I’d love to be creative with my writing, to offer new angles and analysis, but week in and week out San Diego’s special teams coordinator weasels his way into my Monday morning post.
Sure, the Chargers (3-5) beat the Tennessee Titans (5-3) 33-25 on Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium, softening the blow of “special teams cost San Diego the game” to “special teams just tried really hard to cost San Diego the game,” but the overall ineptitude of the Chargers’ special teams unit cannot be ignored.
Plenty of good things were on display against the Titans this week, and I’ll get to those below. But don’t let the sweet aroma of the first victory in almost a month drown out the undeniable stench that surrounds this special teams unit. That would be like applying deodorant and calling it a shower.
Mike Scifres had a punt blocked for the fourth time in eight games this year. This time, reserve tight end Randy McMichael simply missed his block on the outside, essentially gift wrapping the punt for Titans safety Nick Schommer resulting in safety and an early 2-0 deficit.
What bothers me most about the constant struggles in punt protection is the overall lack of discipline it reveals. There isn’t a single weakness being exploited by opposing teams. If that were the case it would be easily fixed by a change in count or scheme.
Instead, Crosby’s unit has been manhandled in just about every way – up the middle, off the edge, by twists and flat out base rushes. Until the discipline of this team improves (without even mentioning the troubles in kickoff coverage, punt coverage and an anemic return game), the Chargers will continue to be plagued in the kicking game.
Speaking of a lack of discipline, another special team once again did everything it could to keep the opposition in a game that should have been put away. This time, it was Scifres bobbling a snap following Darren Sproles’ 13-yard touchdown reception from Philip Rivers late in the fourth quarter.
Kris Brown as unable to get the kick off and Scifres helplessly threw the ball away, keeping the Titans within eight points and, more importantly, one score.
Although Tennessee never reached the end zone on this day, the reality is that careless mistakes such as these cost teams football games. If anyone, the Chargers can attest to that. Until this mess is properly cleaned up, the stench will continue to lurk around this football team.
That being said, the Bolts did manage to win on Sunday, and thus finally have provided me with things to like about their performance. So here are the positives and negatives from Sunday’s outing:
What I liked, besides, well, winning
Backfield by Committee:
Finally, the San Diego backfield had a big day of production. It may not be rookie Ryan Mathews carrying the load himself as expected before the season, but results are results. Check out the stat line for the Chargers’ three primary backs:
I don’t need a pretty stat line from any one player if the three can combine for 221 yards of total offense every weekend. Sunday was a good to the Chargers’ backfield.
Much has been made of San Diego sitting atop the league statistically on the defensive side of the ball, and Ron Rivera continued to bolster his head-coaching resume with Sunday’s performance. Facing perhaps the most dynamic rusher in the NFL in Chris Johnson, the Chargers held the Titans to a mere 65 yards on the ground, with 59 of those belonging to Johnson. Half of Johnson’s yards came on a single run – a jaw-dropping 29-yard scamper in the second quarter – and for the rest of the day the Bolts bottled him up. Impressive.
What’s not to like? Apparently who is catching the ball makes no difference to Rivers, who continues to put up big numbers every week. Without Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Legudu Naanee and Buster Floyd to throw to, Rivers went ahead and put up 305 yards passing on 27 completions. Rivers completed 75% of his passes for two touchdowns and a passer rating of 106.8. I guess it was just another day at the office for the Chargers’ signal caller.
I may have exaggerated a bit in saying that Rivers doesn’t care who he’s throwing to, because his relationship with the game’s best tight end is utterly obvious. Gates battled a toe injury all week, missed almost all practice time and showed up on game day to catch 5 balls for 123 yards (a 24.6 yard per catch average) and a touchdown. As long as the Chargers have Rivers and Gates, they have a chance.
What I didn’t like, besides all those empty seats:
Just as poor special teams play shows a lack of discipline, so do penalties. The Bolts were penalized eight times for 62 yards and flags were usually thrown at the most inopportune times. An illegal formation penalty negated a Rivers third down completion to Patrick Crayton in the first quarter and a false start backed up the Charger’s offense to its own goal line where, on the very next play, the Titans nearly forced their second safety of the game. At 3-5, this team simply cannot afford being penalized so often.
Any time a team gives up a 71-yard touchdown completion to Vince Young, you know there is an issue. San Diego’s secondary notably botched two coverages, the first being the touchdown pass to Nate Washington and the second mercifully dropped inside the ten yard line. On the touchdown grab, Eric Weddle (who earlier had dropped an easy interception), Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer were pointing the finger before Washington even crossed the goal line. Not good.
Winning is nice, but reality must set in eventually, so I thought I’d do you the favor. This team is still 3-5, two games below .500 and trailing the Raiders (seriously) and the Chiefs in the AFC West. They make a tough trip to Houston next week to face the Texans before enjoying a bye week. Yes, the AFC West is bad but ground must continue to be made up to compete four a fifth consecutive division title in December.
Are you optimistic about this Chargers team following Sunday’s win, or do you expect the Bolts to continue to struggle? Will the Chargers ever get their special teams woes figured out? Will Qualcomm Stadium ever be filled again this season? Sound off below.
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