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Inside Slant - 1/11/07

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Jan 11, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: USA Today

    <img width="357" height="170" title="Chargers Sack Brady Photo from Chargers.com" alt="Chargers Sack Brady Photo from Chargers.com" src="http://www.chargers.com/assets/166/31623.jpg" />
    <div class="inside-copy">It's likely one of the key components of Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff game matching the San Diego Chargers against the visiting New England Patriots: getting to Tom Brady.</div>
    <p class="inside-copy">If the Chargers hope to win their first playoff game since 1994 and snap coach Marty Schottenheimer's five-game postseason losing streak, it's essential the Chargers get after one cool quarterback in Brady.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">That responsibility will be spread across the entire defense being orchestrated by coordinator Wade Phillips. But it's obvious one player will be looked on more than any other: Shawne Merriman.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Merriman, the NFL sack leader with 17, is aiming to bring down or at least pester Brady. But Merriman, a two-time Pro Bowler, knows that won't be easy. Not with the savvy Brady's quick release.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"It's very difficult," Merriman said of reaching Brady. "Some of the things he does, he recognizes defenses like the back of his hand. I know personally that he spends a lot of time looking at defenses, so he knows not just how to play football, but he knows a lot about the game of football. That's what makes him a great quarterback."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">But all quarterbacks can be flustered. Especially one facing the Chargers, who led the NFL with 61 sacks. How, though, does one do it?</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"You kind of make him make some decisions that he really doesn't want to make early by showing some different looks and things we haven't done all year," Merriman said. "I'm sure we'll come out and try some different things. They'll come out and try some different things because it's the playoffs and that's what you're supposed to do."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Everyone knows what Merriman is supposed to do - harass Brady. But while he has proven his worth in the regular season, just like Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, this is Merriman's postseason debut.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"It's big for me to come out and see a guy like Tom Brady and the New England Patriots," Merriman said. "That will pretty much let us know where we're at as a team."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Everyone knows about the Patriots. Their quarterback is 11-1 in the postseason. Their coach, Bill Belichick is 12-2 in the playoffs. They have won three of the past five Super Bowls.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"That's incredible," an impressed Merriman said. "To come and play a team like that, a team that knows how to win, they're not too hyper about this situation because they've been down this road before. Obviously they have some different players than they had during the times they won, but the organization didn't change. It's still there.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"It's going to be a test for us to come out and play them hard for 60 minutes. That's what this game is going to be about. We can't play them three quarters and expect that the game is over in the fourth quarter because (Brady) can come back. We can't come out slow that first quarter and expect to play three quarters after that because the game might be over by then. We've got to come out and play 60 minutes of football."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">If not, the most successful regular season in Chargers history circles the drain.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>SERIES HISTORY:</strong> 34th meeting. New England Patriots lead the series, 17-14-2, but the San Diego Chargers have won the last two after the Patriots had won 10 in a row. The most historic and only time the squads have met in the postseason was when the Chargers spanked the Patriots, 51-10 in San Diego's Balboa Stadium for their only AFL title. When the Chargers beat the Patriots last year in New England, 41-17, it snapped the Pats' 21-game winning streak.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Despite the most regular-season wins (14) in club history and riding a 10-game winning streak into the playoffs, there has been no dialogue about coach Marty Schottenheimer receiving a contract extension. Schottenheimer enters the final year of his contract next season, but there is no rush to give him a pat on the back or a vote of confidence. The thinking is if this team, with nine Pro Bowlers - on the heels of one with five Pro Bowlers that didn't reach the playoffs - doesn't have an extended stay in the postseason, Schottenheimer could be out. Smith has declined to comment on Schottenheimer's status.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-With CB Quentin Jammer having his best season as a pro, it's obvious which cornerback Patriots QB Tom Brady will try to pick on, according to Chargers FS Marlon McCree. "I think they'll go after Drayton (Florence)," he said. "I told him that just because Drayton is more aggressive, but I don't think that there's a weakness in the secondary. Drayton understands that. He knows that teams aren't throwing to (Jammer) as much because Jam has been getting a lot of (pass breakups) and he's led the team in interceptions. For some reason, they're not throwing as much to Jam as they were early in the season. They're going to go at Drayton and (Antonio) Cromartie, but both of those guys have been tested all season. They're battle tested, so we're confident in what they're going to do."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-If the Chargers are concerned about QB Philip Rivers making his first playoff start, they are doing a good job of hiding it. "I'm expecting Philip to come out and have one of the best games of his career," TE Antonio Gates said. "Obviously that's the focal point. It's on Philip Rivers and can he get the job done. Everybody in the locker room believes that, 'Hey, this is our guy. He can lead us to a world championship.'"</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-MVP RB LaDainian Tomlinson said the Chargers have set their sights higher than in their last playoff appearance, which resulted in an overtime loss to the Jets. "I think in '04 it was more about 'We're happy to get in the playoffs and we've had a great season,'" he said. "It was the first time we'd been in the playoffs in such-and-such years. It was like a big hooray because we were in the playoffs. I recall getting back from Cleveland (after clinching the AFC West) and we had so many fans in the front (of Chargers Park) like we had just won the Super Bowl. Now it's more like we expect it. We expected to be in the playoffs. We expected to be division champs. We expected to be at this point right now. It's more of a 'what are you going to do now?'"</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-K Nate Kaeding would love a big day to erase the memory of his last playoff appearance. Kaeding, then a rookie, missed a game-winning 40-yard field goal in overtime. "You can't look them in the eye at all," Kaeding said of his teammates. "You kind of hold your head knowing you had a big play that decided the outcome against your team.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"It's tough, especially like it was in that playoff game where it was the last play of the entire year so you got to sit on that for six months. And that is not a good thing."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Much has been made of Schottenheimer never advancing to a Super Bowl, despite being one of five men with 200 regular-season wins. Such a black mark on a resume could keep Schottenheimer from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, although he said that doesn't concern him.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Do I want to win a Super Bowl? Absolutely," Schottenheimer said. "But at the end of the day if it doesn't happen that is not what I'm hanging my whole career on. It is, it has been, and will always be about relationships that I've made with the people I've come in contact with."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Tomlinson is pleased the Pats' defense won't feature former Chargers Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. Both are out with injuries. "Certainly Junior, I'm happy I don't have to see him," he said. "Hopefully he'll get back well, but I don't want to see Junior. Rodney, I don't know what his situation is, but it would be great if he can throw us a bone there."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>BY THE NUMBERS:</strong> 13th time a Schottenheimer team has reached the playoffs; none of the previous 12 reached the Super Bowl.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "Not any discredit to the New England Patriots because they know how to win, but everybody to us has the same record in the playoffs. All your stats and my 17 sacks go away. You have to start all over again. That's what it's all about, reestablishing yourself as that team in the playoffs." - LB Shawne Merriman, on facing the Patriots.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The Chargers' defensive line is in but of a flux, but there's good news with the return of Luis Castillo.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">An ankle sprain cost Castillo four games in the middle of the season, then he sat out the final two games to rest it. Castillo has seven sacks, but more than that he's a force at the point of attack, seldom losing his feet and getting plowed.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">With Jacques Cesaire (knee) looking doubtful and Derreck Robinson ailing with a sore foot - although he will go Sunday - it's imperative Castillo plays.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">But the question is how long he can go without becoming fatigued or having the ankle start to restrict him.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">What has made the defensive line so tough is it is able to use a rotation which keeps everyone fresh. But with an uncertainly on how long Castillo can go and the injuries issues to Cesaire and Robinson, this is a part of the Chargers' defense that is worth watching.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">PLAYER NOTES</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-S Bhawoh Jue didn't practice Wednesday, but is expected to go later in the week and play on Sunday.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-DE Jacques Cesaire didn't practice and might not before the game arrives. His availability could be a game-time decision; he could sit all together and hope the Chargers advance.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-WR Eric Parker is back fielding punts after a sore neck had him give way to Keenan McCardell and Cletis Gordon. McCardell could still be used in obvious fair-catch situations.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-ILB Randall Godfrey is back running at near full speed after a tender hamstring cost him the final two regular-season games. Godfrey, in his 11th season, is enjoying a solid year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers is no longer in a walking boot for his sprained foot and is back taking his regular amount of snaps.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>GAME PLAN:</strong> The Chargers love bragging about the improved play of their secondary, and there is no doubting its performance has improved. But among the reasons for that is an improved pass rush, which makes the ball get out of the pocket fast. Look for the Chargers to try and baffle Brady with an array of blitz packages that again will have the secondary looking good. But the Chargers have to be careful in blitzing too much, as Brady is so good at getting the ball out fast that receivers in single coverages could collect some long gains by shaking just one tackle after the catch.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>MATCHUPS TO WATCH:</strong> Patriots run-blocking with C Dan Koppen vs. the Chargers run defense, with NT Jamal Williams. There might not be a more important battle than smack dab in the middle. If Koppen - with help from Gs Stephen Neal and Logan Mankins - can keep Williams engaged, that will open some room at the line for the running backs. And if that happens, the Pats won't be faced with many third-and-long situations, where the Chargers could unleash their lethal pass rush. Few can handle Williams, an All-Pro, all alone. So while the focus will be on how Koppen holds up, it's imperative he gets some help from his guards or Williams will blow up the Pats' running plays.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers running game, led by MVP LaDainian Tomlinson vs. the Pats run defense, which is ranked No. 5. If Tomlinson can do what he's done in the past two games against the Pats - rushed for 351 yards, four touchdowns - then that will take pressure off of Rivers, making his first playoff start. Like the Chargers, it comes down to the Pats' tackle in the middle, Vince Wilfork. If he can impose his will on Pro Bowl C Nick Hardwick, that could minimize the damage Tomlinson does. And if that happens, the Pats will look to tee off on Rivers, whose play was shaky down the stretch.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Chargers short passing game, featuring All-Pro TE Antonio Gates vs. the Pats' pass defense. If the Pats decide to slide an eighth player in the box in their bid to contain Tomlinson, it could open the middle of the field for Gates. The Pats' have to figure out how to handle Gates, as he went for 100 receiving yards the last time they played. If the safeties chip in, that means the corners could be left in single coverage. The Pats' cornerbacks, Asante Samuel (10 interceptions) and Artrell Hawkins, are decent. But if they wind up in single coverage too many times, they will be exposed.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>INJURY IMPACT:</strong> The Chargers, thanks to last weekend's bye, are relatively healthy. Only Cesaire and Jue missed practice on Wednesday. Cesaire likely won't go Sunday; Jue will go on Sunday.</p>

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