Chargers Reach Pivotal Crossroads
TE Antonio Gates (Jeff Gross/Getty)
TE Antonio Gates (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Posted Sep 18, 2008


The Chargers face the visiting New York Jets in San Diego on Monday, near the crossing of Interstate 8 and 15. The game also features the Chargers reaching a crossroad where gut meets check.

How else to explain the Chargers' plight as the NFL enters Week 3 with the Chargers still seeking Win 1?

It's been two weeks of heartache for the Chargers -- losing on Carolina's last play in the opener and swallowing a tough last-minute defeat to Denver when referee Ed Hochuli should have swallowed his whistle.

But so it goes -- it's called the NFL, where there are absolutely no guarantees.

That goes for a team that has bragged about having the most talent in the league.

That goes for a team that is led by a coach whose long string of ineptness was interrupted last year -- a trend or an aberration.

That goes for a defensive unit that once pounded its chest. Instead, it just gets pounded -- see the 388 yards, on average per game, offenses are pasting on them.


QB Philip Rivers
Doug Pensinger/Getty

The sky isn't falling out in San Diego but the floor is rising.

After the first flameout, the Chargers played the "it's a marathon not a sprint" card.

After the second toe-stub, the deck was reshuffled and the "we got a bum call" card was introduced.

All that's fine. But those explanations and about $4 will get you a grande soy latte. Otherwise, it's all about wins and losses and the Chargers have none of the former and two of the latter.

So before it gets much later, the Chargers need to rebound. Need to show they really do have championship credentials. Need to show they can not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

What the Chargers need to do is race away from those first two stinkers and focus on the Jets. Any NFL coach will tell you're anchored to the previous games, you will sink in the one coming up next.

"It should hurt and it should eat at you," quarterback Philip Rivers said of the shocker in Denver. "If you're a competitor and you care, it ought to eat at you and bother you. It's OK to still be sick about it but we've got to move forward to a home game against the Jets that will hopefully get us going."

Coach Norv Turner has said his piece about the shaky officiating in the loss to the Broncos and attempts to turn the page too.

"You're (miffed), and then you know that no matter what you do, it's not going to change that decision that's been made,'' said Turner, whose Chargers team last year started 1-3. "You have to move on. It's gone, it's gone. We get ready and we get started and going and it's not going to be a thought in my mind because my mind says how do we prepare to play our best football game on Monday night?"

That answer will come under Qualcomm Stadium's bright lights. The Chargers are eager to show they still belong among the NFL's elite teams. But they realize time is running short to prove it.

SERIES HISTORY: 31st meeting. Chargers lead series, 18-11-1, and won the last matchup in 2005 when the Chargers prevailed in the Meadowlands. But that was merely a game that brought with it a small dose of revenge with the Chargers still smarting from the previous meeting. That came in the 2004 playoffs when the heavily favored Chargers fell to the visiting Jets in overtime, 20-17. It was one of the most heartbreaking losses in the playoffs for the Chargers; the loss helped eventually get then-coach Marty Schottenheimer fired.

NOTES, QUOTES

--An offensive coordinator well-versed in recent Chargers history will be trying to beat them on Monday: Brian Schottenheimer. His father, Marty, is an ex-Chargers head coach with Brian being on his staff from 2002-05.


RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Matthew Stockman/Getty

--Another day and another practice in which LaDainian Tomlinson was sitting in the training room to rehabilitate his jammed big toe. "I get very frustrated, to be honest with you," Tomlinson said. "Just because I haven't missed much time -- even in practice. (Over) my career, I've been able to practice a lot of the practices that we have and I get very frustrated just because it's so boring when you don't practice and you're sitting up there in treatment. It's just a slow process trying to get healthy."

--Chargers defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell was the Jets' defensive coordinator from 2001-03.

--Count QB Philip Rivers among those not surprised with Darren Sproles' huge contributions on Sunday. "We all see that every day in practice," Rivers said. "He deserves it. The guy works in the offseason and in practice harder than anybody on the football team. You hate it when L.T. can't go, but Sproles steps up, scores on special teams, scores on offense, makes some great plays. He was outstanding."

--LT Marcus McNeill returned to work for the first time in six weeks on Wednesday and was upbeat. He's missed the preseason and first two games with a neck injury. McNeill said he's got a shot at playing Monday night. "It's definitely reasonable," McNeill said. "But I don't make the call. It's Norv's call. But as far as for me physically, I feel 100 percent and I'm ready to go out there and play. But I don't want to hurt the team by going out there if I'm not ready."

--Rookie CB Antoine Cason has collected two fourth-quarter turnovers in his first two NFL games. "Hopefully I can keep them coming, but more than that I hope we can make one of them count so I can really enjoy it," Cason said.

--Darren Sproles' 307 all purpose yards last week marked just the 23rd time since the NFL merger that a player has gone over 300 yards in a game.

--Jets wide receivers coach Noel Mazzone was the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State during Rivers' senior season in 2003.

--Running backs coach Jimmy Raye II is the father of Chargers Director of Player Personnel, Jimmy Raye III.

BY THE NUMBERS: 131 -- Average of total offensive yards collected by LaDainian Tomlinson in each of the four previous games against the Jets; he also has six touchdowns in that span.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's one of the few guys I had on my wall as a poster." -- QB Philip Rivers, on how big of a Brett Favre fan he was growing up in Alabama.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL


RB Darren Sproles
Stephen Dunn/Getty

Darren Sproles is forcing the Chargers to reconsider a couple of positions. Sproles' big game in Denver should allow him to get more carries in the base offense. That could be a critical development if LaDainian Tomlinson's toe starts to act up again -- he was restricted to 10 carries last week.

With Sproles contributing as a running back and as a dynamite kickoff returner, the Chargers have to be careful not to overwork the 5-6 Sproles. So they will likely take him off punt-return duties, replacing him with Buster Davis. This also gives Davis a chance to be active on game days; last year's first-round pick has become an afterthought in the passing attack.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Antonio Cromartie is nursing a sore hip and a bruised ego after last week's meltdown of a game. Cromartie, despite a sore hip, took part in all of Wednesday's practice and is looking to bounce back quickly against the Jets.

--DT Ryon Bingham is seeing increased playing time with the Chargers being cautious of the health of NT Jamal Williams' health of his knees.

--CB Antoine Cason, the team's top pick, continues to impress in his role as the nickel back.

--ILB Tim Dobbins is opening some eyes with his aggressive play and he is starting to carve into starter Matt Wilhelm's reps.

--WR Buster Davis needs a good week to get back on the coach's radar. The first-round pick from last year was a healthy inactive in the opener and was restricted to fielding punts in the second game.

GAME PLAN: Stay with what's hot -- the passing game. It's rare when the Chargers aren't bent on sticking the ball in LaDainian Tomlinson's midsection. That said, the running game has been playing second fiddle to the passing attack -- and that leads into the best way for the Chargers to attack the Jets. With the addition of DT Kris Jenkins, the Jets have turned nasty against the run. They are allowing but 76.5 yards per game. Conversely, the Chargers have struggled to establish a running game with Tomlinson being in and out of the backfield with a sore toe. So lean on hot quarterback Philip Rivers for at least another week. That works in many ways, including not putting too much work on Tomlinson's still mending toe.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Chargers C Jeremy Newberry, who is filling in for Pro Bowl starter Nick Hardwick, vs. Jets DT Kris Jenkins, who has been a rock in the middle of the defensive line.

Newberry has fared well while replacing Hardwick the last two weeks, but the Chargers' run game is a shadow of itself -- some of that is due to Tomlinson's toe injury. Still, Newberry figures to have his hands full with Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowler. He's among the reasons the Jets are giving up but 76.5 rushing yards per game. Keep an eye on LB David Harris, who led the team in tackles last year and has 19 in the first two games this year. Tomlinson needs a big game as he fell short of 100 rushing yards in the opener and was restricted to 10 carries last week because of his sore toe. The run blocking has been OK, but sporadic and now comes a huge test against a physical front -- with Jenkins in the middle. The line could get a lift if LT Marcus McNeill returns but either way, the Chargers could have a difficult time establishing the run.

Chargers pass rush vs. Jets QB Brett Favre behind a basically new offensive line.

Once upon a time, the Chargers got after quarterbacks -- but that notion seems to be a pleasant afterthought. Since Shawne Merriman showed up with a bum knee, the Chargers can't get to the quarterback. Jake Delhomme and Jay Cutler carved up the secondary as the pressure on them was difficult to decipher. The team has but two sacks and that has to change if it wants to secure its first win. But Favre is Favre, meaning he can evade pass rushers with the best to ever play the game. Sure, he's old. But he has that knack for knowing when to step up or step aside and complete a pass. Shaun Phillips needs a big game, but the outside linebacker's production has dropped off dramatically after Merriman went down. Favre can also buy time behind a fresh offensive line on which the Jets feature four former first-round picks on their offensive line, including prized free-agent acquisition Alan Faneca, a seven-time Pro Bowl guard with Pittsburgh.

INJURY IMPACT: RB LaDainian Tomlinson (toe) didn't work Wednesday but will play Monday. But he could have his carries restricted as the toe becomes fatigued. That means more work for Darren Sproles. ... DT Jamal Williams (knees) didn't practice and that will be the norm through the season. The Chargers are trying to get one more season out of his achy knees. When he is on the sidelines, Ryon Bingham fills in. ... C Nick Hardwick (foot) continues to be limited in practice and appears to be a couple weeks away from playing. ... LT Marcus McNeill (neck) is increasing his work load in practice. He could play Monday; the following game against the Raiders is probably more likely.



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