Chargers Win Despite Continued Struggles On Special Teams


As I write this on Sunday evening (while watching the embarrassment that is the Dallas Cowboys), I can't imagine any scenario in which San Diego Chargers special teams coordinator Steve Crosby should have a job by the time this is posted tomorrow morning. He simply has to go.

San Diego (4-5) was much improved for the second week in a row, defeating the Houston Texans (4-4) at Reliant Stadium 29-23 on Sunday afternoon, notching the team's first back-to-back victories and its first win on the road.

Quarterback Philip Rivers continues to show that it doesn't make a bit of difference to him who he's throwing to, posting up gaudy numbers (17-23, 295 yards, 4 TDS and 1 INT) despite throwing to receivers you probably hadn't heard of (and whose names you certainly can't pronounce).

Undrafted rookie free agent Seyi Ajirotutu caught four passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns while backup tight end Randy McMichael only needed two catches (for 23 yards) to reach paydirt twice, once on a spectacular one-handed grab.

Despite all of this good, Crosby and his special teams unit remain the elephant in the locker room for the Chargers. It's time for it to be dealt with before it costs the Bolts another game, as it very easily could have against the Texans.

Special teams were miserable yet again on Sunday, starting from the opening kickoff. Fullback Jacob Hester inexplicably decided to field a ball that was clearly headed out of bounds for a Houston penalty. His momentum carried him out of bounds (you know, where the ball was going) forcing San Diego's offense to begin at the four yard line -a 36 yard loss had the ball been spotted at the 40 following a kick out of bounds.

Then, in perfect replication of last week, the Chargers' offense went three and out and Mike Scifres saw his fifth punt of the season blocked, although this one wasn't recorded as such because the ball managed to cross the line of scrimmage before being pounced on by the Texans.

One thing I'm sure of: Scifres probably would have preferred that his punt had been cleanly blocked for two reasons. First, his personal average now includes a one-yard punt which is a big dent in his statistics. More importantly, Texans running back Arian Foster took the ball on the next play eight yards and sauntered untouched for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. At least if it had been blocked it might have only gone for a two points rather than seven. Regardless, it's ugly.

With the Chargers heading into a bye week, now is the time for the plug to be pulled on Crosby as special teams coordinator. The off week would allow for the necessary adjustments and scheme changes to be made before the Bolts face the Broncos on Monday Night Football in two weeks.

On Sunday, the continuation of Philip Rivers' prolific season bailed out more blunders from the Chargers' special teams unit. He just shouldn't have to do it again.

What I Liked, Besides Finally Winning on the Road

Ajirotutu Who?

A rookie from Fresno State finally put up big numbers for the Bolts on Sunday, but it wasn't running back Ryan Mathews. Undrafted fre agent
Seyi Ajirotutu made his case to remain on the roster when Vincent Jackson returns, but the rest of the Chargers' receiving corps stepped up on Sunday as well. With Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Legudu Naanee and Jackson all out, Rivers spread the ball around to eight different receivers, Ajirotutu stepped up in a big way. On top of his four catches for 111 yards, the rookie came up with a huge grab on third down that kept the eventual go-ahead drive alive.


Red Zone Defense

Sure, the Arian Foster (27 carries, 127 yards, 2 TDs) put up big numbers on Sunday, but the Chargers defense buckled down when it mattered most. When the opposing team's kicker has three field goals under 30 yards (27, 21, 25), it means that the defense is coming up with big stops inside the 20. Combine that with a huge stop inside the 20 on 4th down to start the fourth quarter and San Diego's defense stepped it up inside the red zone. That was huge for the Bolts in a close game.


Finally Forcing a Turnover


It had been a long time coming, but the Chargers defense finally managed to force a turnover and it couldn't have come at a better time. Paul Oliver's fourth quarter interception of Matt Schaub was the first forced turnover for San Diego in five games and gave the the Bolts their first road victory of the year.

What I Didn't Like, Besides The Obvious

Ball Security

It's hard to fault Philip Rivers after another incredible performance, but the Chargers signal caller could have avoided his third quarter interception. More bothersome, however, was Ryan Mathews putting the ball on the ground yet again. San Diego managed to win a game despite losing the turnover battle, but it shouldn't count on being able to do it too many more times. Protecting the football is the first step toward winning a football game.

Penalties

The Chargers were flagged six times for 62 yards on Sunday, but two of those were pass interference calls on Quentin Jammer when lined up against Andre Johnson that kept Houston drives alive. Yes, Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game despite his ankle injury. But this team, and Jammer in particular, need to be more disciplined moving forward.

Around the AFC West

The Chargers did themselves a favor by winning on Sunday, keeping a fifth-straight AFC West crown within reach. With the Broncos on a bye following last week's lost to the 49ers in London, the only other game involving AFC West foes was an overtime thriller in Oakland between the Raiders (5-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (5-3). With the Raiders winning 23-20 on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal, the division remains wide open. Although the Bolts sit in third place, four remaining divisional games (including a match up with the Broncos in two weeks) keep San Diego in the thick of the hunt.

Sound Off

Should special teams coordinator Steve Crosby retain his job, or should he be sent packing by Chargers management? Is a two game win streak reason enough to believe that this team can keep it together, or was the early season hole just too deep this year? Is this team a legitimate playoff contender? Sound off below.


November 8, 2010

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