Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The One Where I'm a Naysayer

I've spent all week hoping my attitude about Sunday's game would evolve into one where I'm convinced a loss of that magnitude will awaken the sleeping giant within this team. Miami was our Pearl Harbor, right? Time to get invested. We still have a winning record. This thing isn't over. Right?!

The truth is, I don't know. This game kind of broke me. This team is broken. They looked broken the second we came up short on fourth and 1. A single backbreaking play that called back hobgoblins of the Norv Turner era, only Turner's Chargers never suffered a loss like this. And more importantly, no Superbowl winning team has ever suffered such a regular season loss. After watching that performance, how can we convince ourselves that a Superbowl win is within our grasp? Sure, we might be able to measure this season with a modicum of success when all is said and done. We might sneak into the playoffs and even win a game. But so what? I don't care much for hard won wildcard berths and first round playoff wins anymore. This is not a Championship team. That doesn't happen to Championship teams. And if there's no chance to win it all, then what's the point anymore?

This team may not be with us much longer, and instead of giving us fans what we desperately want, and most arguably deserve, this team is poised to leave us with what they seem to give us year after year. Disappointment. And as the media who called our Chargers pretenders after the KC loss pat themselves on the back for yet again shedding light on the reality of an overachieving San Diego sports franchise, I have to ask myself whether it's even worth it to hang in there with them until the end? And the answer is that I don't know that either.

Monday, October 13, 2014

That Was Not Easy

That was a tough game to sit through. Talk about running the gamut on the old emotional rainbow. This fan base is not yet prepared to live through a squeaker like that against the Raiders. Over the last several years that has become a game we lose every time, and no matter how good the locals feel about the team today, it's hard to shake off a feeling of dread in a situation like that. We've been here before. The Raiders came to play yesterday and we often looked like we were content to let them shoot themselves in the foot rather to to actually take the game in hand. While we were never down by more than a score, it felt like swimming up stream all afternoon. The defense that had been so compelling for the previous four games fell back to Earth in resounding fashion for much of the day and if it weren't for the efforts of a couple scrappy rooks, we might all be standing around shaking our heads and wondering where it all went so wrong. A win's a win, but lets take some lessons away from yesterday. Here are  handful of stray observations about the game.
  • Phillip Rivers is simply killing it. How many times did you expect to see that back-breaking pick in the fourth quarter only to see Phillip slice apart the Oakland secondary like a surgeon. He simply doesn't make those kind of mistakes right now.
  • My cohort, CJ, and I often argue about the merits of running backs. He is of the school of thought that RBs are a dime a dozen while I often point out the string of losers who tried to fill the role in San Diego between Natrone Means and LaDainian Tomlinson. Aaron Hayden? Jermaine Fazande? Man, I thought I was winning that argument until this walk-on little spark plug in the Darren Sproles jersey showed up. It's not like he snuck up on the Raiders after that Jets performance. He is shredding defenses and making fans forget Ryan Mathews like someone somewhere along the way forgot to put a second 't' in that surname.
  • Jason Verrett is playing much taller than he is. Fantastic pick to save that game. I've never been a fan of first round corners, because first round corners are rarely impactful enough to do much to turn around a flailing defense. I've never been so happy to be wrong a bout a guy either.
  • Malcolm Floyd is inspiring in his return from that awful injury he suffered last year. He may never be a true number one receiver, especially on a team like the Chargers who seemingly refuse to have a number one at all, but his contributions are a big factor on this offense and to its success.
  • Division games are a bear. There's no getting around it, the Raiders brought everything they had. KC will do the same next week, and they're better.
  • Jury's still out on Pagano as far as I'm concerned. Continues to lean on conservative play calling, which is fine when you're up, but ill advised in a dogfight against a team you should really be pushing around. We were unable to put much of any pressure at all on the rookie Carr yesterday, and the adjustments didn't come until it was nearly too late. Without the pass rush we've seen the last several weeks, that secondary was exposed.
  • The good news is that neither Alex Smith nor Peyton Manning seem capable of throwing the ball more than 25 yards or so, meaning it will be be hard for our next two opponents to outrun coverage like the Raiders did yesterday. That being said, let's not fall asleep on those teams, Pags.
  • Penalties wee rough yesterday. There were some biggies. Need to get a lid on that.
  • 4th and 35 fake punts just weren't going our way yesterday. Probably need to try less of those.
  • One last kudos for a guy who doesn't get enough. I can remember Steve Christie and Wade Ritchie. A couple of others who came through town I don't remember as well. I remember Kaeding in the post season. Nick Novak has been a stud for us, though. He didn't do a ton yesterday, especially after having a long FG called back for a penalty, but the man has been something close to automatic for the last couple of years, and there's a lot to be said about that.
Some observations on the league:

  • There's no question the Broncos are a damn good team, but they let the Jets hang around for an awful long time yesterday. I'd love to gloat, but we kind of did the same with the Raiders too, no? Still, the Donks look absolutely human through their first five games and that's a good thing.
  • Dallas one-upped our home win against the might SeaChickens by taking the defending Super Bowl Champs to the woodshed in their own park, which is nearly unheard of. The Cowgirls share a 5-1 record with us and look poised to achieve a level of greatness this year. This is why it's the perfect time to remind everyone of what Dallas does. They provide their fans with hope only to dash it on the rocks of mediocrity somewhere down the line. The more hopeful the better, and it looks like they've got their fans in a frenzy, visions of Super Bowls dancing in their heads. Get ready for what should be a colossal and entertaining collapse.
  • Take note of Dallas, Cleveland. It's been a long time since you poked your heads out from under the turtle shell of obscurity. Right now your fans are also riding an emotional high. It's up to you what to do with it. Rise to occasion or Cowboy up and fail. The world is your oyster, better make a showing of it.
  • Thanks for nothing, Tom Brady. Stunk it up long enough to sink a couple of my fantasy teams and now you're lighting it up for someone else, like the fantasy world's worst ex-girlfriend. But I know the truth. I saw how scared you were those first four games and all of your problems aren't fixed yet. You may feast on a bad division and find your way into the post again, but your days are numbered.
  • Tampa Bay should petition the league for an expansion team to replace their current one.
I'm sure there's a lot more to be said, but this is my damn column and I'm already tired of writing it. 5-1 is a great place to be right now and Charger football is the best thing going again. Finally. Go Bolts!!!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Football's Back Already? Let's Talk About It.

So here we are on the eve of another NFL season and coming off a largely successful San Diego Chargers season that was a surprise to many. The preseason has been a sea of ups and downs with performances both titillating and abysmal and culminating with the most San Diegan of recent traditions, a blackout. Tomorrow the Packers and Seahawks kick off the year and three days later the rest of the league gets underway. And then a day later the Chargers play because the NFL has really upped its scheduling game over the last five years. Did I mention that final blackout preseason game came against the same team we play on Monday? That’s just inspired dipshittery right there. Anyway, you all knew that already because it’s a thing I’m not great at shutting up about. Once again, all the local diehards will crowd into bars or fire up the barbeques and enjoy some opening day Sunday football, then we’ll all stay up late watching Monday Night football and thinking how nice it would be to have a couple of cocktails or twelve without having to suffer a miserable hangover the following day at work. God forbid we lose! But we’re not going to lose, and I know this because I really feel like that’s the case and feelings are the foundation of the league.

All in all it feels like it was such a quiet offseason. There was a draft. A couple of signings. Nothing overwhelming on the surface. To the casual observer, it might feel like the team was happy with the status quo, and if you watched our defense, that is not a comforting thought. So let’s talk about that defense.

Moves were made and the draft went heavy on defense early. Brandon Flowers, a pro bowler from a division rival came over and really, that’s got to be better than Derek Cox. Right? He’s a little short. As is Weddle. As is the rookie CB we drafted in the first round whose name looks like it should be easy to pronounce but nobody knows for sure how to say it. That’s a lot of short guys in our secondary, and that can be worrisome. But the pass rush might be pretty solid this year with the return of Freeney and Corey Liuget looking like a beast out there all preseason. If the pass rush is there, it will help our tiny little secondary do their jobs and everything should be fine then. Unless the other teams then decide to run the ball on us, which is always an option in the NFL even if the league would rather teams just throw the ball as much as possible. We are thin in the middle and teams were running all the way through to our secondary like our front seven were just a bunch of broken turnstiles. Manti Te’o, who is a guy I’ve stuck up for in the past, looks so lost out there that it’s hard to believe he’s going to amount to much before drifting off into NFL journeyman status. Injuries are going to force us to plug rookie NT Ryan Carrethers into the line pretty regularly and you kind of just have to hope for the miraculous and wholly unexpected return of Jamal Williams there. Our man Pagano doesn’t resort much to trickery and the aggressiveness he does occasionally show is not particularly well hidden, so it could be another long year for this team on that side of the ball.

As for the offense, the news is better. It’s hard to imagine Philip Rivers regressing much from his outstanding season last year unless that line gets pounded with injuries early on *knocks on wood til my knuckles bleed*. Keenan Allen in his second year will benefit greatly from the return of Malcolm Floyd, who when healthy will draw coverage consistently. Ladarius Green continues to improve and is looking like a worthy heir apparent to Antonio Gates, who himself continues to put up nice numbers even if he is no longer defining the position or jousting with the big young guys owning the  TE slot these days. My biggest concern continues to be Mathews, who I’ll admit looked very good last year after a pretty slow start no one wants to acknowledge. And let’s not forget, the season only ends after 16 games if you don’t make the post season, which the Bolts did, but Mathews didn’t. So there is still the question of health when it comes to our so called “bell cow.” This, of course, is the reason we brought in Donald Brown, who had something of a breakout year with the Colts last season. Brown, in my opinion, may just be the most underrated pick-up in all of football this past off season. As great as Rivers was last year, the offense withered in the postseason when it became one dimensional behind Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead. Donald Brown is far more capable of taking over the role of feature back if need be than anyone else who’s been on this squad for a while now. And let’s not forget the Washington game. McCoy can claim until he’s blue in the face that he trusts Ryan Mathews with the ball, but I don’t buy it one bit. Donald Brown has a pretty solid history of ball handling inside the red zone, and I would not be surprised to see Mathews relegated largely to between the 20s running at some point in the season.
As for coaching, a lot has been made of the loss of Whisenhunt and that cannot be denied. But Frank Reich was there last year, and more importantly, so was McCoy. McCoy is an OC by trade, and while Whisenhunt was undoubtedly the architect of the offense last year, I’d be surprised to find that McCoy didn’t have his fingerprints all over it. Isn’t that why he got the job in the first place?

I have a great deal of hope for this team. It’s a good team. Better than last year’s playoff team, if you ask me. The schedule, though. It’s hard to deny the difficulty of that schedule. It starts strong and ends stronger, and to overcome it will be a true test of this program Tom Telesco has put together. But relying on the ease of one’s opponents is not the sort of thing one should necessarily hope for. It may be nice to waltz into the postseason a la New England every year, but to be the best, don’t you have to beat the best, as they say? If this San Diego Chargers team can overcome this schedule-if they can get past Denver and Kansas City in their own division, then who will be more battle tested for the post season?

I’m a homer who lost his way, and after all those years of AJ and Norv it’s nice to say I can finally believe again. Let's keep building. Let's gather some steam and keep up the momentum. I say bring on the NFC West! Bring on Denver! Do your worst! This team will come to play, and I can’t wait. Go Bolts!!!

Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm Already Missing this Chargers Team

It's hard to talk about it while Peyton Manning is still out there throwing 1 yard touchdowns and on his way to the Superbowl, but we probably really need to go ahead and talk about this season.

The bottom line is that you have to be pretty happy about the overall return on a season that those "in the know" all claimed would be some sort of rebuild or the final nail in Phillip Rivers' coffin. Even I, who pegged us at 12-4 and winning the division (a feat not so far off had we not given up a few games we had no business losing), am tickled pink by what this group was able to accomplish this year. A 9-7 record and a playoff win on the road is nothing to scoff at, even if bitter dickwads want to continue to complain that we should have been eliminated by a silly ticky-tack penalty that went uncalled and that clearly if the refs hadn't been in the bag for us the Steelers would be taking their rightful place in the Superbowl on the strength of their wicked 8-8 record. Pfft. Win more games, Pittsburgh.

Obviously there are things that will stick in our craw about the season.

1) That crap penalty the officials did call on a field goal in the first game of the season that led to an opening Monday night loss to a team that went on to garner a 14 game losing streak. Where's the outrage on that one Sports America?

2) The mere fact that we once again were forced to open on Monday night for the 3rd time in 4 years. Get used to it, I guess. Fact is, we're pencilled in there going forward because they aren't going to punish the Seahawks or the Niners with that shit.

3) That last desperate TD pass by Jake Locker to steal a victory in Tennessee. Jake Locker?! That pass made everyone believe Locker was a viable solution in Tennessee for like four weeks!

4) Moving the Raiders game to 8:30 Sunday Night because freaking baseball! I'm not going to blame that loss completely on that move, but it was still pretty weak. I mean, it's not like they just this year realized baseball is a thing. Seriously, look at half the fields in football in September. There's a frickin' baseball diamond on there and it isn't because Russell Wilson is about to start hammering dingers at halftime! He was a two sport athlete, so it makes sense.

5) The Redskins game.

6) Ryan Mathews capping off an outstanding season by being injured once again and when we needed him most. Look, injuries happen, but if they're your thing, they're your thing, and I don't know how that doesn't factor into what we decide to do with him during the offseason.

7) The coaching staff inexplicably refusing to acknowledge that the running game wasn't going anywhere without a healthy Mathews and refusing to go down field until the final minutes of our playoff loss to the filthy Broncos. That's a tough pill to swallow. And I don't think it has as much to do with job interviews as it does with a stoic refusal to bail out on a gameplan that was not paying any dividends.

That's a long list. I hate to sound gloomy there, because I don't feel gloomy about this season. Damn if there weren't things to be happy about.

1) The draft. The jury's still out on Teo, but there's still time. Next year hopefully he'll have a full training camp and be up to game speed opening day. Fluker is a monster on the line and Keenan Allen is a superstar. Everything else is gravy in a draft like that.

2) Phillip Rivers proving a lot of fans wrong. It takes a line, people. And this season we managed to field one. Rivers looked like he's got at least five years left in him. No chants for Whitehurst from frustrated fans this year. Hopefully never again.

3) The police docket. I'm not sure if you noticed, but aside from one scrub LB getting tossed by the SDPD for a barroom scuffle after the last regular season game, no Chargers showed up on the police report this season as far as I can remember. No DUIs. No domestic disturbances. No champaigne bottles upside the skull. While we may miss the on field production of a guy like Shaun Phillips, I dare say we don't miss the locker room presence.

4) Rehabilitation. When the team was 5-7 and a lot of people-myself included-had all but written them off for the postseason, nobody even wanted Melvin Ingram to try to return for the season. Why risk aggravating a serious injury for a lost season. Well, Ingram came back, contributed to great effect, and apparently gave a struggling defense something to rally around. Things never got perfect on defense this year, but they definitely showed us something in those last few weeks, and much of that starts with Ingram's unlikely return.

4) Danny Woodhead.

That shifty little SOB. You gotta love him. Especially if you drafted him late in a PPR league. His output diminished some as Mathews came on late, but what a season he had. So many people like to refer to him as Sprolesish, but Norv never used Sproles the way this staff used Woodhead. No disrespect to the very deservedly beloved Sproles, but Woodhead's performance far eclipsed anything Sproles ever did with this team. Lock him up.

5) Ryan Mathews. It's only fair after blasting Mathews for being injured during our dimissal from the playoffs, to point out what a tremendous year Mathews contributed. Protected the ball well and achieved statistically on the same level as a guy like Shady McCoy. No matter what happened to close out the post, it would be crazy not to see if you can keep this guy in the stable.

6) Competitiveness. So many of our losses by a pittance. That's a sign of a team on the come. A field goal here, a stop there. We're a team getting better, and those things will start to go our way. Being in every game means something. It'll make these players hungrier. We have guys who've accomplished those things and guys that will yearn to do so after being so close. And I think this management and coaching staff will nurture that. It's a fabulous mix right now.

7) Discipline. This goes hand in hand with #3, but this team sure seemed focused on the fundamentals this year. Protecting the ball. Controlling the clock. At times it was frustrating to watch them do things by the numbers or too conservatively, but I can't help but feel that the idea was to lay a foundation for the future. In that respect, maybe this was something of a rebuild. A rebuild with a side of success, perhaps?

And for the first time in a long time I feel like there is success on the horizon. I'm not worried that our management will decide to throw the locker room into turmoil by making an example of our most talented players in off-season negotiations. I'm not concerned that our coach will merely update the cover sheet on the playbook to read 2014. I'm excited to see what new talent Tom Telesco will bring in. I'm excited to see the way the current roster responds to this years' accomplishments and I can't wait to see what new wrinkles the coaching staff will have in store for next season. Man, it's been so long since I could say "Wait til next year" like it's a good thing, but I feel like that right now.

Thanks for a fun season, Chargers. Thanks for making me care again. Go Bolts!!!

Friday, January 10, 2014

We Should All Watch the Game on Sunday

Okay, it is getting cray-cray around here. My esteemed cohort is predicting blowouts and people I don’t even know are vociferously defending this guy’s hairdo.

Look, I get it, everybody loves Eric Weddle. I’m in. I’m with you guys. He’s been real good. He made the Pro Bowl. He’s an undersized white guy and that is national media bait. And somehow that is not at all racist! Shit is off the hook. On Inside the NFL, they mic'd up Weddle and spent the whole Chargers-Bengals segment pretending we are a defensive team and it was actually pretty convincing. We are Cinderella. We are wildcard darlings. This is playoff football. And not Norv Turner Playoff football, but pre-Turner “This Could be Real” Playoff football.

Nick Canepa is seething, Kevin Acee is begging and the real sports jerks are actually talking about us. Of course, no one out there on the national landscape really believes we have a chance. Sure, they’ll pay lip service to our “nothing to lose” status and whacky Superbowl trends like the Philadelphia Prophecy, but in actuality, no one is putting their money where their mouths are. And why is that? Because, as I said a million times before so it must be true, people who get paid to talk about sports have no cajones. There’s no skin in picking the Chargers. If you pick us, and we lose, you look stupid. If you pick Denver, and they lose, well who could have seen that coming? They like who they like and it almost always coincides with the public sentiment as it’s reflected by Vegas. Allow me to illustrate. Most people are picking the beloved Seahawks to clobber the Saints this weekend. As evidence of this, they recall the regular season loss to the Seahawks that the Saints suffered already. Conversely, the same people treat San Diego’s regular season win in Denver as a complete anomaly.

The truth is, no one knows who’s going to win. But if I were to pick us, here’s why. Peyton Manning cannot put the game in any other person’s hands. Never has been able to. We will get after him and we will rattle him and he will continue to go out of his way to prove that it’s him and his stat sheet and his lousy playoff record against the world. If they want to counter our ball control, time of possession offense they would need to apply a healthy dose of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.  Peyton just can’t help himself, though. He’ll throw the ball inside the five and he’ll try to convert everything through the air. That’s the Peyton way, and that’s why he usually falls short in the post.

If I were to pick the Broncos, here’s why. Ryan Mathews will not be 100%. Mathews has become the bread and butter over the last 5 weeks. Moving the chains and making plays. When he went out against the Bengals it severely hampered our ability to convert the short downs. We need to be able to grind clock. We need to score TDs in the red zone. Mathews is an essential part of this. Can we beat Manning in a shootout? Maybe. But we’ve been better when we can keep it in the trenches as well.

Given those two options, I like us Sunday (of course I do). Peyton’s ego is a certainty, but Mathews is expected to play. Look for him to finally earn that second “T” for his last name.

As for Weddle’s grooming situation, maybe my problem is that he appears to have modeled his look after this guy.

One of the worst characters in one of the worst movies ever that I cannot stop watching. Seriously, if they had a channel that just played Prometheus and Point Break back to back 24/7 I’d quit my job and in a year they’d have to remove the wall to my house and surgically remove me from my couch before taking me to the hospital in a forklift. But hey, Weddle can do whatever the hell he wants if he helps us get a championship here in San Diego.

Go Weddle! Go Bolts!!!