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Inside Slant - 09/06/07

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Sep 6, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm" target="_blank">USA Today</a>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers open the season Sunday in great shape physically.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Mentally? Let's see.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> There's little doubt the Chargers are among the NFL's elite teams. Its roster is sprinkled with Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball and they are fresh off an NFL-best 14-2 regular season in 2006.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But there is another memory from last season that has stuck with the players like the unseasonable humidity that has swallowed San Diego the past week: that playoff pratfall to New England.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> While the team has done its best to push that aside, the Chargers aren't afforded the opportunity to ease into the campaign.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> In the first three weeks, the Chargers face the NFC champion Bears, then travel to New England and Green Bay.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Yikes.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But that's looking down the road, a no-no in the competitive NFL. Even for a team with its sights on the Super Bowl in February.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> It's opening week, and for that the Chargers are grateful to come out of their offseason hibernation and wrestle with the visiting Bears.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "The first week is exciting for everybody," NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson said. "You look forward to it for a long time. When it finally gets here, you want to start strong and play your best. It's a special week."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> And this is to be a special season for the Chargers, as they aim for their second Super Bowl in franchise history. The players, coaches and brass are confident the pieces are in place to produce a season that doesn't produce a sour taste.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "I'm pretty anxious," Tomlinson said. "I've been waiting to get back on the field in a game situation for a while now. Now that it's finally here, I'm very excited."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Tomlinson didn't play in the preseason, so it's a fresh running back the Bears will be asked to corral. The Chargers' All-Pro is well aware of a Bears defense that unleashes linebackers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Tommie Harris.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "They're aggressive, fast and smart," Tomlinson said. "Urlacher is a big part of it, but Tommie wreaks havoc in the middle and Lance is tough. They're going to be a big challenge."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> This season will be one big challenge for the Chargers. Not only do they carry the heavy expectations of playing in February, but everyone will be gunning for them as well.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> While NFL insiders knew the Chargers were going to be good last year, there were also questions marks at quarterback and left tackle.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Those two first-year starters - Philip Rivers and Marcus McNeill - did just fine, thank you, earning Pro Bowl selections. Still, the Chargers won't sneak up on opponents, which might have been the case last year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> There's a bull's eye on the Chargers back, as well as the playoff monkey.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> That includes Tomlinson, who set a number of NFL records in his season for the ages in 2006. But Tomlinson is using his patent stiff-arm regarding predictions of just what kind of mind-boggling number he can produce this season.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> He has one number rattling around his noggin' and that is being No. 1.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "I will always have individual goals in my mind, but I am more catering to what this team needs and winning a championship," Tomlinson said. "I just want to be consistent. I think that's the biggest thing."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>SERIES HISTORY:</strong> 10th meeting. Bears lead series, 5-4, The Bears have won four straight over the Chargers and five of the last six meetings. The Bears haven't been to San Diego since 1999, when they prevailed in overtime.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Bears are grumbling about being the victim of LaDainian Tomlinson in a current Nike TV commercial. Tomlinson spins through the defense for a touchdown. "Somebody sent me something that (Brian) Urlacher said in their paper," Tomlinson said. "He said to ask me how many yards I had last time I played them four years ago." Urlacher was making reference to Tomlinson's 16 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown during a 20-7 loss at Chicago in 2003.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers is also in the commercial - with Shawne Merriman and Antonio Gates - but he doesn't think the Bears are upset over it. "They're going to play harder now?" Rivers said of the Bears. "I think as much hype as there has been on this game, it's the first game of the year. There's so much buildup. I doubt that they need any more incentive to want to get after us than they already have."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers LB coach Ron Rivera is well-versed in the Bears defense as its former defensive coordinator. Rivera, who also played for the Bears, had an interview for the Chargers' head-coaching job when Marty Schottenheimer was canned. But the team went with Norv Turner. Rivera has declined to speak this week in the days leading up to the game. "I think he's been a good insight to both sides of the ball," Turner said. "He's been there, and he knows the personnel. Now, obviously, once the game starts, the players decide the game. If it gives us a little insight into what they're thinking, then it is a help."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-OLB Shaun Phillips was talking about Merriman's toned-down act - or the promise of such, anyway. Phillips said "image or no image, because he's still a hell of a football player and he's going to go out there and do his job and just prove his point always, like he has done." Despite being suspended four games for steroid use, he led the NFL last year with 17 sacks.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-It's the 10-year anniversary of the debut of another successful offensive coordinator as the Chargers head coach. Kevin Gilbride got thumped 41-7 in 1997 in his season opener. He was fired six games into the following season.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> That said, Turner tries to become the fourth straight Chargers head coach to win his opener. The others are June Jones (1998), Mike Riley (1999) and Marty Schottenheimer (2002).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> According to reports, a relaxed, content and retired Schottenheimer - still being paid some $4 million this year - has his golf handicap down to a 5.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>BY THE NUMBERS:</strong> 2 - Number of Turners coaching on Sunday. Norv Turner is the Chargers' head coach and Ron Turner, his younger brother, is the Bears' offensive coordinator. The two have split two previous meetings.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "After everything came up, I just figured that I'm going to go out there and just play. That's it. I don't have to do nothing else, but just go out and play. Don't worry about who's thinking or saying what. You go play and show people what kind of person, what kind of player you are, and leave it at that." - OLB Shawne Merriman, about ditching his Lights Out dance after sacks this season.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> It'll be interesting to see coordinator Ted Cottrell unleash his defense against a quarterback who can get rattled.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Cottrell, who took over for Wade Phillips, was very vanilla in his defensive packages during the summer. On Sunday, he finally gets to turn loose Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips in a pass-rush/blitz situation. If the Bears' Rex Grossman doesn't get the protection or has trouble clicking on his hot reads, the Chargers defense could deliver some choice field position to an offense that can roll.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Let's see what Cottrell, in his Chargers debut, has up his sleeve for a defense with a league-best 61 sacks last year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RB Darren Sproles will return punts, but Michael Turner stays on as the kickoff returner. Turner, though, is nursing a sprained ankle, which could limit his role as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-LT Marcus McNeill was fighting off a cold earlier in the week but is primed for Sunday. This time last year, McNeill was entering his rookie season with a broken hand.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-CB Antonio Cromartie is the nickel back. He'll also be a key player on coverages on special teams.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Rookie S Eric Weddle will see the field in the team's dime package, as well as special teams.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-DE Igor Olshansky said he's not worried about a groin injury that forced him out of all but the final preseason game. Olshansky is itching to play on passing downs, but the plan remains for him just playing on running downs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-With WRs Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd on the first unit, it marks two new opening starters from last year. Then it was Eric Parker and Keenan McCardell.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>GAME PLAN:</strong> Stop the run, stop the run! That's the mantra of the Chargers defense, and they might have a good shot of doing just that. The Bears are offering Cedric Benson as their lead back and he's yet to prove he can churn out the yards on a consistent basis. So it's imperative the Chargers don't let him get untracked and here's why: If the Chargers are good on the running downs, it sets up obvious passing situations in which they can exploit a jittery Grossman. If the Chargers know Grossman has to pass, they can unleash their pass rush, which led the NFL last year with 61 sacks. The combination of Grossman's lack of making wise decisions and his knack for getting flustered coupled with the push generated by NT Jamal Williams and the speed coming around the edges from Merriman and Phillips is something the Chargers want to hang their hat on.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>MATCHUPS TO WATCH:</strong> Chargers NT Jamal Williams, who has been selected to the last two Pro Bowls, vs. Bears C Olin Kreutz, who is every bit as nasty as he is good. Williams is among the keys, really, to this game. If Williams can occupy Kreutz and one other lineman on running downs, that will open up the tacking lanes for the linebackers. And if Williams can supply the push up the middle and make the pocket collapse, that opens up sack opportunities for Merriman and Phillips. But Kreutz is far from a pushover, which makes this an enticing matchup.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers CBs Quentin Jammer and Drayton Florence vs. Bears wideouts Bernard Berrian and Devin Hester. Jammer and Florence have to avoid biting too hard on the wideouts' first moves, so not to get hit with a second move that allows them to run down field. The Chargers got burned more than once in the preseason on deep balls. Jammer and Florence said it was no big thing and things would change once the games started to count. This is their chance to show the summer slipups were just aberrations.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Pro Bowl special teamer Kassim Osgood vs. Hester on kick and punt returns. Osgood is good, but he can't stop Hester on his own. But he must lead the way in trying to find a way to slow down the speedy Hester - he had seven kick or punt returns, including the Super Bowl - for touchdowns last year. Osgood, as well as speedster Antonio Cromartie, must stay true to their lanes and responsibilities or Hester will find his extra gear and not stop running until reaching the end zone.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>INJURY IMPACT:</strong> WR Eric Parker is out for likely the first month after toe surgery. Malcom Floyd replaces him in the starting lineup.</p>

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