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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chargers Team Report 12-1-09

Source: USA Today/SD Tribune

With the Chargers having won a half-dozen games in a row, fighting to stay ahead of the Denver Broncos with a difficult December ahead, now is perhaps the perfect time to take it easy.

No one should suggest taking the Cleveland Browns lightly, but they just might be the perfect opponent with which to begin the final push to the postseason.

With Shawne Merriman’s hoof hurting and rest the only elixir, head coach Norv Turner said he might sit the outside linebacker Sunday.

“We’re just going to treat it the best we can and … see how he is at the end of the week,” Turner said of Merriman’s tendinitis. “That’s the biggest thing – rest and time for his foot to heal. That’s something we’re going to consider and look at. If he’s a lot better Wednesday and Thursday and can do some and practice Friday, I’d like to see him play. If he can’t practice, that’s something we’ll consider.”

Maybe defensive end Luis Castillo, who sat out Sunday’s game against Kansas City due to a calf strain, won’t be rushed back either.

And this could be the perfect week to ease center Nick Hardwick back into action and new right tackle Jon Runyan into his role with a few series each.

The NFL is fraught with weekly lessons that no team is to be taken lightly, but Cleveland (1-10) might make the Chiefs look like a great team. The Browns have the NFL’s worst offense (230.6 yards per game) and second-worst defense (393.3). They have been outscored by more than 14 points per game.

To be fair, Turner had not begun breaking down the Browns quite yet when he was asked about them yesterday. But his response was classically evasive when asked what concerns him about the team leading the race for next April’s top draft pick.

“On the road,” he said, “handling the elements, all those things will come into it.”

Yes, snow is possible (isn’t it always in Cleveland?) and the temperature is expected to be in the 30s at game time. Then there is Josh Cribbs, one of the league’s top kick returners.

Other than that, the Chargers’ biggest hurdle might be looking past the Browns toward a game in Dallas next week, though the Chargers certainly did not let a lesser opponent and myriad distractions affect them last week.

The Chargers are also very comfortable in the month that dawned today. They have won all 14 of their December games since a loss ended the 2005 season.

That said, this will be their toughest closing month.

The combined winning percentage of the teams they’ve faced the past three Decembers has been .424, and half of the games were against teams with losing records.

This month, after Cleveland, they’ll face, in succession, division leaders Dallas (8-3) and Cincinnati (8-3), and face a Tennessee team that has won five straight games before hosting Washington (3-8) to close the regular season.

“There are a lot of things that go into it,” Turner said of the Chargers’ December dominance. “We’ve got real good players. There is great focus. The schedule … has helped us. The schedule is much more difficult this year.”

And it’s different, too, because the Chargers are finished playing the AFC West. Meanwhile, the Broncos (7-4), who trail the Chargers by one game, get to play Kansas City twice and Oakland once. (Denver’s other games are at Indianapolis and at Philadelphia.)

“You’re not playing the teams you’re competing against,” Turner said. “You’ve got to go out and beat some other people and at times look and see how the team that’s chasing you is doing.”

The player likely to replace Weddle, Paul Oliver, has shown some spark as well.

It was Oliver who knocked loose the football from Matt Cassel on Sunday and raced 40 yards for a touchdown in the win over the Chiefs.

But Weddle is a workhorse who seldom leaves the field. He had a team-high 654 plays entering the Chiefs’ game and is known for being around the football.

Plus, the way coordinator Ron Rivera has been implementing his secondary — and in particular the safeties — into his blitz packages, losing Weddle is a big blow.

Oliver is coming off his best game of his career, which included three tackles.

The Chargers could move Steve Gregory back to the safety spot, but he has played so well in the slot in nickel packages the team is hesitant about such a switch.

So for games at Cleveland and Dallas, Oliver will be in the spotlight. The third-year pro has never started an NFL game.

Oliver could also get some help from C.J. Spillman, who cannot be considered experienced, either — he has but one special teams tackle this season.

The news was better regarding inside linebacker Kevin Burnett, who suffered a concussion on Sunday. Coach Norv Turner said Burnett, who had four tackles Sunday, had been cleared for Wednesday’s practice.


—The Chargers introduced their 50th anniversary team Sunday before the win over the Chiefs. Many of the current Chargers said it was special to see the players, and then pay homage to some of those great Chargers teams of the past by scoring a season-high 43 points. In particular, it was a treat to a frail Don Coryell who is up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year.

“With all the gadgets and throwing the ball downfield and seeing guys jump up in the air and catch the ball, I think we did honor him,” RB LaDainian Tomlinson said.

—There are 11 current Chargers on the franchise’s all-time best squad.

—S Eric Weddle, who will miss two weeks with a sprained knee, said the Chargers can’t get full of themselves despite a six-game winning streak.

“We’re playing good ball and we know that, but we can’t get sucked into the hype that a long winning streak will bring,” he said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We have to play consistent and finish each game.”

—Can the Chargers be better? “We don’t know that,” OLB Shaun Phillips said. “All we care about is fixing problems and getting better.”

— The case against Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who is accused of hitting another man on the head with a champagne bottle, will be sent to the City Attorney’s office Tuesday, according to the SD Police.



—DE Luis Castillo, who missed Sunday’s game with a calf injury, is expected to go this week.

—C Nick Hardwick, if he avoids setbacks during practices this week, could play for the first time since injuring his ankle in the season opener. Hardwick wouldn’t start, but potentially get 20-25 plays.

—T Jon Runyan could be active this week. But it’s doubtful it would be in a starting role.

—RT Brandyn Dombrowski graded out well in his first start at the position left open by the injury to Jeromey Clary. Dombrowski’s play could allow the Chargers to ease Runyan back into NFL action.

—OLB Shawne Merriman continues to be bothered by a foot injury and it looks like it could stay with him through the rest of the season. Merriman played very little Sunday and he could follow that route this week as well — or possibly sit out and rest the foot.

—TE Antonio Gates continues to shine and is on pace for 80-plus catches and to set career highs in receiving yards and yards per catch.


PASSING OFFENSE: A — Philip Rivers continues to play at an extremely high level as for the third straight week he completes 75 percent of his passes. The Chargers reintroduced the deep ball back into their game plan and the result was the Chargers stretching the field so much the Chiefs couldn’t defend it. The pass-blocking, again, was excellent as Rivers wasn’t sacked and was hit just once.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus — People are saying the Chargers’ running game is back, and it is to some degree. But even when milking the clock and a big lead, the Chargers only ran for 94 yards and a 2.8-yard average. Tomlinson did add two more scoring runs and would have had a third save a goal-line fumble.

PASS DEFENSE: A — Matt Cassel never does look comfortable with the blitzes coming from the secondary and the coverage not giving him much to work with. Quentin Jammer had an interception and Antonio Cromartie had six tackles. Just a team sack, but Cassel was under heat which helped lead to the Chiefs’ four turnovers.

RUSH DEFENSE: C — The Chiefs didn’t run much when falling behind but they were effective in moving the ball early in the game. The Chargers allowed 114 rushing yards and never did have an answer for Jamaal Charles — he averaged 6.6 yards on 14 carries. Still work to do here, although ILB Brandon Siler’s arrow keeps pointing up.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A — Nate Kaeding’s 55-yard field goal is the best he’s done at Qualcomm. The coverage unit had a leak on Charles when he raced 45 yards on a kickoff. Darren Sproles had a 32-yard kickoff return, but not much else. Kaeding later added a 23-yarder.

COACHING: A — Coach Norv Turner had to juggle Thanksgiving holiday and everyone pulling at his players for the 50th anniversary parties. But he told the Chargers all week to focus on the Chiefs — Turner’s message got a boost when the Chiefs upset the Steelers. But he was going deep into the playbook as the Chargers are seemingly adding a wrinkle or two each week. Ron Rivera continues to lean on the blitzes coming from the secondary and it is working.