Archive for the ‘NFL’ Tag

Chargers Season Ends with a Thud

Coaches, personnel staff has some serious soul searching to do this offseason

by Andy Cohen

The San Diego Chargers, in control of their own playoff destiny, walked onto the natural grass surface at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and ended their season with a whimper. The situation was pretty simple: Win and you’re in the NFL playoff tournament; lose, and make your vacation plans.

To make matters even more favorable for the visitors, the Kansas City Chiefs would be playing without their starting quarterback, San Diego native and Helix High School grad Alex Smith. In his place, Chase Daniel would be making only the second start of his six year NFL career, his first coming in week 17 of the 2013 season against the Chargers.

The Chargers lost to the Chiefs 19-7, ending their playoff hopes and their season.

Instead of bowing up and playing to the occasion, the Chargers—particularly the offense—mailed in their 2014 regular season finale. With so much on the line, the team wilted.

To be fair, this was a Chargers team that probably wasn’t even as good as their 9-7 record would seem to indicate. Other than a rather impressive win against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in week two, the Bolts floundered against the best the NFL had to offer in 2014. The Chargers finished  3-7 against teams with a .500 or better record, and despite some heroic finishes by Philip Rivers and Co. against St. Louis, Baltimore, and San Francisco that gave a hopeful fan base an overabundance of confidence, this team was clearly not ready for prime time.

The truth is, even after a miraculous playoff berth in Head Coach Mike McCoy’s first season at the helm, the Chargers are clearly not a very good football team overall. They weren’t a year ago, and they aren’t now.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, with plenty of holes to fill on a deficient roster.

Personnel Woes

Two years ago, GM Tom Telesco inherited a depleted roster lacking depth across the board. Despite his best efforts, many of those holes remain. An offensive line unit that was once-upon-a-time one of the team’s greatest strengths is now one of its biggest weaknesses. A near complete overhaul, similar to what took place in 2004—when the Chargers replaced four of five starters, and eventually the fifth—is in order. The 2013 addition of right tackle DJ Fluker via the first round of the NFL Draft was supposed to be an improvement, yet he has struggled in each of his first two seasons. Both guard positions are a major liability, and with the pending retirement of center Nick Hardwick, a starter since opening day of his 2004 rookie season who missed all but the first few snaps of the 2014 season, the Chargers will need to find a replacement at center stat.

One option would be to move Fluker to guard, where he is probably much better suited at the NFL level. It remains to be seen whether 2014 third round draft pick Chris Watt is the long term answer at center (or guard), but it’s clear that four out of the five offensive line spots need serious upgrades, with left tackle King Dunlap the only player worthy of returning to his current spot.

The Chargers also need to find an answer at running back. Ryan Mathews is supremely talented, and a difference maker when he’s on the field. But therein lies the rub: The Chargers cannot count on him to stay healthy, and they cannot count on him to hold on to the ball when he is. Mathews just completed his first NFL contract, and he’s worth hanging onto at the right price. But the team MUST find another back that can carry the load. Which is fine. Running-back-by-committee seems to be the way most teams in The League are approaching one of the most physically demanding positions on the football field. But there is clearly no one else currently on this roster capable of being that every down threat, capable of supplying a consistent rushing attack for a team that is desperately in need of finding offensive balance between the run and the pass; a team that needs to rely less on an athletically limited Philip Rivers.

As well as Rivers has played at times, a consistent run game will only make him more effective, particularly considering his lack of mobility. If the team chooses to part ways with Mathews—a perfectly reasonable conclusion—they’ll need to find two such backs. As great a story as Branden Oliver has been in 2014, he is not the answer. Donald Brown was a waste of a free agent signing, likely a product of Telesco’s loyalty to players from his former team, the Indianapolis Colts. And while everybody sings Danny Woodhead’s praises, he is not an every down player, but rather a nice change-of-pace back and a good checkdown receiving threat out of the backfield.

The Chargers receiving corps remains solid, including future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates and backup Ladarius Green, who possesses all kinds of as yet unrealized potential. Perhaps they could use another receiver for depth, but it is hardly their most glaring need.

Defensively, reinforcements on the defensive line are called for. Corey Liuget is a player the franchise can build around. The linebacking corps is relatively solid—Melvin Ingram is a difference maker when healthy, Manti Te’o has steadily improved, and Kavell Conner and Jerry Attaochu show great promise, while an aging Jarret Johnson has provided a steady hand. Yet while the defensive backfield seems rich in talent, they are sorely lacking in discipline and fundamentals. Still, with better coaching and a focus on fundamental skills, it’s a backfield that holds a good deal of promise for the future.

Speaking of coaching….

Deep soul searching called for

As a young, aspiring NFL scout way back when, I was perplexed by what I was seeing as I studied college game films. I could not understand why some of the most highly touted college prospects—including many certain first round draft picks, the absolute cream of the upcoming crop from some of college football’s premier programs—seemed so deficient when it came to basic football fundamentals. I asked then Chargers GM Bobby Beathard how that could be the case; why some of the best prospects were so lacking in basic skills.

His response was that most coaches tend to assume that prospects have been taught the basic fundamentals at the lower levels of the game; college coaches assume the high school coaches have it covered, and NFL coaches assume the college coaches have emphasized it. Coaches are far more interested in installing and tinkering with their exotic offensive and defensive schemes, spending an inordinate amount of time adding wrinkles to their playbooks and are loathe to spend much time reinforcing basic skills—the basic skills that make the game safer and can help prevent injuries (and blown plays).

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, that problem persists, and in many cases is worse than ever. The Chargers under Mike McCoy have been among the biggest culprits. Defensively the Chargers are possibly the worst tackling team in the NFL; they take poor angles, they don’t stay square to the line of scrimmage, and they stop their feet, getting stuck in cement while the ballcarrier blows by them. The secondary can’t seem to cover a soul without committing defensive holding or pass interference. Their footwork is abysmal, and they have no idea what to do with their hands.

The offensive line is nearly as bad; a unit so short on talent cannot afford to be fundamentally deficient, with feet stuck in quicksand and shoulders getting turned out of square, unable to react to twists, stunts, and blitzes, leaving Philip Rivers, the epitome of a pocket passer, constantly under siege.

But even more disconcerting is the barrage of injuries suffered by the 2014 Chargers. Injuries happen.  They’re a part of the game.  But the number of injuries suffered by this Chargers squad cannot be explained by a simple case of bad luck. Something is very, very wrong with the way this team prepares. Many concussions can be prevented with the use of proper hitting technique, and yet so many Chargers defensive players insist on leading with their helmets, refusing to “see what they hit.”

Sound fundamentals can help prevent many injuries. When those fundamentals break down, however, injuries become far more likely.

Compounding the problem, the San Diego Chargers are a poorly conditioned, physically unprepared team. A well conditioned team is less prone to injuries to begin with, while fatigued players tend to breakdown in their fundamental techniques.  A team that is deficient in basic fundamentals is far more susceptible to major injuries when they’re not in peak physical condition.

NFL teams simply don’t burn through five different starting centers and nine different offensive line starters in all through the course of one season; well prepared teams don’t have to scramble just to field a complete defensive backfield week in and week out.

Say what you will about Dave Redding, Marty Schottenheimer’s strength and conditioning coach, but he had his teams physically prepared. Mike McCoy’s teams clearly are not.

McCoy and GM Tom Telesco have some deep soul searching to do.  They must take a good hard look at the way they and their respective staffs prepare their team for the rigors of an NFL season, beginning with the offseason strength and conditioning program. Personnel deficiencies aside, a better conditioned and fundamentally sound football team is a far more competitive football team.

The 2014 Chargers showed a lot of grit in securing last minute wins against St. Louis, Baltimore, and San Francisco. But they are clearly not in the same class with New England, Green Bay, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, even Seattle. They have a long way to go if they hope to compete for an AFC West title, let alone a Super Bowl.

Build it! It’s more than JUST a stadium

There’s a common misconception that a new NFL stadium for the Chargers is strictly a Chargers issue.  That since the Chargers stand to gain the most from building a new stadium, then they should be entirely responsible for paying for it themselves.  And if they’re not willing to do so, then they should just leave.  The city will survive without them.

And although that may be true—that San Diego will go on without the Chargers as it has gone on without the Rockets and the Clippers—it is extremely shortsighted to look at the stadium as merely a Chargers issue, as if they’re the only ones affected.  They’re not.  And it’s about time folks started to understand that.

The stadium issue is a San Diego issue.  It is an economic issue that has much greater ramifications than whether or not we have an NFL franchise to call our own.  It will largely determine SDSU’s ability to continue to field a Division I football team.  It will absolutely determine whether San Diego maintains its ability to host the Poinsettia Bowl and the Holiday Bowl, one of the premier—if not the premier—non-BCS bowl games in the country.  San Diego greatly benefits from having fans of participating teams visit our fine city; they not only buy tickets to the game, but they stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, visit our landmarks and attractions, patronize our stores……

But even that is only a small part of the economic impact a stadium brings to our city.  San Diego is a tourist destination, so a significant chunk of our local economy depends on brining in tourist dollars.  By losing an NFL franchise we lose an awful lot of free advertising on national (indeed international) television.  When CBS, Fox, NBC, or ESPN broadcast a game from San Diego in December or January they include video panoramas of the harbor, our beaches, and the skyline.  Images of a cloudless sky and 75 degree temperatures get beamed across the world.  And when commentators like Al Michaels declare that the NFL should hold the Super Bowl in San Diego every year while telling the hundreds of millions of viewers about the clear blue sky and the 90 degree day we are experiencing at the end of January while more than half of the United States is buried under three feet of snow; well, there simply is no better endorsement of our city than that.

And about the Super Bowl:  There is a lot of debate about the actual economic impact hosting that event has on our city.  The NFL says that the 2002 game had an overall economic impact of over $300 million.  Detractors claim it was less than $100 million.  But whatever figure you believe it is undoubtedly a huge net positive for our economy in direct numbers.  In indirect terms, though, one cannot underestimate the value of having a giant, 10,000 megawatt spotlight shined on our city for two weeks solid leading up to the game.  The state of California has spent millions of dollars on a national ad campaign to boost tourism in the state, yet we get even better direct exposure for our city for free!  And make no mistake about it:  The NFL is dying to bring the game back to San Diego, as it was an enormous success the previous three times it was here.

Building a new stadium also puts San Diego squarely on the list of cities being considered as a venue for the World Cup should the United States be chosen as the host nation for the 2018 or 2022 tournament. There is little doubt that a new stadium in San Diego would entrench the city as one of the 12 chosen sites.  It is estimated that the World Cup would have a national economic impact of at least $5 billion, with San Diego reaping between $350 million and $500 million of that haul.

Consider, too, the need to expand the San Diego Convention Center.  Mayor Sanders’ Convention Center Task Force recently published a study that estimated that “39.7% of prospective customers that do not book San Diego Convention Center attribute that decision to “Center Unavailable,” or a lack of space.” The study found that in 2007, convention attendees generated $921 million in direct spending here despite an inability to accommodate the largest events.  Without the added capacity, San Diego is losing out on a lot of business.

The proposed convention center expansion combined with the availability of a stadium for added space would guarantee that no event is too large to be held in San Diego.  When not being used for sporting events, the stadium floor itself could be used as a convention venue, not to mention the various club lounges and skybox suites that can be used to entertain smaller break-out groups as a part of the larger event.

Critics abhor the idea of using any kind of public funds to build a stadium for a “private enterprise.”  But the Chargers are more than that; they are a public asset in terms of the civic pride they generate in the community at-large and the revenues they help to create.  Yet a stadium can be more than just the team that calls its field home.  With the right location, a stadium can become a significant part of the economic engine that drives the city.  There’s also the $17 million the current Qualcomm Stadium drains from the city’s coffers to take into account.

The city absolutely should not bear the financial responsibility alone, nor will it.  But since the city stands to benefit from the presence of such a facility, the tax increment bonds that would be issued to help build it should be considered an investment in the overall economic viability and vibrancy of our community for years to come.

An investment in a stadium is an investment in the future of San Diego.

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