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Too interesting for comfort

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Nov 14, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://www.pe.com/sports/football/stories/PE_Sports_Local_D_chargers_midyear.27ada02.html" target="_blank">The Press-Enterprise</a>


    By Jim Alexander

    The Chargers are getting better. They've reached the point where they're only partially blowing leads.

    San Diego enters its bye week with a 5-4 record, two straight victories -- which constitutes momentum in the NFL these days -- and the toughest part of its schedule behind it.

    But the Chargers still tend to make things way too interesting. Even in their past two victories, 28-20 over Kansas City on Oct. 30 and 31-26 over the New York Jets this past Sunday, they needed defensive heroics in the fourth quarter -- in the final minute and 40 seconds Sunday, after the Jets had reached the Chargers' 3-yard line -- to hang on.

    This followed four losses by a total of 12 points, all decided inside of the final 3"½ minutes, with both sides of the ball sharing responsibility.

    Two (Denver and Pittsburgh) were on late field goals following sustained marches up the field. The other two were sealed by offensive turnovers on what would have been game-deciding drives -- the Dallas game after the defense had given up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Philadelphia game after a runback of a blocked field goal had put the Chargers behind.

    How different has this been from the Chargers' magical 2004 season? Not only have they played a tougher schedule -- including, in one stretch, four teams coming off byes in five weeks -- and had their confidence battered, they've also taken a physical beating. A year ago, they avoided serious injury for most of the season.

    Last Sunday against the Jets, seven starters were out: wideout Eric Parker, offensive linemen Roman Oben and Nick Hardwick, linebackers Steve Foley and Randall Godfrey and defensive backs Terrence Kiel and Drayton Florence. Compounding that, linebacker Shawne Merriman had pins put in his left wrist to repair a dislocated bone Monday. And a number of other players will welcome the week off to heal various bumps and bruises.

    That said, there have been signs of progress this season that belie the 5-4 record.

    San Diego's offense is second in the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the 20, trailing only Carolina. The Chargers have scored touchdowns on 23 of their 33 opportunities inside what they call the gold zone (69.6 percent), and have converted field goals eight of the other 10 tries.

    "Teams can't play a zone (defense) because they have to respect No. 21 (LaDainian Tomlinson)," tight end Antonio Gates said. "At some point they have to go to man coverage, and when that happens we believe any one of us can win (the individual battle)."

    This is how Brees described the Chargers' philosophy: Anyone can move the ball in the open field, but what happens inside the 20 decides games.

    "I don't feel there's anything any team in the league can do to stop us," Brees said. "We have the weapons, and if we execute the right way we can score points on anybody. But we can also go out against anybody and get shut down if we don't execute."

    Brees has completed 64.3 percent of his passes (eighth in the league) and thrown for 2,099 yards (third). Gates, even while starting his season a week late due to his preseason contract stare down with general manger A. J. Smith, is fourth in the league in catches (51), seventh among all receivers in yards (707) and tied for second in touchdown catches (six).

    "That kind of guy, most of the time somebody's on him he just wins the battle physically," Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said after Gates had 10 receptions, three for touchdowns, in the Chargers' victory two weeks ago. "The variety of things they do with him, they're not simple or complicated. It's just a one-on-one situation."

    Tomlinson is second in the league to Seattle's Shaun Alexander in both yards (949-835) and touchdowns (14-13), despite five games in which Tomlinson has been under 100 yards -- and one, the infamous Philadelphia game, in which Tomlinson was held to 7 yards in 17 carries.

    "The only thing I really want is for the offensive to be in the top five in team rushing," Tomlinson said the day after his four-touchdown game against the Jets. "Obviously I want to be the No. 1 rusher, but as long as we're winning (it doesn't matter) ... I don't get too much into leading in touchdowns or rushing. The only stats that count are when you win games."

    Much of the up-and-down nature of Tomlinson's season has its roots in an offensive line that has struggled for consistency.

    "They're a tough group," Brees said. "They take a lot of pride in protecting me and blocking for the best back in the league. I can see them on the sideline when something goes wrong, coming together, getting on each other ... No matter who's in the game, that guy is expected to know what he's doing. If he doesn't, he's going to have four other guys on him."

    Defensively, the emergence of rookie linebacker Merriman and rookie defensive end Luis Castillo has bolstered a unit that is third in the league against the run.

    However, even with the rookies also spearheading a revitalized pass rush, untimely penalties and misplays from a beleaguered secondary have hurt.

    "Penalties can lose the game for you," Tomlinson said. "It's something we have to continue to try and eliminate ... Marty (Schottenheimer, the head coach) is always on us about penalties. The leaders of the team are always trying to make sure guys stay focused."

    The Chargers are 30th out of 32 teams in pass defense, allowing 248.6 yards a game and 12 touchdowns through the air (out of the 22 scored against them).

    That aspect of the Chargers' game must be improved, if the final seven games of 2005 are to put them any closer to a postseason berth than the first nine have.
     

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