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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Charger Update 10/13/09

If the Broncos didn’t have the Chargers’ attention before, they do now.

Something about a first-place team being 5-0 will do that to a squad.

The wobbly Chargers try to get back into the AFC West mix by welcoming the Broncos to San Diego on Monday night. Sitting at 2-2, the Chargers realize they can ill-afford to let the Broncos get victory No. 6, which would put San Diego three games behind.

“I don’t know how you could have more urgency on this game,” coach Norv Turner said. “I think our team has done a good job for preparing for each of our games. Obviously in some situations we haven’t played the way we like to.”

That would include the team’s most recent effort, when it got blown out in Pittsburgh. The Chargers didn’t look ready as they fell behind 28-0 before making the final score (38-28) make the game look closer than it really was.

But that’s in the past. If the Chargers are to make a statement by being the first opponent to give Broncos coach Josh McDaniels a loss, they will have to play better than they have in the past four games.

“When you play in games and you are giving up seven points, three points, three points and 17 points, you are going to be in every game,” Turner said of the Broncos.

The Broncos’ early success—especially their season-opening win—might have been written off as a fluke. But no more, not after consecutive wins over the Cowboys and Patriots.

And no more can the Chargers just figure they’ll get right when they want. The AFC West title bus is leaving the station, and the Chargers know they have to gain ground quickly.

“We have to approach it as a must-win, every week,” LaDainian Tomlinson said.

That starts Monday, in a game that didn’t seem early on would be played with the same gusto as some of the other battles between the two old rivals.

But then the Broncos went 5-0.

And the Chargers hit the snooze alarm and stumbled to 2-2.

“That has never been an indicator on the outcome of the game,” Shaun Phillips said. “Whether you are 0-5 or 5-0, they are a really good team, probably the best we have faced this year, and you know they are going to come ready to play.”

The Chargers have yet to play like three-time defending AFC West champions. Some thought it would be a cakewalk to No. 4 with all the division teams—save the Chargers—rebuilding this year.

Not so.


—Many are surprised by the success of quarterback Kyle Orton in leading the Broncos to a 5-0 record. But Norv Turner isn’t one of them. “I’m very familiar with Kyle,” Turner said. “I coached him at the Senior Bowl and my brother (Ron Turner) was his coach the last three years he was in Chicago. I don’t think people understand him very well. He’s an accurate guy, an athlete.”

The Chargers have proven they can climb off the mat—they were 4-8 last year before rallying for their third consecutive AFC West title by running the table. Can that experience help them as they try to get back into the AFC West race?

“We’re not really worried about what happened last year,” inside linebacker Stephen Cooper said. “We are looking forward to the Denver Broncos game. A lot of people are pushing the panic button, but over here we all know it’s a football season and you are going to win some, lose some. We know it is an important game.”

Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said few teams can match what the Broncos will bring on Monday. “They really play good defense; that’s a good team,” Phillips said. “It’s probably one of the most complete teams we have played so far, and I know they are going to give us their ‘A’ game.”

The Chargers will take Tuesday off and resume practice Wednesday for their home game in which they hope to flip a disturbing trend. In regular-season home games during 2006 and ’07, the Chargers were 15-1. Since, they are 6-4.


Player Notes

OLB Shawne Merriman (groin) didn’t practice Monday but will try to later in the week.

OLB Shaun Phillips (arm) was held out of practice but is expected to play Monday.

ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) is ailing, but he should practice Wednesday.

DE Jacques Cesaire (calf) wasn’t working Monday, but he should be able to play against Denver. The Chargers can ill afford to have Cesaire go down after all the injuries they’ve had to the defensive front.

DE Travis Johnson (groin) was out again Monday. Johnson hasn’t contributed much since coming over from the Texans early in the season.

Report Card After 4 Games

Passing Offense: A-minus—Philip Rivers has been sensational, and that is saying something considering the Chargers have had no running game. Rivers has proved to be the master of the long ball, as he continually stretches the field with WRs Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. TE Antonio Gates is playing at a level not seen in a couple of years. But with all of the passing—and zilch of a running attack—Rivers has been getting whacked pretty often. He has been sacked 10 times and rocked on numerous other occasions. But this team is all about Rivers (six TDs, three INTs) and so far, he has played fine; the rest of the squad, not so much.

Rushing Offense: D-minus—Is LaDainian Tomlinson done? Hard to say because he missed two games with an ankle injury and then once he did return, the Chargers only gave the running game lip service. But there are two things bad about this area: The Chargers aren’t keen on running the ball, and when they do, the run-blocking has been terrible. C Nick Hardwick is out until at least December, and there has been upheaval at the right guard spot. The Chargers have told basically everyone that they are going to beat teams by the pass—but without a decent running game, that is going to be a tall task.

Pass Defense: D—The secondary has been exploited time and again—especially CB Antonio Cromartie. The one-time Pro Bowler has seen his game drop off considerably; he has been complaining the Chargers play too much zone and that he can’t shine in that system. Whatever. But it’s clear the secondary isn’t getting the help it thought it would from a pass rush that is tepid at best. Only six sacks so far, and only one from an outside linebacker—that’s not good in a 3-4 alignment. Shawne Merriman has been a huge disappointment, as he is coming back from knee surgery and has battled a strained groin the past two games. Larry Burnett has been a decent addition as an inside linebacker dropping back into coverage, but the lack of a stout run defense and the dearth of a consistent pass rush has left the Chargers’ pass defense with a No. 27 ranking.

Rush Defense: F—The loss of massive NT Jamal Williams has had a huge impact. Without the Pro Bowler commanding double teams, the middle has been wide open, and it has been gashed with alarming consistency. By allowing 151 yards per game on the ground, the defense has been on its heels most of the season—and it got there because it’s been manhandled along the line. Until this improves—and with a lack of depth at tackle, it’s going to be a tall challenge—the Chargers’ chances of doing anything of significance this season are a real long shot.

Special Teams: B—P Mike Scifres is having another solid year; he’s ranked No. 7 with a 42.9-yard average. K Nate Kaeding has hit all but one of nine field-goal attempts, and the miss was from 41 yards. The return game is in good hands with Darren Sproles—especially on kickoffs, on which he is averaging 28.5 yards per return. The coverage unit has been decent, although there have been some leaks on punts, where the team is ranked No. 23.

Coaching: F—Norv Turner has his offense zipping along—the passing part of it anyway—in a pretty good fashion. But there is more to a football team than one component. The Chargers defense is horrible. Worse, it has been physically beaten in all four games. Worse yet is how flat the Chargers have come out for every game. There seems to be no focus or motivation early on, and that has left the Chargers in big holes. Ron Rivera was supposed to revive what was once a stout defense, but so far this edition doesn’t look any different. To be fair, the defense has been nailed by injuries, but that’s life in the NFL.


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