Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Chargers Season

Since the Chargers lost 21-12 to New England on Sunday, I wanted to summarize the season as I saw it.

1) The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer in January mainly because he couldn't or wouldn't get along with the GM, A J. Smith. The "official excuse" was that he couldn't win in the playoffs...and his record surely showed that was true.

2) The Chargers hired Norv Turner as head coach in February, and of course he hasn't won in the playoffs either. But I was sure that he could get along with AJ Smith!

3) In the mean time, the Chargers lost their offensive coordinator to be head coach of the Dolphins (who were 1-15), and their defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, to be head coach of the Cowboys (who were 13-4). No problem, Norv will call the plays and they'll bring in Ted Cottrell from the NFL office to be the defensive coordinator.

4) The draft came and the Chargers drafted pretty well - WR Buster Davis, LB Anthony Waters, and several others.

5) The pre-season came and the Chargers played all of their backups and pared the roster down.

6) The Chargers won their first game, 14-3 over the Super Bowl losers - the Chicago Bears. We all marveled at the defense, and thought that the sluggish offense was due to the Bears defense.

7) The Chargers lost their next three games, to New England, Green Bay and Kansas City, showing poor defense and a sluggish offense (all three teams stopped the run and forced Rivers to pass). The WRs and Rivers didn't seem on the same page and the offensive line couldn't block well. The defense was getting hit by quick slants and outs to the backs, and tackling was poor. Chris Chambers was traded for and quickly became a favorite target of Rivers.

8) The Chargers were 4-2 over the next 6 games, getting better offense by throwing first and running second, but were beaten by Minnesota (giving up almost 400 yards rushing) and Jacksonville (a physical game - they won by running and passing well). There were still offensive line blocking problems but the passing games picked up. Special teams touchdowns won Colts game, along with a lucky FG miss. Now they were 5-5 and ready for a playoff push - in the AFC West, 4-2 over the last 6 games would do it.

9) The team went 6-0 over the last six games, but the only winning team they played was Tennessee, and that was an overtime struggle on the road. The offense still disappeared for whole halves, but the defense seemed to improve against the pass. 11-5 was great after a 1-3 start! Norv was a hero, Rivers had it going, LT was back in form, and the defense played well.

10) The playoffs - we were all cautiously hopeful - we remembered last year and the players were saying all the right things. Tennessee was the first opponent, and the team played well on both sides of the ball, although Antonio Gates got hurt. Indianapolis on the road was the next challenge, and we won 28-24, but LT got hurt early and Rivers was hurt at the end of the 3rd quarter. Billy Volek drove the team for the winning touchdown.

11) For the New England game, we knew LT, Rivers and Gates were hurt, but we didn't know how badly. LT lasted 4 plays ... Rivers played the whole game with a knee brace to support his right knee (after secret arthroscopic surgery on Monday). Gates played was not a factor. The offensive line protected Rivers decently, but the team could not score TDs - 4 FGs. The defense harassed Brady and picked him 3 times, but couldn't stop their offense three times. It was a great effort by a team with their offense hobbled.

So -- what now? In looking back over the season, I have these observations:

* The offensive line really doesn't run-block well - most running yards are obtained on LT cutbacks and outside flicks. Sweeps were non-existent, it seems. Offensive design? Slow guards? Stacked defenses? Perhaps.

* The passing game was mainly down the field - Chambers and Jackson were great in the 15-25 yard range - good hands, good feet, big targets. Gates disappeared late in the year, and dropped some balls.

* The defensive line didn't stop the run late in games. Injuries to Castillo and Williams didn't help, but the subs Bingham and McKinney and Cesaire played pretty well. The outside LBs Phillips and Merriman over pursued a lot and teams took advantage by throwing to the backs. I don't see the value of an outside rush that ends up 5 yards in back of the QB, it opens it up for a QB scramble to the sideline. The inside LBs didn't blitz much all year - and were not real effective in coverage. They rushed only 4 in crunch time, which permitted downfield passes.

* The defensive backs had a great year - the 3 DBs are able to cover man-to-man, but the safeties aren't. IMHO, they played too much zone defense, especially in crunch time.

* The special teams played well - except for kickoff depth. Kaeding got hurt in the Denver game, and kicked poorly in the Patriots game. He was 21 for 24 in the season and 4 for 6 in the playoffs. Scifres punted well. The cover teams did well. The return teams shined at times.

What do the Chargers need for next season?

* A backup running back to replace Turner - someone big with good hands, able to block and quick enough to get outside.

* A right guard and right tackle that can pass block better and run block better.

* A big-time inside linebacker.

* A rangy cornerback to replace Florence.

* Better running plays with more variety in the play calling.

* Better short passing game - we need to control the clock. Two inside runs and a 15 yard pass is not the way to play. Shorter third down yardage is a must.

I like Philip Rivers spirit and his play execution. I wish they would use more comeback routes when he scrambles. I wish they would throw more to the backs 10 yards downfield.

Well - those are my opinions. It was a good but not excellent year. On to 2008!

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