The San Diego Chargers (1-2, 0-1 AFC West) find themselves in familiar territory after falling 27-20 to the Seattle Seahawks (2-1) at Qwest Field in front of 67,106 fans on Sunday afternoon.
As with every other year of the Norv Turner era in San Diego, the Bolts find themselves sitting below .500 early in the year. Yesterday’s loss, however, was particularly ugly.
The Chargers turned the ball over five times and allowed two special teams touchdowns in 101 and 99-yard kickoff returns by Leon Washington. In fact, Washington had better luck bringing himself down than the San Diego coverage teams did after slipping on a third kickoff turn that looked to be headed to the house.
The Chargers’ special teams unit has been weak so far this year - a punt was returned for a touchdown week one against the Chiefs and another was blocked last week by the Jaguars – but this week it became its Achilles heel.
Much will be said about perennial special teams Pro-Bowler Kassim Osgood to Jacksonville as a free agent being the difference in this year’s special teams unit, and to be sure Osgood’s absence was felt on Sunday in Seattle.
As a force to be reckoned with, Osgood made it a habit of disrupting the returns of other teams and likely would have done the same against the Seahawks, but keep in mind that being a disruption does not necessarily require making a solo tackle in space down the field.
Osgood consistently required opponents to double team him on returns, leaving another player free to go nose-up to the football untouched. Now watch Washington’s first return for a touchdown. And his second.
Notice that on both returns the only player left unblocked by the Seahawks was kicker Nate Kaeding. I’d take a running back’s chances in the open field against a kicker, too.
That being said, this problem goes far beyond Osgood’s presence on the field. Special teams coordinator Steve Crosby won’t sleep much this week after his units – remember that Darren Sproles fumbled on a kickoff return as well – essentially handed the Seahawks this game.
Still, the Chargers found themselves in the game on the final drive and fell a last minute interception short of forcing overtime despite all of their mistakes. So here’s what I liked and didn’t like from Sunday’s loss:
What I liked, Besides Pete Carroll’s Clock Management
The fourth year player from Florida has emerged as more than just a special teams threat (although the Chargers certainly could have used that on Sunday), finishing with five tackles and this sack of Matt Hasselbeck that resulted in a safety. With Larry English and Shawne Merriman on the bench, Siler stepped up for a depleted linebacker corps and made the plays necessary to keep the game within reach.
QUENTIN JAMMER'S UPS
Seahawks receiver Mike Williams is 6’5” tall. Jammer, meanwhile, is listed at a generous six feet even, yet he still managed to out-leap Williams for a Hasselbeck deep-ball in the end zone. Combine that impressive play with 2 passes defended and three tackles and Jammer was one of the few bright spots for the Chargers on the day.
PAUL OLIVER'S EFFORT
With less than two minutes to go in the first half and a 3-0 lead, Matt Hasselbeck took a deep shot for the end zone intended for receiver Deion Branch that looked to be a touchdown. Had it not been for an exceptional effort from Oliver, it would have been. Oliver chased down Branch rather than accept what seemed to be the inevitable and delivered a textbook “hook and punch” to knock out the ball just before it broke the plane of the goal line. The hook and punch consists of securing the tackle with one hand and punching the ball out from underneath with the other. What likely seems like a monotonous drill turned into a touchdown saving play when combined with exceptional effort by Oliver. He may not be a starter, but Paul Oliver seems to find a way to make a big play almost every game.
ANTONIO GATES, MALCOM FLOYD, AND... BUSTER DAVIS?
Philip Rivers’ two largest targets played big on Sunday, combining for 13 receptions for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Davis added another three receptions for 82 yards and offered major contributions to Rivers’ 455 yards through the air. When turnovers and special teams put a team in a hole, a dangerous passing attack is necessary to keep games within reach. These three made that possible for Rivers on Sunday.
What I Didn’t Like, Besides “Almost Everything”
This may seem like a broken record, but winning the turnover battle is crucial if you want to win football games. On Sunday, the Chargers did little to protect the football. Legudu Naanee, Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles all put balls on the ground that the Seahawks came up with. Combine that with two Rivers’ interceptions and you have a recipe for disaster. Not many games are won at any level of football when the ball is turned over five times. Sunday was no exception.
I’m sure Rivers is thankful left tackle Marcus McNiell signed his tender earlier in the week after spending much of Sunday’s game on his back. Rivers was sacked four times and hit an additional nine times on the day. With his career high 455 yards passing, just think of what could have been had he any time back there. Time to start counting down until week seven when McNiell returns against the Rams.
This has much to do with what he did do (the aforementioned fumble on a kickoff return) as what he didn’t do. Sproles carried the ball only once (for 16 yards) and had only one reception (for 10 yards) on Sunday. Remember, this is the same player that the Chargers valued at the highest possible tender, yet his involvement was limited on a day when starter Ryan Mathews was sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Sproles is a commodity because of the way that he can make things happen in space both when he carries the ball and catches it, yet he was largely forgotten on Sunday. Moving forward, that has to change.
The best thing that happened to the punt unit was the meltdown that was kickoff coverage against the Seahawks because for the first time in 2010 this unit won’t be the goat during Monday morning film review, but that doesn’t make it any better. Although this falls under the wide ranging definition of “special teams” that was horrible enough for me to devote seven paragraphs discussing above, allowing an average of 14.7 yards per return deserved its own mention, even if it’s down here at the bottom. The Chargers have one of the best punters in the NFL yet seem incapable of using him to their advantage. So sure, none were taken back to the house or stuffed (as in the last two weeks), but this has to get better, and quickly at that.
Around the AFC West
If there is any consolation for the Chargers this weekend, it is that both the Raiders (1-2) and Broncos (1-2) failed to jump ahead of San Diego in the AFC West race. Denver fell to a tough Indianapolis team 27-13 while Oakland fell just short of Arizona, 24-23. Unfortunately for all f them, however, the Kansas City Chiefs continued to impress (and jump ahead in the standings) with a 31-10 trouncing of San Francisco.
It doesn’t get much better for the Broncos and Raiders next week. Denver will head to Tennessee to face Chris Johnson and the Titans while Oakland plays host to Matt Schaub (or should I say Arian Foster) and the Texans. The Chargers will host Arizona and Kansas City will have a bye.
Grade the Chargers
Here’s your chance to vent. What did you take away from Sunday’s loss? Any other positives or negatives? What is the outlook for this team going forward? Will they rebound as Norv Turner’s teams have in the past, or will they simply stumble toward mediocrity? You be the judge. Sound off below!
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