To answer the question of this article completely it would probably take a 900,000 word novel. I don’t have time to write such a piece, nor do you have time to read it. Instead, I will give a brief, to the point synopsis of such problems from a coach’s perspective. Some may disagree, although most will likely agree since it doesn’t seem to be brain surgery here.
1. A Lack of Commitment to the Running Game
Take Monday night’s debacle against the Broncos. While LT’s yards per carry average was not what it has been when he’s been at his peak performance, against a good defense he was consistently picking up positive yards and moving the chains. He looked fresher and quicker than I remember him in the last two-plus seasons. He had the quickness and explosion we’ve all gotten so used to from LT.
It felt like any play he was about to break the big one. He still had 70 yards, but on only 18 carries. Imagine if he was given carries on the goal-line early in the first quarter when the Chargers settled for another field goal. Say he gets to 25 carries. He gets very close to 100 yards, and I bet breaks a big one and gets well past that mark.
But more important is the effect the commitment to the run has on the Chargers both as a team and an offense. Norv Turner apparently felt he had to call all pass plays when only down by four points with about six minutes to go in the game. When Mike Nolan, the Broncos Defensive Coordinator, figured this out he just started blitzing an overmatched Chargers offensive line. Poor Philip Rivers had no chance to find men down field because blitzers were in his face as soon as he got back in his drop.
If Turner would’ve run the ball even once or twice on that drive, the Broncos would’ve had to respect that and played a little more conservatively, thereby giving Rivers at least a chance to find an open receiver.
As a New Orleans Saints fan I’ve seen how a pass-only offense ends up working out. You may put up great numbers and score a lot of points, but it is so hit or miss that you have as many three-and-outs as you do big plays. And the ball is in the air so much you’re bound to have a lot of turnovers.
Three-and-outs and turnovers kill your own defense because it puts them in horrible field position and makes them play far more downs than they are capable of handling before they break down. Complementary football, as Sean Payton calls it, is what wins football games. Run the football, keep your defense off the field, and give your offense a chance by being unpredictable.
2. Poor Line Play on Both Sides of the Ball
Again this is hard for anyone to question, but still bears being repeated. It is understandable why Norv Turner shies away from the running game. For the most part, they (the O-Line) have done nothing to reward his confidence in them. Since it is a little bit easier to throw the ball without great blocking, passing becomes your best option.
Part of the O-Line’s issues goes back to Pro Bowl Center Nick Hardwick’s absence. He is responsible for getting the line into its’ proper protections and adjustments. He has done this very well for a good number of years now. Without him the line is somewhat lost. Other injuries to Louis Vazquez have forced the Chargers to start two less qualified players on their O-Line for part of this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers are greatly missing the services of two men who are now in other buildings, Igor Olshansky, now with the Cowboys, and Wayne Nunnelly, the veteran D-Line Coach who had been with the Chargers for 14 years and is now doing a wonderful job with…you guessed it the Denver Broncos.
Of course, losing All Pro Nose Tackle Jamal Williams doesn’t help matters either. The Chargers D-Line has become an undersized, minimally talented unit that for the most part does not fit the scheme the team is trying to run. Many in Charger Land are now casting blame on GM A.J. Smith for his inability to find suitable backups in case of a Jamal Williams injury or dropoff in production because of his age.
I for one, believed two years ago Kentwan Balmer, a DT out of North Carolina, would have been the perfect man to eventually replace Williams at that nose spot. Smith instead chose CB Antoine Cason, who looks like he’ll be a good player, but seemed to be less of a need pick at the time. Now the Chargers are left trying to fill a couple D-Line positions with career journeymen. Is it any wonder they are struggling to stop the run?
3. The Approach Has Become Stale
It is not uncommon for coaches to feel as if they are no longer reaching the players on their team after ten years or so with the same team. Well, it hasn’t been nearly that long for Norv Turner, but it is reaching that amount of time for GM A.J. Smith. And under Smith, the approach has been the same. Bring in young talent, sign your core players long-term, but don’t at any cost overpay them, and only sign second-tier free agents who will make your team as backups or role players.
To be completely honest, I generally love this model. It has worked for some of the best franchises in the league, such as Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis, and perhaps you could include Philadelphia. But guess what? They’ve all at least been to a Super Bowl. The Chargers have not.
Players will buy into anything if it leads them to their ultimate goal. But when their ultimate goal is not being met, uneasiness and questioning begins to take place. You might say success breeds success, just as losing leads to more losing. In my opinion this has happened to the San Diego Chargers. You could see it in the First Quarter when both Tomlinson and Antonio Gates (both team leaders and core players) showed their frustration after a third down call on the goal-line.
Most people realize San Diego’s real leader is not Norv Turner. He is much more of a puppet to A.J. Smith. Turner is basically just a glorified Offensive Coordinator. Smith chose him after firing Marty Schottenheimer to keep the current offense (which again was smart), but also so he could choose his own defensive coordinator. Most organizations allow their head coach to make such a decision.
A.J. Smith is a wonderful talent evaluator, but he has worn out his welcome with his bold moves, most notably allowing Drew Brees to leave via Free Agency, although in hindsight it worked out okay because Rivers has developed nicely.
The bigger point is that the players know Norv Turner has no power, and therefore they do not respect him. And they do not respect A.J. Smith because he is a pompous, overbearing boss who is doing more than his job description entails.
If the Chargers have any chance at salvaging their season, Turner must retake hold of this team and their psyche. He must recommit to running the football, and find a way to get some production out of his lines, despite their lack of talent and size.
It is a tall order to say the least. It is unfortunate that Turner is in this position because he actually has done an okay job given the situation he’s been given. He’s fighting an uphill battle, and one very few coaching candidates now would want to be a part of. Truthfully, despite San Diego’s talent level, I would say the Chargers Head Coaching job has become one of the least attractive in the league because you are faced with A.J. Smith.
It is no secret what I think the biggest problem is in San Diego.