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Inside Slant

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Dec 29, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm" target="_blank">USA Today
    </a>

    Take a deep breath, Chargers Nation: your team just wasn't good enough.

    Maybe that's not completely correct: your team was just not consistent enough.

    The Chargers see the curtain come crashing down on the regular season Saturday, when squaring off against the visiting Denver Broncos.

    In the Chargers' eyes, they were going to ride an eight-game winning streak into the contest to push the Broncos for a share of the AFC West title, or at least cement their standing as one of the AFC's wild card teams.

    But the Chargers will do neither, thanks to a home stumble against the Miami Dolphins three weeks ago and Saturday's pasting courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs.

    That's what makes the end of this season so baffling.

    The Chargers have looked great at times in beating the Patriots, Redskins and Colts on the road. But they have also looked very ordinary, something that is proven by a very ho-hum home record of 4-3.

    Playoff teams don't flirt with .500 at home. In their run to the AFC West title last season, the Chargers were 7-1 at Qualcomm Stadium.

    Cornerback Quentin Jammer was asked after Saturday's loss at Kansas City if the Chargers were a playoff team?

    "It all depends after which game," he said. "Not this one."

    So the result is a long winter getting ready to set in for San Diego football fans. Sometimes the Chargers look like world-beaters - at Indy, at New England - but other times it resembles a team that's far from ready to be considered among the NFL's elite outfits.

    Yes, the Chargers had five trips to the Eastern Time Zone - and they went 4-1. Yes, the Chargers faced the league's toughest schedule. Yes, four of the teams the Chargers faced were coming off their byes this season.

    Yes, all that means squat. The schedule is what it is. Good teams buck up and play and advance to the playoffs.

    That's not to say the Chargers aren't a good team - a squad doesn't send six players to the Pro Bowl if there isn't talent on the roster. But the Chargers aren't a consistent team. And the NFL is about how teams conduct themselves week in and week out, not how they can rise up occasionally for a big win.

    The Chargers took a big step toward respectability last year when securing their first playoff appearance since 1995. But this year, with all due respect, they weren't good enough over a 16-game season to be considered a playoff team.

    So it will be interesting to see what Chargers team shows up on Saturday? Will it be the splashy one that spins the scoreboard with ease? Or the one which gets exposed on the defensive back end and struggles in its run-blocking?

    Either way, the Chargers will go into the off-season carrying a bitter dose of what if, how come and how did we let this season slip away from us?

    SERIES HISTORY: 92nd meeting. The Denver Broncos hold a 51-39-1 advantage. Denver handed the Chargers their second of two losses in opening the season, prevailing 20-17. In the Broncos' last 10 visits to San Diego, they have won four times, with the Chargers winning three of the past four, including a 30-27 overtime win in 2002. Last year on a rainy December day, FS Jerry Wilson secured the victory over Denver with an interception in the end zone off a Drayton Florence deflection. LB Donnie Edwards had a career-high 20 tackles.

    NOTES, QUOTES

    -NT Jamal Williams doesn't like the Broncos - they ended his season prematurely in 2002 with a cheap shot that broke his ankle. So when asked if he would be able to play Saturday after sitting out Wednesday's practice with a foot injury, he said: "Hell, yeah, it's the Broncos."

    -It seems missing the playoffs hurt the veterans the most, as they know the Chargers had the type of team to do some postseason damage this year. "It's a shame with the type of talent we have," said LB Randall Godfrey, a 10-year pro. Godfrey is re-thinking his preseason decision of retiring after the season.

    -It's easy to see why standout rookie DE Luis Castillo was called "Dancing Bear" at Northwestern. "Luis is probably the most athletic 300-pounder I've ever seen," Schottenheimer said. "He's got such quick hands and feet. He moves so well and never allows himself to get out of position."

    -Former tight ends coach Tim Brewster, who was instrumental in Antonio Gates' rise in becoming a two-time Pro Bowler, holds a similar position with the Broncos.

    -Why has RB LaDainian Tomlinson not rushed for 89 yards or scored a touchdown in four straight games? "We're not giving him enough room, frankly," Schottenheimer said. "We have not been nearly as effective blocking the running game."

    -The Broncos were among only three teams to hand the Chargers a road loss this year, joining the Eagles and Chiefs.

    -Rookie WR Vincent Jackson is hoping to finish strong in what has been an injury-marred rookie year. He'll have a captive audience, as he knows his pals from Northern Colorado will be watching. "I'm not going to take it any differently than I would any other game, but I will have a lot of friends and family paying a little extra attention," Jackson said. "I didn't get to play the first time against Denver when we were there, so it'll be nice to get on the field against the Broncos and see what I can do."

    -Denver DL Ebenezer Ekuban is a cousin of Chargers' LT Roman Oben, who is on injured reserve.

    -The Chargers are trying to avoid a .500 mark at home; they are 4-3. Last year on their way to the AFC West title - won by the Broncos this year - they were 7-1.

    -Former Chargers CB Scott Turner is running for Congress in San Diego.

    -Two veteran, but still productive, wide receivers will be on display in the Chargers' Keenan McCardell (career-high nine touchdown catches in his 14th season) and the Broncos' Rod Smith (another 1,000-yard season). "The key for any receiver being productive for his career this long of time, especially at mine and Rod's age, is to go out and outwork everyone else," McCardell said.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 0 - Times the Chargers have won 10 games in consecutive seasons - something they can accomplish Saturday - since 1980-81.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "There is a difference between preseason and regular season." - Coach Marty Schottenheimer, on why he won't consider playing backup QB Philip Rivers.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    The Chargers are a little concerned about their offensive line, which didn't play all that well in Kansas City. Guard Mike Goff was out of action briefly last week with a stinger in the shoulder area. He did return to game action, but he's worth watching; if he steps out, Bob Hallen would replace him. There are also concerns that LT Leander Jordan is wearing down as the season progresses and he'll face a stiff test in RE Trevor Pryce. It's imperative the line plays better than it did last week. Much of that will revolve around how Goff is feeling and if Jordan - as well as center Nick Hardwick - can rebound from sub-par games.

    PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

    -OLB Shawne Merriman is looking to finish strong and claim the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Merriman needs to rebound after a so-so game in which he didn't have a sack to go with his five tackles. Merriman is the team leader with nine sacks.

    -LT Leander Jordan has held up fairly well since replacing Roman Oben as the starter on Nov. 6. But one thing Jordan can't supply is the leadership of the veteran Oben. Jordan, as well as the rest of the offensive line, didn't have a stellar day in Kansas City.

    -LB Steve Foley is starting to show his old burst after being slowed this year by an abdominal strain. He tried to play through it early in the year, then finally sat out three games. But he's been able to go four straight games and is more active than he was before sitting out.

    -CB Sammy Davis' stock continues to fall with the team. A former first-round pick, Davis lost his starting job to Drayton Florence then his nickel spot to Jamar Fletcher. Then when trying to contribute on special teams, he had a roughing the kicker penalty called on him last week.

    -KR Darren Sproles was impressive the first time he practiced in minicamp. But the Chargers are surprised he's been unable to translate his dazzling speed into at least one kickoff-return touchdown. He has a respectable average of 24.4 yards per attempt, but he's yet to hit a home run. It was Sproles' inability to handle punts that cost that return role. He's more comfortable fielding kicks, but after coming oh-so-close numerous times, he can't break that one tackle which would spring him toward the end zone.

    GAME PLAN: Get to QB Jake Plummer when he is there, but really turn it up when the Broncos turn it over to Bradlee Van Pelt, who has never thrown an NFL pass. The secondary was exposed last week in Kansas City when the Chargers were unable to present a consistent pass rush. This week, especially with a green Van Pelt in there, look for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to empty the play book, showing the Broncos the various players - and at the various angles - he can send the pass-rushers toward the pocket.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

    Chargers' running game, led by a frustrated LaDainian Tomlinson, vs. Broncos run defense, which is ranked No. 3 in the league. Tomlinson's mediocre showings can no longer be blamed on his sore chest. Instead, Schottenheimer points to the run blocking of late which hasn't given the Pro Bowler Tomlinson much room to run. The Chargers get a break with LB Al Wilson (ankle) not playing, which should make running a tad easier. But make no mistake that Tomlinson is keen on a big finish, and he's bummed that in his last four games he hasn't rushed for more than 87 yards or scored a touchdown.

    Chargers pass defense, which features an up-and-down secondary, vs. Broncos passing game, which features the ageless Rod Smith. The Chargers' secondary has been the Achilles' heel of this team since opening day. But it has a chance to go out on a high note if it can contain Smith, Ashley Lelie and Kyle Johnson, the Broncos' fullback who is a surprise with five scoring catches. Among the keys is getting a stout pass rush, but at some point the secondary has to rely on its skills instead of always falling on a built-in excuse that the pass rush didn't do enough. Quentin Jammer gave up too many big plays again in K.C., something Chargers fans are growing tired of seeing. The back end of the defense could get a break by facing more Van Pelt than Plummer. But Smith and Lelie have a history of sticking it to Jammer and Co.

    Chargers wideouts Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker vs. Broncos secondary, which has six-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey. If the Chargers want to have Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates have big games, they have to stretch the field at to loosen up the Broncos' defense. The Chargers seldom gone deep this year and defenses know that by crowding the line of scrimmage. That is especially true with the Broncos as FS John Lynch, another Pro Bowler, loves to inch up close to the line. Even if the Chargers don't complete anything downfield, they at least have to try.

    INJURY IMPACT: NT Jamal Williams (foot) is questionable and did not work on Wednesday. But Williams will answer the bell on Saturday. If not, DE Jacques Cesaire would flip over to nose tackle.

    RB LaDainian Tomlinson (ribs) is feeling better than he has in weeks and is a full go for Saturday.

    FS Bhawoh Jue (knee) is questionable for Saturday, and even if he starts he could be replaced early. If he has to be replaced, Jerry Wilson would fill in.

    WR Eric Parker (foot) is questionable, but he will at least start on Saturday. It's doubtful, though, he'll last the whole game. If he sits out, he'll be replaced by Reche Caldwell in the offense and Keenan McCardell on punt returns.

    G Mike Goff suffered a stinger last week but has worked this week and will play.
     

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