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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

LT back at practice for Bolts

Source: AP

SAN DIEGO — LaDainian Tomlinson was back at practice Wednesday for the first time since spraining his right ankle in the season opener, an encouraging sign for a San Diego Chargers team that has struggled to run the ball.

After missing two straight games for the first time in his brilliant career, Tomlinson hopes he can play Sunday night at Pittsburgh. Not only do the Chargers (2-1) expect the defending Super Bowl champions to be riled up after falling to 1-2, but San Diego hasn't won in Pittsburgh since upsetting the Steelers in the AFC championship game following the 1994 season.

The Chargers have been careful to avoid rushing Tomlinson back. They could either chose to let him play Sunday night or have him sit out a third straight game and then have the bye week to continue to heal.

"I want to play in this game," Tomlinson said. "But again, that's dependent on how the ankle does. I think having the bye week definitely helps us both ways, playing and not playing. I think we're going to wait and see."

Tomlinson participated in all of practice.

"I'm just trying to get back into it, just kind of testing it and see how it feels during practice," he said. "Any time you come off being injured, you gain confidence back by practicing. So today was a measuring stick of where I am. It felt pretty good."

Tomlinson said the key will be how his ankle feels on Thursday.

"I'm going to continue to get treatment and we'll see as the week goes along," he said.

"It was good to have L.T. practice," coach Norv Turner said. "I thought for what we asked him to do and what he did in the first day back, things went smooth. I'm anxious to see how he feels in the morning. I thought there were a couple of times that he turned it on pretty good. But again, when you're coming back, to me, it's a day-to-day thing and we'll see where he is tomorrow."

Tomlinson's absence coincided with the Chargers struggling not only in the running game, but when they had the ball inside the opponent's 20.

They're 1-for-11 in the red zone in their last two games, with the only touchdown being Philip Rivers' 5-yard run in Sunday's 23-13 win over Miami.

The Chargers are usually strong inside the 20 with Tomlinson, the 2006 NFL MVP.

"Any way I can help this team, I'm willing to do it," he said. "Definitely the red zone is the area maybe I can take some of the pressure off things that we do down there, and teams have to play us a little bit more honest. That's what it's all about, and hopefully I can do that."

The Chargers have gained only 199 yards in three games, ranking them next-to-last in the NFL.

"There's no question throughout the season we're better when we run the ball well," Turner said. "You look at the end of the year last year when we started playing the way we're capable of playing, it was because we got the run going. We haven't run the ball well enough to keep them from just zeroing in on our passer and our pass protections."

Also back at practice was rookie right guard Louis Vasquez, who hasn't played since spraining a knee in the season opener.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Philip Good Game, SD Defense Not So Much

Source: September 20, 7:40 PMSan Diego Sports ExaminerGerald Nicdao

When a team amasses 474 total yards against the Baltimore Ravens, usually that team gets the victory—except when that same team goes 0-for-5 in red zone touchdown attempts.

That’s what the San Diego Chargers did in their home-opening loss against the Ravens on Sunday.

San Diego had five possessions inside the 20 and came away with four field goals and one turnover.

However, the Chargers were fluid and electric outside of the red zone.

Quarterback Philip Rivers passed for a career-high 436 yards. Rivers completed nine passes for over 20 yards (including an 81-yard touchdown to Darren Sproles on a swing pass and a 35-yard strike to Vincent Jackson in the end zone).

But inside the 20, San Diego was pedestrian, unable to run the ball and unable to get the ball in the end zone.

Four times did the Chargers settle for field goals. The last red zone venture ended with Ray Lewis stuffing Darren Sproles on a fourth-and-second on the 15-yard line.

If you don’t score in the red zone, you don’t win football games, no matter how many yards you put up on one of the best defenses in the NFL.

But why did San Diego fail inside the 20? The same reason why the Chargers almost lost last week against the Oakland Raiders—they’re soft.

The Ravens are known for their physicality. Not as fast as San Diego—which is why the Chargers were able to score the big play multiple times—Baltimore was stout with its back against the wall.

With not much room to operate, the Chargers’ skill and speed was neutralized when they were 20 yards from pay dirt. The Ravens’ brute strength dominated San Diego’s offensive line—which was missing two starters (center Nick Hardwick and rookie guard Louis Vazquez).

Rivers was sacked in San Diego’s first trip to the red zone for a loss of 10 yards.

Sproles was tackled twice behind the line of scrimmage in the Chargers’ second red zone possession.

San Diego shot itself in the foot with a delay of game penalty in the third try inside the red zone, with the ball on the 1-yard line.

And Sproles was stuffed for a loss of five yards on the Chargers final possession.

(By the way, why do you run a power formation against arguable the strongest defense in the NFL on fourth and short with the game on the line?)

How that all happened was Baltimore penetration and a lack of push by San Diego’s offensive line.

"They pressure down there so you're trying to sort things out of how to block," Rivers told the Associated Press after the game. “They brought as many as they could bring on some of them. I think it was more a lack of execution than anything and those delays that killed us."

Rivers and the rest of the Chargers were dazzling, despite rushing for only 53 yards the entire game. San Diego’s talent was too much for Baltimore outside the 20-yard line.

But inside, the Chargers lack of toughness was exploited.

San Diego’s talent helped it overcome the Raiders’ physicality, but against teams that are just as physical and more talented, the Chargers have no shot.

Just ask Baltimore.