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Chargers coaches to blame for stuttering start

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Neil Reynolds | 09:23 UK time, Thursday, 21 October 2010

In another NFL season full of surprises one of the most shocking aspects has been the poor form of the San Diego Chargers.

The winners of four straight AFC West crowns posted a 13-3 mark in 2009 yet they are off to a dismal 2-4 start in 2010.

But should we be that surprised?

I'll admit this is a talented team, but they have previous form in this department. In horse racing terms, they are traditionally slow out of the gate, they race into a lead and then fade badly in the final furlong (that's the playoffs for those of you I lost with the horse racing analogy).

Norv Turner has been heavily criticised for the Chargers' poor start to the season

Norv Turner has been heavily criticised for the Chargers' poor start to the season.

So really 2010 has been no different for San Diego. Except this time a second half turnaround may be harder to achieve. The Chargers have just come through the supposedly easy part of their schedule but have lost four times away from home to Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland and St Louis.

Those of you who are keeping a close statistical eye on the NFL will be well aware that those four teams combined to win just 15 games between them in 2009.

While the NFL is ultimately about how players perform on Sundays, head coach Norv Turner and general manager AJ Smith have to shoulder significant amounts of blame following such a frustrating start.

Given the fact that slow starts have been such a trademark of the Turner regime, I have to question the job he does getting his players ready during the pre-season.

It is up to the head coach and his assistants to have the players firing on all cylinders come opening weekend, yet here we are six weeks into the season and the Chargers are still plagued by missed blocks, poor route-running from the receivers, special teams breakdowns and ill-timed penalties.

Turner just never strikes me as the kind of head coach who is going to crack the whip and demand more of his players. It is the same with his assistant coaches. Special teams is a perfect area to highlight such an example.

The Chargers have been woeful on special teams this term, giving up five scores in that all-important area of the game. Punter Mike Scifres came into this year having seen just one of his previous 393 kicks blocked. He has seen three blocked this term, including two in the same game as San Diego fell to the Raiders.

After that game, I was sure special teams coach Steve Crosby was going to get fired. Only a week before, the Miami Dolphins had endured a similar special teams meltdown against New England and the coach responsible - John Bonamego - was booted out the door the following day.

But where Miami's Tony Sparano acted swiftly and ruthlessly, Turner hesitated and failed to act at all, preferring instead to publicly state that he likes the job being done by every coach on his staff.

That is good public relations spin, but nothing more - Crosby has been responsible for the worst special teams unit in the NFL and everybody outside of Turner's office seems to recognise that fact.

Special teams coach John Bonamego has managed to keep his job despite recent poor performances

Special teams coach Steve Crosby has managed to keep his job despite recent criticism.

Smith must also be held responsible, although to a lesser degree, in my opinion.

He needed to play hardball with the likes of Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and it's hard to be too critical of his falling out of love with outside linebacker Shawne Merriman given the fact he has been a total bust in recent seasons.

But look at the talent missing from the Chargers in the opening month or so of the 2010 season - running back LaDainian Tomlinson (New York Jets), Jackson (contract dispute), offensive tackle Marcus McNeill (contract dispute but now playing), Merriman (placed on injured reserve), defensive tackle Jamal Williams (Denver Broncos) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (New York Jets).

That's the offensive and defensive headliners taken care of but perhaps the biggest mistake was to let Pro Bowl special teams ace Kasim Osgood walk in the off-season. This is a guy who has been sorely missed, hence the aforementioned problems in this department.

I don't really care about all the reasons or how loaded your roster was in the first place - that is a massive drain of talent to overcome from one season to the next.

I always believe the Chargers have a chance to win any game with Rivers at the helm, but I feel he needs to get San Diego into a shootout every week in order to win.

The Chargers are getting behind early and that means they are abandoning the running game led by rookie Ryan Mathews.

It also means opposing defensive linemen have been able to pin their ears back and get after Rivers. That was evident last week and highlighted how disappointing the Chargers have been along the offensive line. Facing a Rams team that had just 10 sacks in the opening five games of the season, the Chargers allowed Rivers to be dumped on his behind a career-high seven times.

To make matters worse, wide receiver Malcolm Floyd (hamstring) and Gates (ankle) left the game with injuries and they could struggle to make this weekend's clash with New England.

The AFC West Division is well within San Diego's grasp this season but Turner and his players are under pressure to do more than just seal a weak division - they are supposed to go deep into the playoffs and contend for Super Bowl honours.

And those of you expecting the Chargers to give Turner more time even if they disappoint in 2010 should remember this fact - this is the team that fired head coach Marty Schottenheimer after he posted a 14-2 mark in the 2006 regular season.

Expectations were high in San Diego coming into this season and if Turner delivers another sub-par campaign, he could finally run out of time.

Week 7 on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra

We have the Chargers at home against the Patriots on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra on Sunday and it is fast-becoming a must-win game for Turner's men.

At least San Diego will be at home, but they have concerns surrounding their top-ranked attack given the injuries to Floyd and Gates. That said, Rivers should have enough firepower to test a young and inexperienced Patriots secondary.

New England have a superstar quarterback of their own in Tom Brady, and he spreads the ball around to multiple players in their attack.

In the end, this game could come down to coaching and which team is best prepared. If that is the case, I will take Bill Belichick and his Patriots every day of the week, even if they face an energy-sapping cross-country flight to San Diego.


  • Comment number 1.

    As a Chargers fan I am obviously concerned by the present situation. Fortunately the Raiders and the Broncos remain in the same position as us at the minute. The Kansas City Chiefs could well end up winning the division simply due to their 3-0 start.
    I would point you towards that link however. Have you ever seen a team with the #1 ranked offense, #1 ranked passing game, #1 ranked defense and #1 ranked pass defense who are 2-4?
    Highlights exactly how bad the special teams are at the minute.
    Antonio Gates should be fine for the weekend, Malcolm Floyd possibly not. Larry English has been a massive miss so far, hugely promising in preseason and early on whilst being injured for the past few weeks.

  • Comment number 2.

    It has been an odd start to the season, no real clear cut SB contenders, there seems to be a lot of parity amongst the teams although we are starting to see some of them step up a gear right now, Saints etc.

    Although a Cowboy hater, can't help but feel for fans of The'Boys; don't know what it is, Wade: Yes, Romo: Probably. Either way, I think theyre done for the season.

    Chargers: Maybe, and I will say this quietly, the loss of LT has lessened the spread of the field, and when Gates is out it makes it alot narrower. I think the loss of Merriman as a vocal leader on the field doesn't help simply because he is the anti Norv who is very quiet and assured and not a fiery character. Also, these hold idiots, selfish ba$&"()s that they are do not help team unity. You have a contract, honour it for crying out loud. What would happen if I went to my boss tomorrow and said, I know I have 2 years left on my contract but I am not going to work unless I get a ridiculous above market contract and signing bonus? I would be shown the door. No respect for them and their ilk: Revis is a quality player, but an(insert strong word) of a person.

    Enough venting! Just like to add that Rivers is a quality player and will push hard for the win, he may have some key players out but you can't rule him out of pulling the team through.But when as you mention deeply, youre special teams are as porous as they are, you get in some tough long drive situations. Special teams are there to get you in short range and they are not providing!

    Go Bengals!

  • Comment number 3.

    Woodster's comment - in particular the teams stats - highlights the absurdity of the Chargers' situation.

    Stats-wise, this has been the Chargers' best start to a season in years. Their passing game, even without an elite wide receiver (albeit with a hall-of-fame quality TE), has been exceptional. Their defense is excellent too.

    And when you look at their four losses: to the Chiefs in pouring rain, to Seattle and Oakland because of multiple, major special teams errors, and then the Rams, it's perhaps only the last result that you might say uh-oh.

    On the star-player issues, I'd argue there's not a single dispute where you can say the management have gotten it clearly wrong. Tomlinson was not the same player since Lorenzo Neal left (now to see if he can last the season for the Jets), the Sproles/Tolbert/Matthews trio is nothing to be ashamed of. The stats say they don't miss Jackson. They've gotten McNeill on their own terms. Merriman is trouble. Williams, like V-Jax, no evidence they miss him. And Cromartie, decent as he is, lived off his reputation from the 3-pick game against the Colts and there's again no evidence they are missing him.

    That said, the issue the Bolts face this year is that the AFC West no longer looks like a soft division. Though none of the other teams look superbowl calibre, each with a glaring weakness, they all have a bit about them. But because San Diego have far and away the best QB in this division, they won't be far winning it.

    I hate to have to call games involving the Pats, but from last week's performances you'd say it's a stone-cold certainty the Pats will win. So I go Bolts, it's been that sort of season.

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice blog Neil, I wondered when these guys were going to show up on one of these.

    The special teams (or not so special teams) for the Chargers have been woeful and giving a 9-0 lead to the Raiders was disgraceful. The Chargers have had the Raiders number for years and the first 5 minutes gave the Raiders huge confidence for the rest of the game. I couldnt believe what I was watching. Even worse is the fact Turner isnt prepared to hold anyone accountable for the situation. Unfortunately, they face the Pats this week which could mean more ST trouble as the Pats ST is very good.

    Maybe I need to re-read the article but no mention of Darren Sproules? The boy wonder and everyones favourite 2 years ago now an after-thought in the Chargers offense, I bet the FO are wishing they tried to get a trade sorted as he was clearly a one year wonder. Still returning kicks effectively but he is paid far too much to be a good kick returner.

    The FO have to take some blame for their decisions but ultimately I think this is the end of Turner unless the Chiefs/ Broncos collapse. Even so as you said the play-offs didnt save Schottenheimer.

  • Comment number 5.

    Norv is a fine OC but not a Head Coach. To be frank he has survived longer at San Diego than I ever thought he would. This is some testament to the fact that he manages up and around very well. People apparently like him very much and want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Remember also that personal contacts got him the job when the former Redskins GM (why can't I remember his name? Old age I guess) moved out to San Diego.

    Also, the AFC West has got tougher since last season and he has had some big losses in personnel. He will be gone back to his natural position, an OC on a "run to set up the pass" style team, by year end.

  • Comment number 6.

    Decent article and some interesting thought-provoking comments folks :-)

    Hey Neil; How about an article on the Bears?!


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