Clouds form over San Diego

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 28, 2010



By Nate Dunlevy
Cold, Hard Football Facts bungee-jumping champion
 
The Chargers have endured another rough start to an NFL season. Despite its status as one of the perennial AFC powers, the Chargers never seem to come on strong out of the gates. Their early season lethargy typically costs them at the end of the year when it comes time to settle the playoff seedings. 
 
After Sunday's embarrassing loss at Seattle, clouds are again forming around the Chargers ... mushroom clouds.  Could it be that the Chargers' Super Bowl hopes have been nuked for good? Let's look at some timeless advice for dealing with a nuclear attack to see if the Chargers can rebound and make their way to Dallas this year.
 
STEP ONE: DUCK
GM A.J. Smith, aka "The Lord of No Rings," has been ducking his responsibility to put the best possible team on the field for the Chargers. In the offseason, the team unceremoniously parted ways with future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. 
 
The future Hall of Fame running back took a lot of heat from for his performance last year, and many people thought he was done. Smith swung a big draftday trade to move up to select Ryan Mathews. The Chargers run game was set for 2010.
 
As it turns out, through three games with the Jets, LT is making Smith look like a fool.  He has 208 yards on 37 attempts for a youthful 5.6 yards per carry. He even turned the corner on the Miami Dolphins with ease Sunday night looking like he has plenty left in the tank. 
 
The Chargers, meanwhile, are splitting carries between Mathews and Mike Tolbert.  Both have had solid starts, but combined they have 285 yards on 60 carries (4.75 YPC). 
 
Smith also got into a public showdown with Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill, his star wideout and left tackle.  Jackson will likely miss the entire season, while McNeill finally caved to the power of Smith. Unfortunately, because Smith had him suspended for his holdout, he won't be available to the Chargers until after week 5 of the regular season.  Meanwhile, Phil Rivers' current sack rate of 5.5% would be his highest since his first year as a starter.
 
STEP TWO: COVER
Philip Rivers is an elite NFL quarterback who is covering up for the major failings of his coach and general manager. 
 
For the past two seasons, he's led the NFL in the most important passing stat of all: Yards Per Attempt. His 8.4 YPA was impressive in 2008, but he got even better in 2009 posting a YPA of 8.8.  For a guy with 'a weak arm,' Rivers has shown excellent ability to get the ball downfield. So far in 2010, he's even better: 9.0 YPA.
 
Rivers has helped the Chargers look like an elite team, right up until the time the real bombs start flying. Come playoff time, Rivers has been a mess. His career passer rating, a Hall of Fame quality 95.8 (one of the best ever<0, plummets to 79.2 in the playoffs. 
 
People often forget that during his 'signature playoff win' (a 28-24 victory at Indianapolis in 2007), he left the game trailing. Backup quarterback Billy Volek led the Chargers to a win that day, not Rivers. 
 
In seven playoff games, Rivers has 9 interceptions to just 8 touchdowns (two of which game in garbage time in a big loss to the Steelers in 2008).  Rivers is the heir apparent to Dan Fouts in more ways than just prodigious passing numbers.  He also shares his 3-4 playoff record and terrible postseason passer rating.
 
Chargers' fans have to be concerned that Rivers' petulant personality and penchant for pitching fits will lead to a radioactive situation should the season take a turn for the worse. What really has to concern them however is that despite a hot start to the year, come playoff time he succumbs to nuclear winter.
 
STEP THREE: KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE
If there is a trigger-man in the story of the Chargers' yearly implosions, it's definitely Norv Turner.  For years, it's been rumored that Turner is the one coach that Vegas considers as a negative when setting over/unders for win totals for teams.  When you study the early season history of the Chargers, it's easy to see why.
 
Despite fielding some elite teams under Turner, they rarely enter the season ready to play.
 
 
Start
Finish
2009
2-3
11-0
2008
4-8
4-0
2007
1-3
10-2
 
So the Chargers can take some comfort knowing that even though their coach screws up games early in the year, they often rally down the stretch.  Maybe things aren't so bad in San Diego after all!
 
Think again.  One only has to take a cursory look at the end of the Seattle game to see why the Chargers have never ascended to the throne in the AFC.  Let's count up the mental mistakes by Norv and his team in the final minutes:
 
After fighting back to tie the game at 21, the Chargers kicked off to Seattle with 6:39 to play.  Seattle promptly ran the kick back for a touchdown.
 
The Chargers then fought their way back into Seattle territory, only to incur two false start penalties.  With 2:34 to play, the Chargers faced a fourth and 10 from the Seattle 14.  They still had three time outs and the two minute warning, but Norv elected to go for it rather than kick a field goal.  Unfortunately, the Chargers couldn't get the play off, resulting in a delay of game penalty.  Then, Norv used a timeout with the clock stopped before electing to still go for it on fourth and 15 instead of kicking a field goal. 
 
The attempt failed.
 
Still, the Chargers' defense held, and the San Diego got the ball back, trailing by seven instead of by four.
 
Rivers drove the Chargers into scoring range again, before a hilarious series of mistakes destroyed their hopes.  After reaching the 12 yard line with :30 to play, Rivers inexplicably spiked the ball, costing San Diego a down.  Needing only 12 yards for the end zone, running a pass route wouldn't have taken more than a few seconds.  Instead, the Chargers got nothing.  On third down, they absorbed a delay of game penalty.  Finally, Rivers put the two minute offense out of its misery with a desperation interception on fourth down.
 
In short: a kick off returned for a TD, four stupid penalties, a wasted timeout, a pointless spike, and a field goal attempt passed up.  Undisciplined, sloppy, and strategically dubious play all falls at the feet of the head coach.
 
There is going to be fallout in San Diego when this season finally melts down. Somebody's going to take the blame.  It's not going to be the GM or the star quarterback. 
 
Whether it's in the regular season or after another January meltdown, Norv Turner can kiss his ass goodbye.

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