First Quarter Impressions:
The Carolina Panthers are dominanting the line of scrimmage. The are bringing a physical brand of football to San Diego and the Chargers defense has thus far been unable to match their intensity. The Panthers' two-back running attack is ripping through the Bolt's defense like a dog on a bone. The run game is setting up the Panthers' passing game and is keeping the Chargers off balance. The Panthers are churning up the offense and credit the play-calling of the Carolina coaching staff.
Shawne Merriman has so far been only a shadow of his former self. There were a few plays that a healthy Merriman would have easily made. Instead, Merriman is looking slightly tentative, is unable to change direction quickly, and is shying away from contact. Nobody is faulting him for being careful, but he is clearly not the same player.
The Chargers offense has been shaky. The run game has been decent, but Philip Rivers narrowly avoided two interceptions. If the Panthers had capitalized on those turnover opportunities, we could be looking at a 14 point lead right now. Luckily Marshall and Gamble were unable to hold on to those picks and the game is still tied.
Second Quarter Impressions:
The tackling still seems to be a problem. I'm not sure why, but the Chargers defense has been timid when going for the tackle. The Panthers are gaining a lot of yards after initial contact and a lot of that has to do with the Chargers not breaking down and securing the tackle. Is Jamal Williams not as dominant as in years past? The explaination for the Chargers run defense woes in the preseason was that Williams didn't play much. So what's the explanation for it today?
Merriman looks a little heavy. Last year he was in incredible shape last offseason, but this year with his bad knee I'm sure getting in some cardio work is probably pretty hard to do.
Cromartie has been a bright spot in regards to tackling. He isn't a big hitter by any means, but he is much more willing to mix it up this year and make a tackle. It's awesome to see him work hard to improve that aspect of his game. Props to Cromartie.
When Merriman went in to the locker room towards the end of the first half, the Chargers went into a four man front and played well. In the 4-3, they forced a sack and broke up a pass which saved them from allowing a touchdown. The problem is, the Panthers have scored three times and are moving the ball with authority. The Chargers have to answer in the second half.
Mike Tolbert is running with great power. If I were the playcaller, I'd be dialing up Tolbert's number. He can soften up the Panthers' defense and help take some time off the clock and allow the over-worked Chargers defense to regroup and recover.
Question; Any chance the Chargers try to sign Julius Peppers if they can't re-sign Merriman? I don't want to hear anyone tell me Peppers can't play OLB because I saw him do it plenty in the first half of this game. That game is an incredible athlete and can line up anywhere.
Third Quarter Impressions:
Quentin Jammer is playing extremely well. Game ball maybe? He keeps playing like this all year and he might finally get that Pro Bowl birth that he so justly deserves.
I like that the Chargers are trying to establish the running game. They really need to get the ground attack on track. The thunder and lightning combination of Tolbert and Tomlinson could be the key to a win today.
The Chargers lose the football and the Panthers take the strip-fumble into the endzone. With a six point lead, the Panthers will be even more inclined to pound the ball. The Chargers need to answer with a couple of touchdowns if they want to win this game.
Fourth Quarter Impressions:
I think LJ Shelton has played a hell of a game. He has combined with Kris Dielman to minimize the impact of Julius Peppers in this game. Make no mistake, Peppers' presence is still felt on the field, but his numbers are down and credit the offensive line for that.
Clinton Hart does a great job at almost tackling someone. He might have the best near-tackling skills on the team. The Chargers showed confidence in Hart by giving him a new contract and not drafting a Safety in this last spring; will that confidence be jusitfied? Or will failing to upgrade the position haunt the Chargers this season?
Philip Rivers is showing shades of John Elway with being so elusive in the pocket. I've been really impressed with his ability to shake off would be tacklers and make a play. His touchdown drive in this fourth quarter was epic!
Vincent Jackson has been huge today making big plays when the team needed it most. The Panthers are really struggling to cover him. He might have been the most important player in the fourth quarter (not counting Philip Rivers of course, who has been amazing himself).
Antoine Cason showed up huge today with a pivotal forced fumble. The Chargers recovered with excellent field position and a chance to put the game away.
Tomlinson is running with a renewed passion. He looks young again, like the LT who first came to the Chargers and put San Diego on the map.
All for naught, the Chargers couldn't protect the endzone and the Carolina Panthers squeak out a 1 point win. The home crowd goes from the highest highs to the lowest lows as the Panthers beat the Chargers in a game that was closer than it should have been.
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