Lets not fool ourselves. This team may be 2-2, and their 2 losses may have come against the Super Bowl Champions and AFC runner-up from 2008, but there are major problems. The Chargers defeated the Miami Dolphins because Chad Henne was not able to take advantage of the holes in the defense. Same issue in Oakland. The Bolts have yet to have a good game, where they took control at the coin toss and never made the fans worry.
In place of a lopsided Bolts & Dolts, this week I've decided to look at all of the things that are going wrong for the San Diego Chargers. The full list, along with a ton of stats to help me seem like less or a crazy person, after the jump.
Although Rivers has a QB rating of 110.4 in the first quarter this season, he has only one first half touchdown on the season. ONE! He predictably has a good 4th quarter QB rating as well (109.3), but has been very mediocre in the two middle quarters of the game (76.8 in 2nd, 74.8 in 3rd). When Philip is going bad, he gets happy feet and starts forcing the ball to Antonio Gates. His atrocious performance in 3rd & long (21.7 rating) and with goal to go (39.6 rating on 1st/2nd & goal) have contributed to the offense's troubles.
I'm not saying Rivers isn't a great QB, he is. I just wish he didn't have to spend every 4th quarter competing against the clock and trying to make the comeback of the century. He could save himself some trouble if he got it done with the same level of consistency before the 4th quarter. I'm sure a solid running game would help.
Norv Turner - This one is a tad less shocking. I'll say what I've been saying all along. The only way Norv loses his job after this season is if the Chargers do not win a playoff game. Initially, that seemed like a lock. Now, two games behind the Broncos with no defense in sight, it's looking like it may not happen. That being said, it's tough to keep from dreaming about bringing in a coach that would provide the same level of toughness that the Marty Schottenheimer teams had.
I won't criticize Norv as an Offensive Coordinator. As far as I know, he one of the best OCs of all time. Perhaps his play-calling is solid and just not being executed. However, I want to look into Norv as a Head Coach. I don't expect a HC to do anything besides motivate the team and make them tougher. Or perhaps teach the team how to be smart and/or dirty.
When you bring in a coach like Bill Cowher or Bill Parcells, it seems the players want to rip out the other team's throat on every play. As much as I've always been along for the Norv Turner ride, I don't see any of that intensity out of his players. Maybe it's the practice he runs, maybe it's the fact that he doesn't seem to make speeches to his team until December, maybe it's a simple case of the players never buying in completely because a lot of them remember having success with Marty and know that even with a good season their HC could be gone.
This used to be a bruising team. Shawne Merriman was knocking guys out of games, the Offensive Line was pushing everyone back and Lorenzo Neal was looking for somebody to lay out on every play. Similar to Norv's style of coordinating, which is based on technique and finesse, the 2009 Chargers team seem to have taken on the belief that they'll win the game because they're supposed to be more talented. Then, when they're getting punched in the mouth by every team they face, they end up looking foolish. Although this team may believe they're "prepared" for the scheme that's coming at them, they are not prepared to be pushed around on nearly every play. That goes for the offensive and defensive lines, as well as the LBs. And that should be blamed on the Head Coach.
LaDainian Tomlinson - Here's a fun stat: the Chargers have rushed for 215 yards as a team through four games while allowing 604 rushing yards. Not only do the Bolts not have any 100 yard rushing games to this point (that's the entire team), they don't even have a running back on the roster that has 100 rushing yards for the season. Anyone else still think this is a Super Bowl caliber team?
Another awful stat: Tomlinson leads the Chargers with an average of 10 carries per game. Even though he's ended the last two seasons on the sidelines, LT swears he's still a superstar and still the best running back in football. I have been saying since before the first preseason game that I was worried LT was turning into Edgerrin James. Now, I'm almost sure of it. His 2.1 YPC against the Steelers (longest run: 5 yards) is pretty much what I'm expecting out of him at this point. There will be no more 40+ yard runs and not more juking defenders out of their shoes. If the Chargers had a legitimate RB to start ahead of him, he could be a valuable change-up and a weapon for the playoffs. Instead, the Chargers will be similar to the 2008 Arizona Cardinals and will try to win every game by outscoring the opponent through the air.
Darren Sproles - Let me clear one thing up. I'm not blaming Rivers or Tomlinson or Sproles for their performance. I'm just saying perhaps their performance is part of the reason the Chargers are struggling to win games.
It's not Sproles' fault that he got paid a truckload of money and was asking to be a #2 RB behind an injury-prone RB. That's on AJ Smith. However, Darren's 2.4 YPC has not done much to help get the offense into a rhythm. Perhaps the pundits were right when they were predicting the Chargers to take a RB in the first round of the draft. Beanie Wells (4.4 YPC) and Donald Brown (3.5 YPC) are looking like they'd fit in nicely in San Diego.
Antonio Cromartie - I don't know what it is so I won't speculate. I'll just say that Cro is still not living up to his big 2007 season. Not only does he not deserve to be in the same conversation as Quentin Jammer at this point, I think the Chargers might have more success with Antoine Cason being the starter.
Ron Rivera - Oh boy, what an improvement over 2008! All I heard all off-season was that the blitz was going to be epic and the Chargers were practicing intercepting the ball and scoring TDs. Best defense ever? It was on it's way. A quick comparison through Week 4:
Ron Rivera > Ted Cottrell? Not so fast. The lack of a pass rush that Chargers fans blame for the horrible defense under Cottrell in 2008 has gotten worse. Larry English has been average at best and nobody has seemed the least bit surprised or thrown off by Rivera's "creative blitzes".
A.J. Smith - We bought in. We drank the Kool-Aid. We ignored the aging RB who couldn't stay healthy, and the undersized return man getting paid $6 million to play behind him. We ignored the aging DT and the lack of experienced depth behind him. We were certain that Jacob Hester's new "bulk" would turn him into the next great Chargers FB. Not only did we buy in, A.J. Smith bought in as well.
Consider this my first major criticism of A.J. Smith. The team has been poisoned by poor coaching and there's no longer depth behind the aging veterans when they go down with injuries. If he can swing a trade in the next couple of days for someone like Shaun Rogers, it'll give me more hope. Until then, I will continue to look at the lack of foresight in building this roster (the Hester pick is starting to look like a big mistake, considering how much they gave up to get him) and grumble.
For the record, I think Mike Holmgren would want to coach the Chargers when he returns next season and I'd be okay with that. I'd also take Cowher, Shanahan or even Dungy (risky because he loves the 4-3 Cover 2). The key to any potential Chargers hire, for me, has become "Can they get Wade Phillips back?" That should show you where my confidence in Ron Rivera is at currently.