Rocky's Football Corner, 1.16.2008

by Rick Rockwell

Except for fans of the Chargers and the good people of San Diego, few expected the Bolts to be playing for a conference championship this weekend.

This author certainly didn’t, being too conservative to call two major upsets on one day. (Although that Giants’ upset of the Cowboys was predicted weeks before it happened, and with confidence. And that was before Tony Romo went to Mexico with Jessica Simpson, by the way.)

Although the Chargers stumbled out of the gate this year with a new coach, they have closed furiously. And now they are poised to knock off the undefeated New England Patriots in a grudge match. Some may recall the Patriots beat the Chargers in the playoffs last year in what became a smash-mouth affair that ultimately cost Coach Marty Schottenheimer his job.

The management of the Chargers are feeling vindicated about that move now.

Still, it was wrong. (This blog was on the record about that before the Chargers took out the guillotine.) Schottenheimer had won 14 games. Likely, he would have taken the Chargers just as far this year too. (And who can believe the sportswriters in D.C. who still bring up Schottenheimer’s name as a replacement for Joe Gibbs. Again! No coach in the National Football League wants to lead a team so bad they would risk working for Dan Snyder twice.)

But instead, another D.C. reject, Coach Norv Turner gets the pleasure of riding the adrenaline wave that has been the Chargers’ success story. Turner was Snyder’s first coaching victim in D.C. and he has been in and out of head coaching and offensive coordinator jobs in the past decade in the wake of that firing. Many forget he was the most successful coach in D.C. after the first Gibbs era. If Turner is lucky enough to get past the Patriots, won’t the fans in D.C. be scratching their heads over that, and wondering what would have happened if Snyder had stuck with Turner for just one more year. Would they have bonded? Would success have followed? Of course, that’s all sports talk radio speculation now.

Turner created the Chargers’ current offense then went on to other projects, only to return as the head coach in Schottenheimer’s wake (a strange course of events, as Schottenheimer had replaced Turner in D.C.). That offense and an opportunistic defense were good enough to upend the Indianapolis Colts last weekend.

But despite their unofficial nickname, the Bolts won’t be able to get lightning to strike twice this year. Yes, Shawne Merriman, the Chargers’ fearsome linebacker will harass and sack Patriots’ Quarterback Tom Brady. The Chargers are likely looking at tape of how the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers pressured Brady. All those teams gave Brady a few bruises. But his stellar receiving corps and efficient spread offense came to his rescue, not to mention his skill at zipping laser-like passes. Don’t forget he set a playoff pass efficiency record against Jacksonville last week, and those passes that ended up incomplete were right in the hands of his receivers. So expect to see the Chargers' defense keeping the Patriots bottled up for a half or so.

The real deciding factor will be the Chargers’ offense, which, like the Patriots, is a list of all-stars. However, after the hard-hitting game with the Colts, the Bolts will be spent. Quarterback Philip Rivers has not one but two bad knees. League-leading running back LaDainian Tomlinson is also limping. Last year, the Patriots ran out of gas against the Colts in the conference championship (something that has motivated them this entire undefeated season) after an emotional struggle against the Chargers. This year, it will be the Chargers wilting in the second half, still hungover from their upset of the Colts.

Norv and his boys will get to the big dance one day. But not this year. Not if the Perfect Pats have anything to say about it.

Conference Championship Office Pool Predictions

Giants at Packers (Packers)
Chargers at Patriots (Patriots)

Last Week: .750
Playoffs: .875
This Season: .686

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Scotus said...

At this point, the only truly satisfying conclusions to the season are the Patriots going undefeated or the Packers beating the Patriots. So the Chargers winning would be completely and utterly disastrous...which makes me think it might actually happen. For the good of the NFL, they should just forfeit now.

As for Norv, I think the Chargers are where they are now in spite of his coaching ability, not because of it. As much as I hate giving Snyder credit, he made the right move firing him. If anything, he waited too long.

Anonymous said...

I agree on Norv. He should not have gotten a 3rd chance.

On Marty, one comment: Marty became one of the winingest coaches in NFL history by coaching his talent to execute his system. His system is to play the odds. Eat the clock up on offense, don't turn the ball over and play solid defense. That is a winning formula over the long haul. But in the playoffs you have some courage to go against the odds and roll the dice at times. That is the difference between Schottenheimer and Belechick. They both have a lot in common but Belechick knows when to roll the dice.

Marty proved too many times he cannot win a big game and over years and years I realised it wasn't bad luck. It was handing the ball off to Herman Fontenot on 3rd down and short in the 4th quarter with a chance to lock up the game, that lost the game for the Browns against the Broncs. NOT THE DRIVE!!!

Rick Rockwell said...

I love the idea that the Chargers must forfeit for the good of the NFL. Scotus, you think like a journalist. We need the best story lines.

However, I don't agree about Turner. He has proven that by going as far as he has with the Chargers in the playoffs that he deserved another shot.

I actually think NFL teams pull the trigger on coaches much too quickly. In Washington, after Gibbs, they are discussing how to keep some stability, but how do you do that when the leader is gone?

The truth is though that organizations succeed when there is a sense of culture and stability.

Arguably, if Snyder had compromised and learned to work with Turner or Schottenheimer, his team would have fared better in the past decade. Or if he had managed to lure Gibbs out of retirement sooner. Despite his recent run, Gibbs is still a great coach. Turner and Schottenheimer are very good coaches, or maybe just good. Neither has been to a Super Bowl yet (and for Marty, it looks like he’s never going) and until that happens, they really can’t be considered great.

Even Super Bowl winners aren’t always great coaches. Brian Billick? Very strong but his ego got out of whack in Baltimore, and he never managed to recreate his Vikings offense (and Norv has pumped up offenses wherever he went, although the results have been mixed). Some might say Billick’s Super Bowl win should go as much to Marvin Lewis who coached the defense as to Billick (the Buddy Ryan-Mike Ditka debate from Chicago in the 1980s). However, Lewis hasn’t been able to recreate his defensive miracles in Cincinnati.

Even Mike Holmgren probably isn’t among the ranks of the greats. He was out-coached in the two Super Bowls he lost.

So if you look at great coaches in the league right now. Who is there? Belichick. Definitely. I love Tony Dungy, but I know I’ll get a debate about how some folks feel the Colts have under-performed. But Dungy was part of the group that constructed the Tampa Two defense, which changed modern defense. So he’s on my list. (Although Belichick has his number usually.) Mike Shanahan is on the list too. He’s won the Super Bowl a few times and his teams are always competitive. This year, unlike Gibbs, he couldn’t figure out how to get his team out of that depression that is inevitable when a key person is murdered.

But after that, there’s not much else besides mediocre hacks, wannabes and a core of good coaches hoping to be great. So that means if the team is going to win consistently it needs a stable organization.

Anonymous said...

Who else thinks that sport has gone too far? I mean there is so much money involved in sport now that there is very little sport left anymore. Sport spread betting used to be frowned upon when I was a kid as it made people desperate for money to bet with but now it’s nothing compared to how disgraceful a footballer’s salary is! These people train a few times a week and play one game a week if they’re lucky and get paid a week more than I earn a year! And yet no authority has ever questioned it! Why!? There’s a minimum wage, why can’t there be a maximum wage as well based on the type of job? So all you betters out there, why don’t you start spread betting on how much players are going to be paid next instead of what used to be sport?

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