CB Antonio Cromartie (Stu Forster/Getty)
There is plenty of blame to go around as the Bolts lost to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, 37-32, for the team’s third loss in four games. The Bolts head into November two games under .500 and 1.5 games back of the Denver Broncos. Here are the 10 people most responsible for the slow start.
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1. HC Norv Turner: No one deserves more blame than Turner. Against the Saints, the Chargers showed a lack of discipline (14 penalties for 134 yards) and a lack of organization -- if the offense doesn’t burn a timeout with 1:18 to play, the Chargers get a legitimate second chance to tie the game. Teams take on the personalities of their coaches, and this Chargers team is playing with a lack of passion and urgency.
2. DC Ted Cottrell: Football is a player’s game, so I hesitate to start this list with two coaches. However, the Chargers defense has been utterly hapless. The Chargers were held without a sack or an interception for the second consecutive week. The Saints topped 400 yards total offense by the end of the third quarter and finished the game with 28 first downs.
3. CB Antonio Cromartie: When Shawne Merriman was lost for the season, I felt the Chargers were only losing their second-best defender. In hindsight, that was an idiotic notion. Not only is Cromartie less valuable than Merriman, but at this point, he’s less valuable than his cousin, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Antonio is the NFL’s most penalized player and gave away 15 more free yards on Sunday. He’s failed to intercept a pass in seven of eight games this season and contributed only two tackles against the Saints.
4. DE Igor Olshansky: So much for making the most out of a contract year. Olshansky, widely recognized as a run-stopping defensive end, is part of a defense that ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in opponent’s rushing average (4.1 ypc). Although he has two sacks this season, he has failed to be a difference-maker. He finished Sunday’s game with no tackles.
5. LB Matt Wilhelm: As recently as 2006, the Chargers boasted one of the NFL’s top inside linebacker tandems (Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey). Now, that group is in shambles. Wilhelm has played his way out of the starting lineup, which is a huge disappointment for a player who signed a five-year contract extension in December 2006. The Chargers pass defense has been pathetic between the hashes and Wilhelm’s struggles have been a big reason why.
6. WR Buster Davis: It’s tough for an offensive player to land on this list given that San Diego’s problems clearly lie on the defensive side of the ball. However, Davis has been such a massive bust to this point that there’s no way to leave him off. He continues to be sidelined by nagging injuries -- it’s a groin this time -- which was the knock on him coming out of college. Even when he returns to health, his play is not worthy of reinserting him into the rotation.
7. GM A.J. Smith: The Chargers’ three significant offseason losses were RB Michael Turner, CB Drayton Florence and FB Lorenzo Neal. If you were to grade Smith on the job he did replacing those three, it would be an "F." RB Jacob Hester has failed to replace Turner as the power back; CB Antoine Cason has struggled ever since Week 2; and FB Mike Tolbert has struggled so much as a lead blocker that he’s often replaced by TE Brandon Manumaleuna.
GM A.J. Smith
8. LB Shaun Phillips: As soon as Merriman went down, the general consensus was Phillips would have to pick up the slack on the other side. Through eight games, he has failed to do so. Phillips has sacks in only three games and is on pace for his lowest total since '05. “The Other Guy” has played down to his moniker.
9. SS Clinton Hart: Hart entered this season with two goals: Top last season’s career-high of five interceptions and earn his first Pro Bowl invite. Although there is still half a season to play, it’s safe to assume Hart will fail both of those objectives. Although Hart did deflect a pass in the end zone against the Saints, he was later beaten for a TD by Devery Henderson. Hart’s range and coverage skills are lacking.
10. OT Jeromey Clary: Clary has failed to build on his strong second half of the season from last year. He’s struggled with speed rushers off the edge and failed to clear cut-back lanes for Tomlinson. With 10-year veteran L.J. Shelton waiting in the wings, Clary will have to play better to keep his job for the duration of the season.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.