Don't screw with me... I used to work for A.J. Smith - USA TODAY Sports
Dean Spanos has done what he needed to do. It's worth a brief pause to look at the past six years, if for no other reason than to avoid making the same mistakes.
Kevin Acee called Norv Turner's career in San Diego the "Era of If." Such as these "ifs"...
- What if Norv Turner hadn't punted in the AFC Championship?
- What if Eric Weddle stays away from the punt in Pittsburgh?
- What if Nate Kaeding converts 2 or 3 FGs, or Antonio Cromartie doesn't quit against the Jets?
- What if A.J. Smith has Marcus McNeill or a quality backup on hand for the start of the 2010 season?
- What if Philip Rivers doesn't fumble the snap against Kansas City on 10/31/11?
- What if Nick Novak converts either of his FG attempts against Denver on 11/27/11?
- What if Jared Gaither plays for all of 2012, or a suitable backup is drafted?
Here's the thing... most of those "ifs" were self-inflicted.
Only a few "ifs" during this era can even really be blamed on external factors, such as injuries.
It would be fair to say that the career-ruining cheap shot delivered by Kevin Mawae on Shawne Merriman in Tennessee on 12/9/07 permanently damaged what could have been a great defense. It would also be fair to say that the injuries to Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman killed the 2011 season.
But while those injuries might have prevented the Chargers from staying at their 2006-2009 heights, these injuries did not keep this team from missing the playoffs each of the last 3 years.
Sure, there were some bad referee calls, most notably "The Hochuli Game," though the Chargers made the playoffs anyway.
But on the whole, these mistakes were largely self-inflicted.
The Biggest Reasons why A.J. Smith has been fired...
- Picking an unnecessary contract fight with McNeill in 2010 (which helped cost the Chargers early season wins against the Chiefs, Seahawks, Raiders, and Rams), and not finding an adequate replacement for a player diagnosed with spinal stenosis when he was drafted, much less when he suffered a career-ending injury. More than any other reason, trusting Brandyn Dombrowski, Jared Gaither, Mike Harris, and Kevin Haslam as adequate replacements for McNeill is the single biggest reason A.J. Smith and Norv Turner are out in San Diego.
- Failing to adequately replace the departure of offensive skill players like LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, and Vincent Jackson. In their places, the Chargers have used Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert, Jackie Battle, Ronnie Brown, Jacob Hester, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, and Vincent Brown. The argument could be expanded to include poor skill-position draft picks like Buster Davis, Legedu Naanee
- Failure to adequately replace Shawne Merriman (see Larry English, Antwan Barnes, Melvin Ingram), and Jamal Williams (Antonio Garay, Ogedmi Nwagbuo, Aubrayo Franklin and Cam Thomas) to a lesser extent.
- Three awful drafts from 2007 to 2009 destroyed roster depth and found only 1 impact player (FS Eric Weddle).
- Bad injury luck either ended or ruined the mid and late career years of Shawne Merriman, Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman, Luis Castillo, and Antonio Gates.
The Biggest Reasons why Norv Turner has been fired...
- The regression of Philip Rivers. Yes, this is related to the personnel decisions listed above, but also doesn't excuse the terrible mental mistakes Rivers has made, nor his decent from precision to sloppiness over the last 2 seasons. Norv, as the offensive coordinator and gameplanner, couldn't find a way to mitigate these issues until it was too late to save either the 2011 or 2012 seasons.
- A stubborn adherence to the power-running and downfield elements of the Coryell offense, even when the Chargers did not have the players needed to make those elements work effectively.
- Face-plants in critical games over the last 3 seasons (see Five Biggest Losses below).
- Excepting his terrific 2009 regular season, generally lackluster game management.
The Five Biggest Wins of the A.J. Smith / Norv Turner Era in San Diego
- 2008 Divisional Playoff - San Diego at Indianapolis. The Chargers won that game 28-24, with a game winning 4th quarter drive by Billy Volek and two stops in the final 5 minutes by the Chargers' defense. The Chargers overcame blatant home-field officiating (which wiped out an INT return by Antonio Cromartie) and injuries to Rivers, Tomlinson, and Gates (see #3 below) to beat the defending Super Bowl Champs at home.
- 2009 Wildcard Playoff - Indianapolis at San Diego. This is otherwise remembered as the Darren Sproles / Mike Scifres game. Philip Rivers leads a game-tying 4th quarter drive, then Sproles takes over in OT. All of this is set up by what might have been the single best game for a punter in NFL History, and one of the quietest good defensive games the Chargers have ever played.
- 2008 Wildcard Playoff - Tennessee at San Diego. The Chargers' first playoff win since the 1995 AFC Championship Game came at the end of a brutally hard fought game. This game probably torpedoed the Chargers' Super Bowl chances when Gates was severely injured before halftime. The Chargers rallied from a 6-0 halftime deficit to win 17-6, with Rivers leading 2 second half TD drives.
- 2008 Regular Season Finale - Denver at San Diego. This game was for the AFC West crown and the last open playoff spot, with the winner hosting the Colts (see #2 above). This was also payback for the Hochuli Game. Denver came with an 8-7 record, and 2 straight losses with a chance to clinch. The Chargers came in at 7-8 and riding a 3 game winning streak (which included comeback wins in Kansas City and Tampa Bay). Denver jumped out to a 6-0 lead, and that was their lone highlight. The score was 52-21 at the end.
- 2009 Regular Season - Cincinnati at San Diego. This game all but clinched a 1st round bye for the Chargers, and was an entertaining game from start to finish. The Chargers jumped out to a 24-13 lead, before Carson Palmer led a pair of 2nd half scoring drives to tie the game. With less than 1 minute remaining, Rivers drove the Chargers into FG position, and PK Nate Kaeding drilled a 54 yarder for the win.
The Five Biggest Losses of the A.J. Smith / Norv Turner Era in San Diego
- 2010 Divisional Playoff - New York Jets at San Diego. The Chargers lost 17-14, playing their (by far) worst game of the year. A harbinger of things to come, the Chargers' run and screen game is ineffective, Rivers throws a pair of terrible INTs, the defense gives up crucial big plays down the stretch, and Nate Kaeding misses 3 FGs (2 were very makeable). There's also Vincent Jackson's kicking the flag, and Antonio Cromartie quitting on Shonn Greene's TD run.
- 2012 Regular Season - Denver at San Diego. The Chargers stake themselves to a 24-0 halftime lead in a game for early control of the AFC West. Six turnovers by the offense fuel a collapse that leads to 35 unanswered 2nd half points for the Broncos. The Broncos never look back in their run for the AFC West title, while the loss is part of a 1-7 Chargers freefall from contention. With the possible exception of "4th and 29" nothing personifies the Chargers 2012 season like this game.
- 2008 AFC Championship - San Diego at New England. The Chargers' most recent chance to go to the Super Bowl is ruined by below freezing weather, Antonio Gates ankle, Tomlinson's knee, and Rivers' shredded ACL. The Chargers' waste a 3 INT performance against MVP Tom Brady because of red-zone scoring problems. PK Nate Kaeding converts 4 FG and the score was 14-12 New England in the 3rd. Following a Patriots TD to push the score to 21-12, the Chargers reach 4th and 10 in New England territory with about 9 minutes left. Norv calls for a punt, and the offense never sees the ball again.
- (Tie) 2010 Regular Season - San Diego at Cincinnati and 2011 Regular Season - San Diego at Detroit. These games are virtually identical: the Chargers making December face-plants when they cannot afford them. The former was probably the worse loss, as it came against a 3 win opponent playing out the string, and knocked the Chargers out of playoff contention. The following season at Detroit was exactly the same kind of performance, only mildly less infuriating because it came against a 9-win Lions team that was fighting for its first playoff spot since 1999.
- 2011 Regular Season - San Diego at Kansas City. As Rivers said... "Worst. Game. Ever."
Chargers' "To Do List" for 2013:
On the Field
Performing better in 1 score games. Chargers are 7-15 the last 3 years in games decided by 8 points or less. A .500 record here likely would have meant playoff berths in each of the last 3 seasons. This is closely tied to:
Philip Rivers protecting the football. Rivers has 64 turnovers (48 INT and 16 Fumbles Lost) against 82 combined TDs from 2010-2012, a ratio of 1.28 TDs per turnover. He posted 46 total turnovers (33 INT, 13 FL) against 85 TDs from 2007-2009, a ratio of 1.85 TDs per turnover.
Getting back to big play basics. Rivers' YPA has been dropping each season since 2009 = 8.8., 2010 = 8.7, 2011 = 7.9, 2012 = 6.8 (lowest as a starter). The running game posted 13 runs for 20+ yards in 2010 and 2011 (about league average), but is tied for last this year with 4.
The broken record since 2007 award goes to: Finding an effective pass rush to protect what will likely be a vulnerable secondary in 2013.
Biggest Off-field priorities:
Figuring out who the next Head Coach and General Manager are going to be.
Finding a true replacement for Marcus McNeill, and finding upgrades at LG and RT.
A comprehensive analysis of the medical staff and the methods used to examine and diagnose players, treat players, and practice better preventative care for players.