Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Wrap: Week 3

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And to some degree that may in fact be true, but I continue to maintain that these are not your Chargers that have rendered you completely helpless in the face of challenging football for the last six years. Have we all forgotten so quickly the lasting damage that a Norv Turner can do to a franchise? Don't believe me? Starting with the Dallas Cowboys, then to the Washington Redskins, then the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers and now Cleveland Browns. Yes you can argue that only the 49ers have "recovered" by going to and losing a Super Bowl. The Norv Turner legacy of losing can take a generation to undue apparently. Hopefully we've got the proper cleansing material to get past this prior to my death. Hey, hope got a president elected in this country. Anything is possible...

The game Sunday was yes, disappointing to say the least. But aside the crushing blow of defeat we've become so used to, there were still some positives to take away from this game. First, one worry of this squad has been the depth as we've barely managed to scrap together enough pieces we'd consider starters after the dismantling of the damage that was done by the previous regime.  There were at least four starters who missed kickoff depending on how you view the whole Donald Butler active/inactive debacle, and during the game an additional handful of starters dropped out of action on the offensive line. Testing the depth of the offensive line is not something I'd recommend we do on the regular, but dammit if the backups didn't step up and even move all over the place to keep Laserface's uniform relatively clean. An admirable job to say the least. This week we'll get Fluker back which should help the running game, while we'll likely be without Clary and Dunlap. Sunday becomes test day for some unproven commodities wearing our unis.

Let's talk about the elephant. I'd like for this not to become a weekly feature, but now exists a trend as Max pointed out graphically below and those trends number two. First, the Pagano insistence on playing not to fail is not working out so well in his favor to date. To the point that today I read an article that he is on the hot seat. While I won't go that far, dare I say there needs to be a philosophical and physical improvement or that talk will gain some momentum. He is in fact the only holdover from the previous regime so I'd imagine in the Spani's infinite wisdom he's the next to fall. I'm willing to give him a bit more time to sort things out for one reason. There is no one on this defense you actually know. No really. There's no one left that you actually know, you know, people who have been impact players here for a while. None. Half the jerseys on Sunday had names of guys you've never heard of. Let's give them a moment to understand life in the NFL before we fire anyone. Let's not forget, most of the pre-season power rankings had us between 24-28th in the league. Last week we were as high as 14. Let's not get crazy, we are already beating expectations and we are just two plays from being 3-0. Kevin Acee was quick to point out none our guys thought there was offensive pass interference on the Titans scoring pass with 15 seconds left. Justin Patrick, the man in coverage certainly thought so on the field in the moment and it was. But again, not putting ourselves in that position in the first place is the important part. Don't forget, Norv is gone. Write it on your bathroom mirror. NORV IS GONE.

Our second elephant is Ken Whisenhunt. While pinning the Titans deep on their six yard line with no timeouts seems on the surface as a pretty excellent decision, our play calling prevented us gaining the one additional first down that would have had the game ending with Philip getting a grass stain on his knee in victory formation. I know, I understand, an incomplete pass in any of those situations stops the clock and blah blah blah, blah, blahblahblahblahblah. Philip Rivers is completing exactly 70% of his passes. I'm not saying we have to revert to the Norv Turner playbook of executing pre-pass play action on strategies that take four days to develop, but a swing pass to Woodhead or utilizing Gates who is looking more like the 2005 version of himself that was uncoverable isn't the worst idea around. But, we did pin them back on the six yard line with no timeouts and as Max mentioned, we're a Gilchrist dropped interception from awesometown.

Is there room for improvement? Yes. Are we dealing with a lot of variables that will make the routine more difficult? Yes. We are lean on personnel, injuries are not helping, but make no mistake we are on the right road to recovery. Will it be pretty? Likely not at times. But like I told Max, we could go 0-16, (thankfully we won't), and I'd be happy because I'm on board with our changes and that's a start. My expectations are low and we're already exceeding them. It's impossible to ignore that the improvements are already in place. There is still a very good chance we finish above .500 with this team gelling and improving every week. This will be a successful season. I'm even willing to wager on it. Calm down Charger faithful. We are fine. We need a little fine tuning, and we'll need a little tweaking each week to make it work. I wish I had more poignant and funny things to say, but this one makes me happy to stand behind.

Cowgirls next. Reauxmeaux and the Cowgirls. Blackout lifted. Te'o to make his debut. I'm not worried. Nor should you be.

Weekly Power Rankings start after week 4. Let's have some fun.

Go Bolts!!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Disturbing Trends

Well, here we are a little over a week later, and you're probably not feeling all that good anymore. Another tough loss. In fact, this one is probably tougher than the Texans because this was a game we all scratched in a W next to when we first looked at the schedule. What worries me the most is that after three weeks you can see the team settling into some disturbing trends.

Firstly, there were at least a couple of situations in that game that demanded some aggressive offense. The early fourth and one inside the opponent's 40 stands out, as does the decision not to go to the air to pick up a crucial first down late in the game. Now, I'm not one of those people who was too upset when they ran into position against the Eagles to set up a pretty lengthy FG attempt late, but I get it if you were. The thing is that at least there if you miss you're headed into OT, with a 50/50 shot at winning the game regardless. In this, game, where our defense was giving up huge chunks of yardage all day long, it felt like the odds were worse and it became imperitave to keep the ball out of the home team's hands at the end. Especially considering the corner who gave up the winning TD only has about a handful of career NFL snaps on his resume.

That defense is a problem. It almost seems like the playbook actually accounts for opponent mistakes, because it feels like that is the only way we stop anyone at this point. Eric Weddle has completely disappeared, which I blame on his ridiculous mohawk's return. And that INT at the end has to be caught by Gilchrist. Has to be. No excuses. All in all, this defense needs to find a way to manufacture mayhem. I don't know how they do that, but they need to figure something out. Pagano needs to get up to that drawing board and come up with some ideas that will make the other team think rather than try to keep his resume healthy by doing the "right thing" in the right situation. I thought we were done with that Football for Dummies approach around these parts. Manti Teo is not gonna fix it. This unit needs direction and innovation. They don't have to be great, but they have to be something better than awful.

All of that being said, all hope is not lost after 3 weeks. There's some other 1-2 teams out there that have high aspirations for this year who've looked a lot worse than we have, and there's a ton of football left. We still have a pretty manageable schedule, so it's a little early to be jumping ship. Rivers continues to look like the Rivers of old (even though it seems like the refs chose Sunday to draw a line in the sand on Rivers antics when arguing calls) and the line held up awfully well, despite bleeding out players like crazy on Sunday. We travelled an awful lot in two weeks and split the road series, and that's no small feat. 1-2 is not where you want to be, especially when you're looking up at a couple of 3-0s in the division, but we still feel like a team on the rise to me. These guys play hard and they don't seem to be okay with losing like they have in the recent past, and that means a lot. The young guys are going to get better and the veterans look hungry again. There're 13 more games. Let's go win 'em all! Go Bolts!!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Feeling Good on a Monday? Inconceivable!

Throughout the week the media will question whether they were just plain wrong about the Eagles. Be ready for that. We've been in two games against two respected teams to the wire and come away with a 1-1 record, and I think we'll all agree that right now we look better than the team that lost a 7-6 barn burner to the Browns last year, but the sports pros will wonder why the Eagles imploded, not whether we belong in the conversation. So it is, so shall it ever be. If we want accolades, we need to do big things this year and wait until next year for the media to acknowledge it. But we don't need accolades. We need wins. Let's hit some quick notes on yesterday's action.

Philip Rivers - Dear Phillip Rivers haters, go eat a bag of buffalo dicks. 7 TDs, 1 INT and over 600 yards passing so far. Throw in a couple of first down runs and we're looking at the makings of a pretty sweet bounceback year. That's what happens when the line-which looks a whole lot better so far, don't you think?-gives a good QB a second to think about it.

Eddie Royal - On pace for 40 TDs. You almost make me want to send AJ a thank you note. Almost. Not really. Hell of a game, Royal.

Ryan Mathews - Right now the whole town is ready to scrap this guy and I can't say I blame them. I am already scouring the college ranks to see who is likely to get the next crack at being the heir apparent to the LaDainian Tomlinson throne. But for this year, Mathews still has a part to play. He may never see the red zone again, but he has to touch the ball. And here's the thing. Football is such a mental game, full of self fulfilling prophecies. If you know you fumble, and more importantly, if the opposing defense knows you fumble, then you probably fumble. The last few years, however, a Mathews fumble has been enough to take the entire team out of the game. A single play had been enough to make Norv's Chargers take their ball and go home. This team yesterday overcame a Mathews fumble, a Gates fumble and some lightning quick Philly TDs to pull out a victory and that can only help Mathews' psyche. He wouldn't be the first RB to turn around a history of fumbling and I feel like yesterday will only bolster his resolve in that regard. He probably can't play well enough to earn a long term contract, but it sure would be nice to see him contribute in a meaningful way this year.

Antonio Gates - Gates gets a pass on that fumble and that TD drop, but only because for most of yesterday he looked like the Gates we need and remember. Also because we won. Gotta hold onto that ball, Cotton Candy hands.

Malcolm Floyd - Wow, you were having a monster day. I was a big proponent of yours for years before you finally just turned me off with the injuries. Yesterday was not your fault, but what an old Chargers thing to do then to go ahead and get your neck crushed. Hope you're okay man. No more of that, okay?

John Pagano - You lost some vets and Manti Teo is in a boot. I get that. But you were kept around in a situation where a lot of other people got the boot because you earned a lot of respect for what you did last year. Well, you better come up with something this year, because this defense is relying way too much on the other team to stop themselves at this point.

This team as a whole - Yesterday was a big win. The kind of win that guys get excited about. It's the kind of win that makes you go back to the previous loss and say that loss wasn't so bad. That the entire body of work so far is impressive and we might really have something here. And that's awesome. But we shouldn't forget that first loss. We should hold it up to this win and ask ourselves an important question. Why does it seem that we can only keep up our intensity when the game is in doubt? We should've put that Texans team away and we fell into that old familiar tendency to merely try to hold on. If we're going to accomplish anything this year, we're going to need some of those easy wins just as badly as we're going to need the gritty wins like yesterday's. We're going to need to wring some necks.

All in all, though, the fans and players should be ecstatic about that win, warts and all. That is not an easy environment to go into and overcome. Already, after two games, you can see the effect real leadership can have on men in the trenches. I feel like we're on the verge of something just a little bit special. Let's enjoy it. Go Bolts!!!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Week 2: Time to Panic Yet?

When I first looked at this schedule I had the Bolts going all the way across the country into the unforgiving arms of the City of Brotherly Love and handing the Eagles a beating. Even before last week it was going to be a tough sell. We've had trouble in Philly before, even when we were largely considered the better team. Now, after our collapse in week one and the debut of Chip Kelly's NFL version of the Oregon offense, it'll be nearly impossible to convince anyone we have anything more than a chance to learn and grow in defeat tomorrow morning. If we're not universally picked to lose tomorrow, I have yet to find the prognosticator that bucked the trend. So, can a victory tomorrow be sold? Eh, I'll give it a shot.

I've already gone on record as saying Monday Night's game was more of a good sign than a bad sign. You have to admit-unless you're a local hater-that we came out with intensity and controlled that game for more than a half before it slipped away from us. At times this looked more like the team we expected to field for the last six years than the team we actually fielded for the last six years. Sadly, the intensity of Houston's Wade Phillips designed defense proved too much for us to overcome when they ratcheted up the pressure in the second half. Our offense absolutely has to be what defines our team. If they can live up to their potential-and believe me, the potential is there!-then all the defense has to do is show up on Sunday and try not to embarrass themselves too much. Alas, the offense couldn't keep their foot on the peddle and the Texans just got stronger when the blood hit the water.

The Eagles defense also looked impressive last week, punishing a Redskins QB in RG III who looked crippled to the point of downright Riversian proportions in the first half. And the offense was a monster as well. Both units played as strong and fast a half of football as your ever going to see. Then the second half happened and it was less impressive. The Skins got back into that game and the Eagles barely seemed to have enough in the tank to ultimately hold them back for the victory. The Eagles share a lot in terms of perception with our Chargers. If they had given up the win to Washington nobody this past week would have been talking about Chip Kelly's high flying circus, they'd be talking about the Eagles culture of losing, much like they are about us right now.

So, tomorrow you have two teams that came out and played a dominating first half and wilted in the second. If-and it's a big if this early in the season- we can match them or at least keep them in striking distance in the first half, then I think we stand a good chance of stealing this thing in the second. If both teams are gassed by midway through quarter three, as they seemed to be last week, then I think we have the advantage. Their game plan on both sides of the ball is extremely speed reliant. And once you start to slow down from fatigue, it's hard to get that back. Those shifty formations are a lot less shifty in slow motion. We just have to play smart, and I think we have more smart on our team. The Eagles are a team full of guys who can't get out of their own way, and I'm not ready to buy that a brand new NFL head coach and one week of impressive football against a crippled division rival has fixed that completely.

So there's my pitch. I hope you like it. I know it's a hard sell. We're probably the only team in NFL history to play our first game until 11:00PM on a Monday only to reconvene for week two on the other side of the country six days later at what is actually 10:00AM for us while being afternoon for the home team. But what the hell, I have faith in spades these days. Just writing this has made me feel better, I hope it did something for you.

Go Bolts!!!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Week One. The Wrap.

Oh, the footballing season finally has arrived saving me from the doldrums of division worst baseball and oppressive summer heat. Seriously, can't anyone even keep a fan in stock for me on these worst of days? Anyway, once again for what feels like forever, ESPN locked us up into the late slate on Monday night, the absolute worst game of the week. Their programming alone is enough for me to consider waterboarding as an alternative option, but dropping us into the late slot yet again is downright unforgivable. Since I can't watch their programming any less than I already do, I'm at a loss as to a suitable punishment. Perhaps our President can bomb them or something since he's not busy doing anything at the present.

I'm not going to add anything to the conversation that Max already had with you. We discussed our thoughts about this game and as per usual we mostly agreed. Six years of Norv Turner at the helm will destroy the strongest of resolutions and the idea that we were never going to be in the game against Houston was widely accepted some time ago. Hell, we were just happy to be here and able to watch on a very large high definition television legally. See what escaping the Norvalvirus and a dose of real football can do to a fan?

We got off to a great and unexpected start to the season and showed at least to me that we are better than we were last year. A point that I had almost convinced myself of during the hell period between seasons. Unfortunately, a call didn't go our way and some weird things started happening and it slipped away. We all watched. We know what happened. I just had a couple of observations that I feel need to be pointed out.

Jaret Johnson and Dwight Freeney. I'm on board. I'm getting a jersey that says "FREEJOHNSON" on the back.

Ryan Mathews. Okay. I get it. He's either fumbling or he's hurt. You don't have to tell me 4,829 more times. I know it. I watch. Since he spells his name wrong they ought to just change it on the back of his jersey. Berman would call him MathLOSE the football or something rad like that. It been clearly ingrained in his head for a while. In space he runs hard and picks up yards in big chunks. In traffic? A strong breeze will drop him in his tracks because it's tough to pick up yards fighting off tacklers when you are literally hugging the football. It's a problem. I thought Ronnie Brown was getting the reps in the third quarter because he was a better pass blocker. In our hurry up it's tough to change personnel but not impossible. Part of me believes the new regime wasn't quite ready for a fumble at that point in the game. I don't want to believe that but it might be impossible to ignore. Thankfully Brown looked better than his preseason form and was relatively effective. Yet, we're accomplishing another dubious honor which is unlike us. No backs run for 100 yards in a game ever anymore. That's disappointing. It's also a problem when your offensive line doesn't pass block all that well just yet.

Philip Rivers. Yeah, I know, another pick six. If you don't see the brilliance in that play by both Wade Phillips and Brian Cushing then you can bolt right the fuck off because that wasn't all on Laserface. The throw was hurried and a bit behind Woodhead, but it's not like Cushing didn't make an excellent play. Forget the four touchdowns before the pick and be dumb about it if you want to but it makes you look stupid.

Lastly, is Ken Whisenhunt. I like the guy. I like our future with him. But in the moment last night, in the fourth quarter, after we had two three and outs, the pick six, needing a first down desperately for the defense, he shrunk in the moment. The Texans made no disguises of their intentions and they were bringing the house and the armadillos on every one of our offensive plays. What he did that puzzled me considerably, and forced me to swear at the television, a habit I'm hoping to break now that our Norvaltumor has been removed, he ran bunch formation after bunch formation forgoing wide receiver splits. This tight formation I suppose was to help in protection, but all it did was bring all the defenders for the Texans who were already all out blitzing closer to the line of scrimmage. Bad idea jeans man. I'm not going to crucify the guy for that, but a little space for our fast guys on hot routes might have been a good idea there. My two cents. Worth zero cents.

The takeaway? There were many more positives than negatives last night. If we'd gotten a couple of first downs, avoided being Hochuli'd (hat tip: Max) and gotten a few stops on third down, we'd be undefeated and this town would be insufferable with our Super Bowl delusions. But, right now, we're right where we thought we would be after week one, except we should be feeling overwhelmingly better than if the Texans came in to Awesomeland and kicked our ass 89- 2 like the talking heads said they would. Shit, people would have been asking to have Norv back. And you know that's some fucked up shit right there.

Chin up buttercup. We're fine. Off to Philly to play that seemingly scary ass team in 5 more days. Football is back. Norv Turner is gone. A.J. Smith is gone. We could go 0-16 and I'd still throw a huge fucking party. Ding dong the Norv is dead.

Calm Down, Calm Down

We were prepared for this, weren't we? I mean, not exactly this per se. Not a game that brought back memories of the crushing defeat we suffered to the Broncos in similar fashion last year, but we were prepared for a loss, right? And at the end of it all, it was a real tight loss, against a real good team. Not buying it? Okay, think of it this way. We spent more than half the game manhandling a Superbowl contender that everyone thought would steamroll us without a problem. They didn't start steamrolling us until halfway through the third quarter. This is a young team that has not played together more than a half of full speed football and they played with a lot of heart. But it'll take more than heart to get this thing going.

The O-Line played a pretty valiant game, but by midway through the second half they were getting manhandled pretty well, and it led to a pivotal pick six later in the game. I would have loved to see more of that underneath passing game that everyone was talking about during camp. That's just the sort of thing that can neutralize an aggressive front, but it just wasn't there.

Another part of the problem the offense has is that clearly the coaching staff still does not trust Ryan Mathews to protect the ball. He was playing well out of the gate, yet barely touched the ball in the second half of a game where we held a 21 point lead late.

And the drops. Both Eddie Royal and Antonio Gates dropped critical passes they should have handled in the second half. At a point where it was of the utmost importance to get any kind of spark, those have got to be caught.

And the offensive playcalling in the second half was downright Norvian at times. Again, where was that underneath passing game? There absolutely has to be something you can do between running the ball inside the tackles and heaving the ball downfield when you need to kill clock.

As for the defense, well they tried. This young secondary is going to get beat up like that a lot this year, which is why it is essential to have a consistent pass rush. And honestly, I liked our pass rush. But every time we got into third down we dropped everybody into coverage and got torched for it. That is gutless. When nobody on your team is all that good at coverage and you can't get any pressure with only 3 or 4 guys, dropping everybody into coverage is pointless. Watching that old Wade Phillips defense from the wrong side was tough. Wade is fearless. He doesn't call Defense for Dummies plays like that and it fires his guys up. And that results in huge plays that suck the wind out of the stadium. Maybe the first step is finding out whatever the Texans are giving to JJ Watt that is apparently undetectable and giving it to our guys.

We have no answer for guys like Andre Johnson. To all of you who gave Jammer so much shit because he'd get beat a couple of times a game by big play receivers, I tell you this: Johnson would not have had 12 catches for 148 yards if Jammer were there. And if he had, he would have had to earn it, rather than just basically jog to the first down marker and turn around. With guys like DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant, Denarius Moore, AJ Green and Victor Cruz on the schedule, we're going to have to figure something out.

So, that all sounds terrible, and it sort of is. But the important thing is that even with all that, we were in this game. At one point we had this game. And this is the first time these kids have hit the field together. They'll get better. This is not last year's Denver loss. That team and that coach had played together for years and were unable to handle themselves in the face of adversity. This team went out there and nearly shocked the world. It'll come.

Go Bolts!!!

P.S. Berman is the damn worst.

Friday, September 06, 2013

It's Only Going to Get Worse...

...before it gets better. Right now the sky is falling. Peyton Manning went out and decimated the Ravens to the tune of 7 passing TDs last night and most power rankings now have the Chargers all the way down in the high 20s, having dropped a number of spots during the preseason despite the fact that it's, well, the preseason. And come this time Tuesday morning, there's a very good chance the Bolts will will be 0-1 and smarting from a nationally televised home field drubbing by the Houston Texans.

But take heart.

Peyton Manning can beat up on the Ravens all he likes, it's never going to get him back that awful performance when it mattered back in January. And these are not those Ravens. Look, I hate Ray Lewis, but a locker room leader like that is hard to replace. And I'm never going to believe a defense can get better by letting Ed Reed go. And once Michael Oher went down, the Ravens offense couldn't keep Peyton off the field. Peyton Manning is a big stat guy. That's his thing. But that record of 7 TDs hadn't been matched in 44 years. I doubt it's going to happen a lot more this season.

Power Rankings are crap before the real games start, and even then they're suspect. The nature of sports prognostication these days is that no one has any balls. These Chargers predictions should have been made last year, when these same "experts" all claimed we'd be duking it out with Denver for the division. When we didn't it suddenly became okay to poo poo the franchise.

None of these people have actually looked at what the Chargers have done, only at what they weren't able to accomplish last season. This team is better than that team. I believe by quite a bit. They'll end up surprising a lot of people who should know better.

Houston's probably going to beat on us. This line needs some real playing time together before they are going to gel, and Wade Phillips' defense is not a good proving grounds for them. And their balanced offense will probably give our untested young defensive players fits as well. But Houston is a very good team, with Superbowl aspirations. Losing to them won't sink the ship. I have us losing to them and still putting up 11 wins. I know that sounds outrageous, but I really like this team in a way I haven't liked a Chargers team in a long time, and I'll go down with that prediction or love watching it come to fruition.

So, maybe the sky is falling a bit right now, but it won't last. Like the ozone layer. The ozone layer is fine now, right?

Go bolts!!!