two returns for scores of 97 and 103 yards.

    Chargers pass rush, which isn't getting much off the edge of late, vs. Patriots passing game, led by savvy QB Tom Brady. The Chargers have the NFL's top-ranked defense, but they are looking for some pass rush. While Shaun Phillips' team-high six sacks look spiffy, closer examination shows all but two of them came when playing an overmatched Arizona front, and that Phillips has been shut out in the last two games. With Larry English (foot) still out and Shawne Merriman on injured reserve, Antwan Applewhite will get the start opposite Phillips. Applewhite has one sack. Much of the pressure has been coming from the inside and LB Kevin Burnett — he has five sacks, and they have all come in the last three games. The Patriots have allowed only eight sacks and have done a pretty good job of protecting Brady. The Patriots need to show some kind of running game, which isn't easy to do for them these days, to keep some pressure off Brady. It's imperative the Chargers reach him before he goes through his reads — especially the one that takes him to CB Antoine Cason, who is coming off his worst game as a starter.

    INJURY IMPACT: WR Malcom Floyd (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday, and he could be down this week. Floyd will try to go later in the week, but he's far from a certainty for Sunday.

    —RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday; this seems to be the course the team is taking with Mathews. He hurt his ankle early in the year, and the team has been easing him into the practice week. He should be a go for Sunday.

    —TE Antonio Gates (toe) didn't practice Wednesday. There is a chance he'll try to practice later in the week.

    —K Nate Kaeding (groin) didn't practice Wednesday, and he isn't expected to play Sunday.

    —ILB Brandon Siler (foot) was a full participant in practice Wednesday, and that's good news for the short-yardage unit and special teams.

    —WR Legedu Naanee (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday. He will try again later in the week, and he might be able to play Sunday.

    —WR Buster Davis (ribs) practiced Wednesday, and he will play Sunday.

    —OLB Larry English (foot) is out for another three to four weeks.
     

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