Nothing Special About The Chargers' Special Teams Unit

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.


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.


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.


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!

September 27, 2010

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Anonymous said... Sep 27, 2010, 9:51:00 AM

Wowsers! Fumbles, Interceptions, two kick off returns for opposing team, this sounds like a hot mess. If you have noticed Chargers have been consistent on the listed mistakes above. Chiefs week one, Jags week two, Hawks week three, where does it stop? Unfortunately, this year seems to be a year where everything is awful so far! If there was a direct fix would it not be as simple do say well all we have to do is fix this....? Instead, it's everything to be fair, not to say some good things have been done on both sides of the ball. I believe everything starts with the HC Mr. Norv. Lackadaisical approach or not holding other coaches accountable attribute to these kind of mistakes. On a side note, is it me or does Merriman seem like he's just playing for a check? Anyways, I don't see the Bolts going anywhere with avg. 5 turnovers a game. I love to say this and I will, Mr. Norv Your In the Hot Seat! I welcome Bill Cowher next yr. I'm stuck, i really want good but the bad overshadows the good. We have a poorly disciplined team. Oh and whoever decided to draft English in the Mid 1st round should be fired immediately! We need more play makers. You candwell on the past of what we used to be or what we used to have but the mere truth is that were 1-2 and we have yet to win a Freaking Super Bowl in the 60 odd years we've been around. Someone please help alleviate the SX I have. Dear Heavenly Father, I ask that you give a gift, may that gift come in a fashion of a Super Bowl championship in the next few years for our hopeless Chargers? May your will be done. In our precious Messiah's name we pray, Jesus name Amen.


Anonymous said... Sep 27, 2010, 11:12:00 AM

Quite Frankly, the chargers are not a Super Bowl Caliber team and now possibly organization. You can't lose so many pro bowl over the last couple of years and expect to keep winning.

Now let's talk about the "Lord of No Rings" AJ Smith. His mantel of being a so called "top flight" GM needs to be stripped and thrown in the garbage. His philosophy of running an organization is laughable. He claims and I quote "Great teams are built through the draft" yet He hasn't drafted a legitmate Pro Bowl player in over 6 years.(Phillip Rivers was the last) To make matters worse, he has had good players that he could have traded for solid draft picks. ex. Drew Brees, Michael Turner, Vincent Jackson,Chris Chambers, Shawne Merriman, etc. He acutually thinks compensatory picks (top of the fourth round) are just as good a deal as a first or second round pick. Huh?!?!? I have never had a problem with him deciding that certain players aren't worth keeping. (See the players mentioned above). However TRADE THEM (!!!!!!) and move on. Chargers could have gotten some nice players in return and been in a better place as an organization. Finally, his 1950's style of "My way or the highway" doesn't fly in the 21st century. As a GM, you are called upon to be a leader not a dictator. He has alienated so many past and current Charger players that nobody in the NFL wants to deal with him. ex Look at the way he handled Schottenheimer, Tomlinson, McNeil, and V. Jackson. I think that it is time for the Spanos's to look really hard and objectively at the last 5 years and see what AJ has REALLY done. Zero Super Bowls, Zero Super Bowl appearances, 1 AFC Championship appearance, 3 First round exits even though the Chargers were Top seeds. I think the results speak for themselves. By the way, 5 AFC West Titles mean nothing when the other teams are lousy. Finally, as AJ keeps saying over and over " You are only a Charger one year at a time". The Spanos's only need to hit the replay button to his face ,escort him out the building and get this organization back on track.

Anonymous said... Sep 27, 2010, 12:17:00 PM


the team was a disaster yesteray!! im really worried!! we can´t expect every year to resuscitate at the secon half of the year!! so sad to waste great years cause we have a f*ck**g dumb guy calling the shots!!!

another year of suffering when its not needed and not expected!!!

Anonymous said... Sep 27, 2010, 3:14:00 PM

Even high school players know that when covering kick returns everyone must stay to their lanes. #41 ran hard left the first return for TD, leaving his lane and opening up a huge hole even before the Seahawk blocking setup.

Seattle's return also happened to be targeting that part of our line each time, so apparently they saw tendencies in film they could exploit -- and did. CJ Spillman (#41) needs to exit stage left and make room for a professional with discipline. Have to question the ST coach for not remedying this between TD kick-offs. Coaches that don't make corrections become part of the correction.

As far as AJ, none of this is fundamentally his fault. He's running a business. His job is to field the best team possible each year within an operating budget supported by the San Diego market. Did SD have the talent out there to win? Clearly did. Did it have to have MM & VJ to win? No. Not signing MM & VJ in the off season is just as much about future negotiations with players as it is the 2010 season. 2010 is easiest schedule SD will ever have, so there's something to be said to playing hardball and getting to the playoffs with a little less than max.

Neoplatonist Bolthead said... Sep 27, 2010, 3:42:00 PM

This is a championship-caliber team that's got a few major (and fillable) holes. The '10 Chargers will miss a good pass rush unless/until Merriman gets back to full health. Otherwise, the D looks pretty good. The offense is solid all around: stout run game, top-five NFL QB, better than average line and receiving corps.

But... something really, really needs to be done on special teams. If it's an attitude problem, cut somebody and replace him with a dedicated placekicker. If it's a scheming problem, go back to the drawing board.

So the team gets a B. But the first three games get D, B+ and D. Special teams gets F-minus, F, and F-minus-minus.

Anonymous said... Sep 27, 2010, 10:27:00 PM

The Chargers need to think about what kind of team they want to be when they grow up. There are so many areas that need to be fixed on this team. I believe it starts with the front office,and then coaching and finally the players. This team just seems ill-prepared. Hardwick said this team has a lot of heart. The reality is that some like Hardwick and Rivers do but many do not. Turner looks confused which makes me wonder what type of preparation his team did leading up to the season. The AJ vs. VJ thing is a distraction. The Chargers have the talent but they need to come and play the game. We got a preview of this team last year in the playoffs with the Jets. Too many guys have their heads in the clouds.

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