San Diego: plenty of sizzle, very little steak
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 10, 2010
(Pictured: San Diego QB Philip Rivers pointing out his far superior passing totals and average per attempt to an official on Sunday. "Can't you just tell everybody we won?" he was overheard saying.)
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts yearbook edita
There was a girl back in high school, Janet. Great chick. Friendly with everybody. Still hang out with her today. Her dad's a local football coach, too. And a lobsterman.
That's how it works in our little neck of the woods here on the rocky ledges of frosty coastal New England: haul up lobsters in the morning, coach football in the afternoon.
Janet has a claim to infamy around town that has followed her for 20-plus years: she was voted "talks most, says least" in the trusty old Quincy High School yearbook. Apparently, there's a story behind it. She was voted "talks most" and somebody else was voted "says least." But the way it was published by the crack QHS yearbook staff, the words "talks most, says least" appear right over her head.
And the tag has followed Janet all these years because, well, even she admits it kind of fits: Janet loves to yak. And she's funny as sh*t. But sometimes you're not really sure where it all came from or where it's all going. So when it said "talks most, says least" over her head, everyone just kind of nodded in agreement.
For years, that label has also reminded us of a certain pro football team: the Chargers. It's an organization whose stats, its offensive sizzle and even its marquee players, always seem to talk a lot, whether with their production (Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson) or with their mouths (Shawne Merriman, LT on a bad day). But their onfield team success never really says much.
We witnessed another classic example of the deeply rooted institutional disaster of San Diego football on Sunday, as the statistical juggernaut Chargers suffererd a shocking 35-27 loss at Oakland, against a hugely flawed Raiders team. The loss left both clubs at 2-3 – in a three way tie for last place in the very large AFC West basement.
The long, unfulfilling history of San Diego football
Prolific, star-studded teams that never live up to the hype in San Diego are nothing new. In fact, this designation has defined the organization for more than 40 years – at least since its lone championship, a 51-10 thrashing of the Boston Patriots in the 1963 AFL title game.
Since then, the organization has consistently been one of the most star-studded and entertaining in sports. It's offered winning coaches (Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, Marty Schottenheimer); it has fielded prolific quarterbacks (John Hadl, Dan Fouts, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers); it has handed the ball to flashy running backs (Paul Lowe, Chuck Muncie, and the incredible Tomlinson).
The Chargers have fielded a fleet-footed collection of awesome wide receivers (Lance Alworth, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, Wes Chandler, Vincent Jackson); and, finally, the Chargers have even produced three of the most prolific pass-catching tight ends in history (Willie Frazier, Kellen Winslow, Antonio Gates).
Points and passing records have fallen over five different decades along the way, with a sixth in its infancy. Yet for all this talent and all these Hall of Famers who have talked so loudly, the Chargers have said so little on the football field.
The organization only last year topped .500 as a franchise (it's currently 377-373-11 all time) and it's won a mere nine playoff games since that high-water AFL title game victory 47 years ago.
And this analysis is not a knee-jerk response in the wake of Sunday's loss to the Raiders. We made the same claim two years ago, with our Epic All-Time Franchise rankings.
As we wrote at the time: "For all the sizzle, the Chargers have produced surprisingly little steak."
The textbook case of the 2010 Chargers
But perhaps no team over that entire history is as deeply flawed as the 2010 Chargers, flaws that were exposed like the wounds of a leper to sunlight on Sunday.
Few teams we've seen have been so good on paper; yet so frustratingly ineffective on Sunday. Consider just how good San Diego was – on paper, anyway – entering the Oakland game :
No. 1 in total offense (450.8 YPG)
No. 3 in scoring offense (28.2 PPG)
No. 1 in total defense (235.5 YPG)
No. 11 in scoring defense (17.8 PPG)
No. 2 in point differential (+42)
No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (58.1)
No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential (+44.8).
No. 1 in Passing Yards Per Attempt (8.49)
The Chargers had outgained their opponents nearly 2 to 1 in offense this year; they were a top three team in so many of the indicators that equate with success, especially in the passing game, and on both sides of the ball.
More importantly, they had dominated the passing wars, as evident by their No. 1 ranking in Passer Rating Differential. As you'll see, with some great new numbers we're going to publish soon, Passer Rating Differential has an incredibly high correlation to success on the field. Yet not for the Chargers.
For all those numbers, the frustrating ineffecient and volatile Chargers were a humble 2-2 Sunday morning – and now 2-3 today.
A game that says it all
The loss to Oakland was a textbook example of a team that talks a lot, but says so very little. The Chargers once again won every major statistical battle – but couldn't win the game.
The Chargers totaled 506 yards of offense; the Raiders, 279
San Diego QB Philip Rivers passed for 431 yards and 2 TD; Oakland QB Jason Campbell, just 159 and 1.
The Chargers averaged 9.2 Passing Yards Per Attempt; the Raiders averaged 6.0 Passing Yards Per Attempt
The Chargers won the time of possession battle, 32:46 to 27:14
San Diego, in other words, did all the big things right that usually win games. But, as is so often the case with this organization that so often confounds us on Sunday, they did all the little things wrong.
The Chargers lost three fumbles (two by Rivers), including one that was returned for the game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter; and they were a disaster on special teams, suffering two blocked punts in the first quarter. One resulted in a safety, the other a touchdown by Raiders legend Hiram Eugene.
We're not rocket scientists here. But it seems to us that two blocked punts that result in nine points for Oakland made have made a difference in an eight-point loss for San Diego.
The Chargers, in other words, offered a textbook study in how to lose a football game to an inferior opponent. They did all the big things right; they did all the little things wrong.
The poster child of San Diego Syndrome
Quarterback Philip Rivers is the current poster child of the San Diego Syndrome, for a team that talks so much statistically but says so very little on Sunday.
He entered Week 5 with a tremendous career passer rating of 96.3. That rating is the second highest mark of all time (behind Steve Young). For those of you keeping score at home, he's ahead of Super Bowl champs and likely Hall of Fame contemporaries Peyton Manning (95.6), Tom Brady (93.8), Kurt Warner (93.7) and Drew Brees (92.3).
But nobody right now speaks Rivers' name in the same breath as any of those players, despite his superior passing performances.
The problem is not necessarily his. He's obviously a tremendous talent. The problem is that it never seems to come together for the Chargers, and the QB often has to sizzle on the grill as a result.
Rivers followed Drew Brees as the team's quarterback in 2006. He's led the team to four straight postseason appearances, matching a franchise record (though one was a gift appearance after an 8-8 regular season).
Along the way, he's led the Chargers to the two winningest seasons in franchise history: 13-3 in 2009 and 14-2 in 2006. Rivers has been magnificent, at least on paper and in the stat sheets.
But those magnificent seasons have ended like so many before under the likes of Hadl, Fouts and Brees: with frustrating playoff losses to seemingly inferior teams. Rivers' 14-2 Chargers of 2006 didn't even win a single playoff game; ditto his 13-3 Chargers of 2009, a team that entered the postseason as a dominant statistical juggernaut and with 11 straight wins under its belt.
We don't know how the rest of this year will go down. Maybe the Chargers will recover. They often make a strong run over the second half of the season, as they did in both 2006 and 2009, before shooting themselves in the foot in the playoffs.
But we do know this: if the 2010 season ended today, we'd see the Chargers at the back of the yearbook just like my friend Janet, with the banner over their head that reads, "Talks Most, Says Least."
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