Chargers Bye Week Analysis: Offense

At the beginning of the 2009 season, many predicted the Chargers would lose at least one, and quite possibly two games before the bye week, so the Chargers 2-2 record should not be that much of a surprise. Three of their first four games were against 2008 playoff teams, and none of them were expected to simply roll over for the defending AFC West champs. What has Chargers fans in an uproar is the method in which the Chargers have won and lost their way to a .500 record.

(Photo Credit: Mike Nowak/San Diego Chargers)

Offensively, the Chargers have been the football version of Gotham City villain Two-Face, the equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Chargers' offense has been a thing of beauty when passing the ball, and a pile of trash when trying to run it.

The Chargers rank 2nd in the league in passing offense averaging 295 yards per game. Philip Rivers and his giant receiving crew have been airing the ball out like their predecessors known as "Air Coryell". Rivers is on pace for just under 5,000 yards passing, and they have two players (Jackson and Gates) on pace for 80+ catches and over 1,400 yards receiving. Without this potent passing attack, the Chargers would likely be 0-4.

On the other hand, the Chargers rank last in the league in rushing offense averaging a measly 54 yards per game. Ready for more unbelievable stats? Their leading rusher (Sproles) has 90-yards TOTAL on 37 carries over the first four-games. LT is 2nd on the team with 70 yards TOTAL on 17-fewer carries. There is plenty of blame to throw around for the dismal ground game, including O-line injuries and inexperience, an injury to LT, inconsistent blocking by the fullbacks, and questionable play-calling by the coach. But simply put, the Chargers are losing the battle at the line of scrimmage, they are getting pushed around and physically dominated, and until they can toughen up and win their individual battles on the line more frequently, it's going to be a long, hard season for our running backs, whether it's LT or Sproles in the backfield.

One quick note on the running back situation: I'm very interested to find out your take on the starting running back position for the Bolts. I still vote for LT. He looked like he had some of his old moves back against the Steelers, but he never saw daylight running behind that line. What's your take? Should it be LT or Sproles?

October 8, 2009

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PeeJay said... Oct 8, 2009, 9:31:00 AM

My bet is LT backed up by Bennet. AJ decided to keep Bennet over Johnson and now Bennet doesnt even get a chance. Sproles is good but is too valuable on special teams and maybe an occasional run. The guy is a real contributor..when not running he blocked like demon. And from what i remember a number of his punt returns that crossed the 30 yard line.

Anonymous said... Oct 8, 2009, 11:13:00 AM

LT all the way, with Bennet as his backup and Sproles as the relief/specialty back. Also on special teams. Bennet is a good back with very good speed and power.

ryan said... Oct 8, 2009, 12:22:00 PM

We could have adrian peterson back there and he would be doing bad. The oline is getting completely dominated. Back to the basics.

Anonymous said... Oct 8, 2009, 2:35:00 PM

I think Ryan's comment about the o-line is right on point, and it's been that way for about a year now. We have no running attack at all, at least in the typical sense.
Previous comments about LT starting to "dive" (because it's immediately obvious he has no openings) early on in runs is accurate too. Unfortunately, if this becomes habit it only increases likelihood of injury and makes it all easier for any defense.
So again I suggest, moving the BALL around thereby shortening the distances your slow o-linemen have to travel, and (especially on 1st down) use your various reserve BIG men extensively. BANG on 'em, then run 'em left and right with misdirection to gas 'em, then pick 'em apart with passes; repeat as needed. There are far, far too many talented ball carriers and big receivers on this offensive team (not to mention Rivers skills) for the Chargers not to be 1st in scoring.
Coaches, blow the dust off your playbooks and clean the wax out of your ears.
As for the Chargers "defense" (especially the oh-so-sensitive Merriman), I'm calling you and your merry men *SOFT*, limp, lax and lame until you can *prove* otherwise. Sunday's performance was a DISGRACE plain and simple; and don't even bother trying to say it was anything else. That makes you even weaker, if that's possible.

Anonymous said... Oct 8, 2009, 10:05:00 PM

Lets not forget the other Shawn on the team......easy to do when he does nothing! Philips is just as worthless as Merri-man. How about learning a new rushing the passer technique? How about hitting the weight room a little more in the off season so your not getting pushed around by every team you play? It appears the Chargers are talented but ignorant. There is always someone ready to make a bone-head play. A.J picked the idiots and we all get to suffer watching them. Every game I watch I have cause to say, " Dumbest team in football".

D.L. In AZ said... Oct 8, 2009, 10:19:00 PM

I think L.T is done! I know the O line is not helping but when there is a hole L.T. just trips himself and falls to the ground. I'm sick of the Big talk and not backing it up! Screen passes to Sproles are the way to go! Then air it out to Jackson and Floyd. Finish the job inside the red zone with Gates and they could score all day! Norv is a fool and should be demoted to offensive coordinator. He's made this team soft. Who else tries to beat the Patriots in the playoffs with field goals. Grow a pair and play for touchdowns! Never should have let Michael Turner go just to keep L.T. on the downside of his career. Chargers had one of the best teams in football for the last 3 years and not only have nothing to show for it but won't even make the playoffs this year! Still the only team in the AFC West to never win a Super Bowl! Pathetic!

Anonymous said... Oct 9, 2009, 4:14:00 AM

I doubt that the ailing Hall of Fame candidate running-back is like old-self as we all had seen over the years and can come back a be productive enough to catapult the Bolts into the play-off as hoped. Get real folks, Norv is good but not at the helm. I don't wanna compare him with the "Tuna",but hey that's how I look at it now. .............. Need major repair at the offensive -line in a hurry also Mr.Smith. Ouch....

Anonymous said... Oct 9, 2009, 7:13:00 AM

I would love to see an LT/Michael Bennett rotation. Between both og them, I think they can give the opposing defenses a different look. I'm sure they would have a better chance of gaining yards between the tackles than Darren Sproles.

Anonymous said... Oct 9, 2009, 7:25:00 AM

Michael Turner would be getting stuffed as well. The O-line is getting rocked on running plays. If the blocking can be improved, i actually think LT can get it done. He needs to get into a rhythm but has been unable due to penetrating defensive players, injury, & lack of chemistry with FB's and O-line.

Once we can establish some rhythm, Bennett will get more carries and also have success. If we are successful runnning the ball, our passing offense will be even more lethal.

Then all we have to worry about is our D-line getting blown off the line of scrimmage...not good.

Anonymous said... Oct 9, 2009, 8:07:00 AM

Previous post: “It appears the Chargers are talented but ignorant. There is always someone ready to make a bone-head play. A.J picked the idiots and we all get to suffer watching them. Every game I watch I have cause to say, ‘Dumbest team in football”.

There is something to the above statement, for sure. Now we have a whole week PLUS a bye week to somehow justify that awful, shameful, limp-wristed defensive debacle at Pittsburgh!!!
Yesterday morning’s newspaper even says A.J. is unhappy (is the Norv/A.J. engagement off?!), and everybody and their brother is calling for Norv’s head on a stick!
What’s happening here?! Some are even demanding that Ron Rivera be promoted to Head Coach in Norv’s place! But wait a minute folks; Norval is just the HEAD Coach, and A.J. is never on the sideline or at Coaches meetings. Who’s *really* watching the chickens in this coup?
So the Question remains: HOW TO EXPLAIN such a shoddy, confused, regressive non-effort by our men-to-boys “defense” so far this season? Did we ALL buy a “pig in a polk” when we brought in coaches from the Chicago Bears wholesale??
And if these guys (Rivera, Wilks, Johnson) were so damn great in Chicago, why were they let go??? Now THAT’S a good question.
No one has ever explained it, and it makes me wonder now that I’ve noticed that our weakest units are the very ones these guys are in charge of. I can’t help wondering if these guys rode into town on the shirt tails of a short peak by a Bears defense that was actually just loaded with Pro-Bowlers?!
But, of course, Norv, A.J., and the Spanos’ have a “muzzle-policy” on the media, so we can’t even ASK these Coaches any questions, much less get any answers.
But if you go back and look deeper into the backgrounds of the defensive coaches, some of them seem suspiciously short (sez me) on NFL experience due a Super Bowl “favorite”. For review:

(1) Secondary Coach STEVEN WILKS’ His 2-years of NFL coaching experience with the Bears before coming to the Chargers was his *first* NFL gig, and when he arrived in Chicago he inherited a secondary that had 20 interceptions in 2005 and two All-Pro DB’s. Before that Wilks’ resume includes a series of (mostly short) stops at mostly small schools; Johnson C. Smith University (2 yrs), Savannah State University (3 yrs), Illinois State (1 yr), Appalachian State (1 yr), East Tennessee State (1 yr), Bowling Green (1 yr), Notre Dame (1 yr), and Washington (1 yr), before the Bears. To his credit, his charges were known for their high take-away or turnover percentages where he coached. But what’s up now? I’d love to hear him dissect the play of the Charger DB’s lately.

(2) Secondary assistant CHRIS DISHMAN’S *coaching* resume is paper thin, although he did have an exemplary 13-year NFL career (2x Pro Bowl). Like Wilks and Don Johnson, Dishman was schooled at the NFL’s Minority Coaching Fellowship program (MCFP), where he spent short stints (beginning in ‘06) in the Dolphins and Raiders camps; but otherwise his coaching resume includes a 3-year stop at tiny Menlo College, a private school which had an ENTIRE student enrollment of less than 600; not so credible for a leap into the NFL and our supposed “Super Bowl favorite” Chargers.

Anonymous said... Oct 9, 2009, 8:09:00 AM

(3) Defensive line Coach DON JOHNSON *does* have the longer coaching pedigree that one might associate with an NFL coach and a supposed “favorite”. Like Rivera and Wilks, he also came over from the Bears. His MCFP experience was with the 49er’s, and before that (besides 8 yrs as a High School coach) his resume includes stops at Riverside Community College (4 yrs, the first time), then Cal-State Fullerton (2 yrs), then a 2-yr return to RCC. After that was Nevada-Reno (4 yrs) and UCLA (5 yrs – his first “big-name” school job), before he joined the Bears staff for 2 years.

(4) Linebackers coach JOHN PAGANO is a rare holdover coach from the Schottenheimer era, and 2009 is Coach Pagano’s first as the “whole” linebacker corp coach after spending the last 3 seasons as the Outside Linebackers coach. He’s been an NFL assistant coach since 1996 (2 yrs with the Saints, 4 with the Colts), before joining the Chargers in 2002.

(5) Assistant linebacker coach GREG WILLIAMS began coaching as a intern at Arizona State, then is listed as having other “positions” (?) at the College of DuPage, Arkansas Tech, and the University of Pittsburgh. He had brief player stints with the Bears and Giants, and played in NFL Europe, the XFL, and the Arena Football League, but like Chris Dishman his actual coaching resume looks suspiciously thin (in my opinion).

Now all of these gentlemen seem to be good, straight-up guys, dedicated to their jobs and families, and I don’t want ANY of them to be fired or sacrificed on the fires of fan discontent. What I’m REALLY questioning here is the whole hiring and firing exercise as the Chargers have done it, which ultimately comes down to the Spanos’ again. So before us peasants burn down the castle (again), we may want to question why the King has never, ever managed to trim back the overgrowth surrounding and threatening said castle? What’s up with THAT? - JLM

BTW - I've left Ron Rivera, THE Defensive Coordinator out, for later review or input from other. Great player, but as a coach...

Anonymous said... Oct 9, 2009, 12:36:00 PM

Wow! You should have your own colum.

What the chargers need to do is get better pass rushers and o-linemen, period. Also, sit Cromartie. He's killing us with his penalties and getting burned.

Anonymous said... Oct 9, 2009, 8:48:00 PM

Sorry to go on and on, but I already had it written. I'll try to pontificate less here and stay humble (which is justified).
It's just that the Chargers ARE playing SO stupid on defense, and have been for far too long.
As for pass rushers; why aren't we seeing several linebacker stunting and buzzing at the line of scrimmage before every snap? I don't get it.
As for the O-line; they'll never be fast, so pound the outside with big reserves (using motion) and move the BALL around (it's light!).
As for Cromartie: He's heartless, brainless, and clueless; a great athlete with no business in the NFL. Perhaps being a traveling salesman for Trojan is his future? But please get him off our team. Trade bait.

Capt. Longbreath

Anonymous said... Oct 10, 2009, 9:35:00 AM

How about these fresh, hip new nickname suggestions for CROMARTIE:
1. "FREEZE" - Short for "Brain Freeze": it's only one syllable (so even he can remember it) and it has a misguided street "feel" to it.
2. "BREEZE" - Short description of his tackling style AND the condition of the air between his ears.
3. "MAGNON" - Short for "Cro-magnon", the generic term for early humans evolved just past knuckle-dragging. It's a stretch, but hey, if the shoe fits...
Any more?

Anonymous said... Oct 10, 2009, 10:13:00 AM

"No-Martie"; points out the softness which is the opposite of the way the Chargers played under Marty Schottenheimer.

Anonymous said... Oct 10, 2009, 10:16:00 AM

Speaking of coaching, Wade Phillips seems to be on a short leash in Dallas. If we pick him up at least we will know if it is the players or the coaching.

Anonymous said... Oct 10, 2009, 10:46:00 AM

I don't KNOW that Rivera is not the issue, but he does have the pedigre:
- First coaching job was linebackers coach for the Eagles under Jimmy Johnson
- As d-coordinator for the Bears, his defenses finished 2nd (2005) and 3rd (2006) in points allowed. The Bears defense in 2005 was known for pressure and turnovers (much like Johnson's) and lead the team to the Super Bowl (where they lost).

Norv has not been a good regular season coach (79-97). He has done much better in the post season (4-3). In my view, Norv coaches like he's playing chess - always thinking several moves ahead. One of the posts asked where the stunts were on defense, it may be that Norv is "saving" that for a time when we "really" need it.

Look - I'm all for planning ahead, but my gosh, when you're defensive line ends every play laying on their back and your offensive line blocks so poorly, you're leading rusher is on pace for a 360 yard season, something is wrong. The word is out that if you smack the Chargers in the mouth, they will roll over. Until we smack back, expect teams to try to out-physical the Bolts.

I'm not buying the "injury" excuse either. If you're Super Bowl plan was predicated on a 34 year old nose guard with bad knees staying healthy throughout the season and playoffs, then your Super Bowl plan sucked.

Anonymous said... Oct 10, 2009, 10:50:00 AM

There is no mystery: It's the Players AND the Coaches, along with A.J.'s personality flaws (although he is a great scout) and long-time ineptness by the Spanos' bridging all of it.
It's gut-wrenching to watch, Bolt fans.
But we're only 4 games into the season and there still is the real possibility of us winning the division (insert laugh-track here) and making the play-offs. It's just that Hope has been getting bitch-slapped by Reality lately that is making us glum.
Best advice: More heavy drinking during the games (but only for "happy" drunks), more walking the dog (pre-drinking), and cathartic weeping.
Bottom line: If the Spanos' ever win a Super Bowl, it will be because they tripped over it on the way to the bathroom, in the dark.

Anonymous said... Oct 10, 2009, 12:49:00 PM

One surprisingly accurate comment came from Dennis Green on Scott & BR the other day. He said that Norv's teams start slow and finish strong where as Marty's teams started strong and faded late. There is some truth to that but even though the problem is that we are starting embarrassingly slow. It's a miracle comeback these days. 8-8 to get into the playoffs. Down on the road 28 points to Pittsburgh. 2nd comeback against the Raiders after the 2ndary meltdown on Jamarcus' bomb.

The team does have heart and doesnt give up. So does that mean that we are capable but just do not put forth the necessary effort early...early in the season and early in the game?

Andy said... Oct 11, 2009, 8:34:00 AM

Offensive: Pass to set up the run! I believe the running game will come around if we get away from "run to set up the pass" mentality.

Defensive: I have no idea ...can we trade for some d-line guys who have some beef and can "push" big o-line guys around? seems to me our guys don't push they get pushed.

Anonymous said... Oct 11, 2009, 10:40:00 AM

Since we already traded for Travis Johnson and signed Alfonso Boone, we wont pick up anyone else. Johnson will be back on Monday night for the game against the broncos. Let's see if he can make a difference. Realistically Boone was cut by the chiefs so no high hopes there.

Anonymous said... Oct 11, 2009, 11:55:00 AM

I agree that Boone is a real reach, brought in as a "friend of a friend" in case Travis Johnson completely implodes. Johnson's name is reviled (not good) in the blogs out of Texas; he's roundly seen as more of a poser than a player. Let's hope that the local reality of his play(between a 1st Round pick [which he was at #16] and the 6th Round trade the Chargers made for him is CLOSER to the former..., please.
This is a great new opportunity for Johnson. Now he has to prove he's actually man enough to take advantage of it. Hmmm Stay tuned...

Anonymous said... Oct 11, 2009, 4:55:00 PM

Another year, the same story. Look around the AFC, seriously the Chargers just don't match-up.

For all of the LT fans, Look, time plays no favorites and LT is no exception, the talk about the OL may be justified, but let's face it, his prime has passed and DS will never be LT.

The defense AC...Please this guy was a flash in the pan at best, the only way he will ever be great is if they trade him to another team in the west (I'm thinkin the Raiders). But still Antonio and Phillip loom large and bring our only hope..but the Playoff's in 2009 are fading already.

Anonymous said... Oct 11, 2009, 8:26:00 PM

I think the biggest mistake the Chargers made was in recent years was getting rid of Drew Brees.You see it's not that I don't love Rivers he's a great QB.It was simply the fact that we had to wait a couple of years for him to mature,those were the years that LT was in his prime.So now you have a QB in his prime and a RB on the downhill side of his career.We should have traded Eli Manning for A big left tackle or some high draft picks.We also got Michael Turner to replace LT someday.So what do we do when the time comes get sentimental and keep LT.AJ Smith has a good eye for talent but they never seem to be at the same levels of experience.It's been very frustrating being a Charger fan but I"ll stick with my team and hopefully someday all of AJ's pieces will come together at the right time for a Super Bowl victory.

Mark said... Oct 12, 2009, 1:28:00 PM

The no-huddle offense that the Chargers ran in the 4th quarter against the Steelers on Sunday night is the way they should run the offense THE WHOLE GAME! I just don't get it, without Polamalu we should have creamed the Steelers! It is frustrating to be a Charger fan, Rivers, the receibers, Sproles on special teams has been great but there are so many other issues on offense. Don't even get me started on defense, I agree with the other posts that some players are just underachieving.

Mark said... Oct 12, 2009, 1:39:00 PM

The common denominator in this whole mess is AJ Smith. He let go of Brees, then Marty, and then Michael Turner. Three key components that we really need today. Granted, Rivers is arguably a top five quarterback in the league but letting go of Brees for nothing hurt. Another flub by this moron is not hiring Mike Singletary and instead going with his beloved Letherface (Norv Turner) whom he could control.

No Super Bowl this year. I am looking forward to the Denver game. It will be a real gauge of how much heart this team has.

Anonymous said... Oct 12, 2009, 7:18:00 PM

why wouldn't they play LT when he's healthy? they paid him, so he'll be the number 1 back, then it will be sproles for third downs/screens etc. sproles as an everydown back isn't good enough.

Anonymous said... Oct 13, 2009, 8:38:00 AM

Did anyone else here watch Miami's 2nd-string quarterback and their Wildcat Offense defeat the much-heralded Jets defense last night? Charger fans, take note: We need some of that HERE in San Diego immediately, this week!
Otherwise, here's what I predict will happen:
Rivers and/or Volek will both be injured due to the weakness of both our offensive line and no big blocking backs to pick up blitzes, etc. Rivers (although a great QB) is slower than a sloth on Xanax and already has a rebuilt knee. With our QB's out, our great receiving crew will be wasted, and we still won't be able to run (see: o-line). End of season, at least.

Anonymous said... Oct 13, 2009, 11:23:00 AM

Earlier I questioned the "street cred" and resumes of the Chargers current defensive coaching staff as a possible reason for our team's defensive struggles lately. For comparison, it's only fair that I list the same info for the #1 Defensive Team of 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Read 'em and weep Charger fans, or simply make your own conclusions.
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin – The NFL's youngest Head Coach in 2007, he finished 10/6 and went to playoffs his first year, the first NFL coach ever to do so in his inaugural year. Tomlin's in his 3rd year with the Steelers, 9th year in the NFL.

2006 – Defensive Coordinator for the Vikings (1 yr)
2001-2005 – Defensive Backfield Coach (5 yrs) for Tampa Bay (2002 Super Bowl, and '05 as #1 defense in NFL - 5 yrs)
1999-2000 – DB Coach (2 yrs) - University of Cincinnati – Took over
111th ranked secondary (bad) to 61st in ‘99 (better) and 8th in 2000 (much better) - (2 yr)
1998 – Short stint at Tennessee-Martin (less than one season).
1997-1998 – Wide Receivers Coach at Arkansas State, then switched to DB and Special Teams the second year (2 yr).
1996 – Graduate assistant at University of Memphis, working with DB’s and Special Teams (1 yr).
1995 – Began coaching career with Wide Receivers at Virginia Military Institute (1 yr).
1990-1994 – As a PLAYER, 3-year starter at wide receiver at William and Mary, setting a school record with a 20.2 yards-per-catch average, All-Conference in ’94.

D-line & Assistant Head Coach: JOHN MITCHELL – In his 19th season as a Steelers defensive line coach, the most tenured on the club. Also has 16 years coaching experience at the college level and 2 years in the old USFL; 37 years total. Under his guidance the Steelers d-line have led the NFL in run defense (x4) and finished in the Top Three run defenses often (x10). The first black All-American ever at Alabama as a defensive end, Mitchell began his coaching career there under “Bear” Bryant, and Mitchell was also later the first black Defensive Coordinator in the SEC Conference at LSU.

Defensive Coordinator: DICK LEBEAU – In his 6th year (since 2004) with his second tour with the Steelers, LeBeau was previously the Defensive Coordinator with the Steelers and also coached the DB’s there. LeBeau, age 71, has been involved in the NFL for 50 years, 14 years as a player (cornerback - x3 All-Pro) and 36 years (beginning with the Eagles in ‘73) as a coach, he's considered the architect of the “zone blitz”.

Linebackers Coach: KEITH BUTLER – In his 9th year of NFL experience, Butler was already on the Steelers staff when Tomlin was hired, but they worked together at Memphis (Butler’s alma mater) in '96. Butler also coached with the Browns from 1999-2002 (4 yrs), and had coached for 9 years in college; 1990-1997 at Memphis, and as DC and Linebackers coach at Arkansas State (1998 – 1 yr).
As an player, Butler was an All-American linebacker at Memphis, and spent 10 years in the NFL with the Seahawks, listed 2nd in that teams all-time tackles list with 813.
Defensive Back Coach: RAY HORTON – With the Steelers since 2004 and in his 15th year of NFL experience, Horton is in his 3rd year coaching the DB’s, having been an assistant under Tomlin in that capacity for 3 years prior to that (6 yrs). Earlier Horton had coached the Lions secondary (2 yrs), the Bengals 1997-2001 (5 yrs), and the Redskins from 1994-1996 (2 yrs).
As a player, Horton had 10 years NFL experience (7 yrs with the Bengals, 3 with the Cowboys), and was All-Pac 10 at the University of Washington.

Quality Control – Defense: LOU SPANOS – Oh, the irony (Hey, can’t we somehow “prove” a family relationship and get this guy to join the Spanos’ here?! Please?). THIS Spanos has 16 years of NFL coaching experience, 15 as an assistant linebackers coach with the Steelers.
As a player (imagine, a Spanos that actually played football!) THIS Spanos was a former center at Tulsa, and he began his coaching career there as an intern in the scouting department.
JLM said... Oct 25, 2009, 11:04:00 AM

Thanks. Good news..

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