Mitchell, blitzers must be effective Sunday (buffalobills.com)
SB Nation completed the NFL wing of its blog section this past September when we announced the launch of our new Chargers blog, Bolts from the Blue. So, naturally, I am pretty excited to introduce all y'all Rumblers to DaBolts, the upstanding fellow who heads up the BFTB project.
DaBolts has spent the first six weeks of the 2008 NFL regular season watching one of the most spectacularly inconsistent teams in the NFL. The Chargers are coming off of a 30-10 pounding of the New England Patriots, however, and appear closer to hitting their stride offensively. I asked (or tried to, at least) some tough questions of DaBolts about his Chargers. He didn't flinch, and he didn't gloat. Here's what he had to say about his team and their upcoming matchup with our Bills.
Buffalo Rumblings: The Chargers haven't won a game in the Eastern time zone since the 2006 season, when, ironically, they scraped by the Bills 24-21. Their losing streak on the east coast has now reached three games, and they've won just two of six since the start of the '06 season. How big a factor was the cross-country trip in those performances? Do you see it continuing to be problematic this Sunday?
DaBolts, BFTB: I'm agnostic on the time change theory. At least two of those losses were against an excellent Patriots team, and the Dolphins showed up ready to play. Is it a factor? Perhaps. I flew to Boston on business recently and have to admit a bit of fog, but the reality is that it is always tough to play on the road in the NFL and the Bolts have not played well enough to win. I hate to admit it but the Dolphins just seemed hungrier to win that game. If it is an issue, I don't see why the Chargers aren't heading out there a day or two earlier to allow for the time adjustment; I notice the Pats just stayed out West after beating the 49ers; they still came out flat.
Buffalo Rumblings: LaDainian Tomlinson's stats are down. Clearly, he's not on the decline, but that hyper-extended toe of his is certainly causing some production problems. How vital is it for Tomlinson to get back to his usual statistically dominant self? Are the Chargers a legitimate Super Bowl contender if he continues to be hampered by this injury?
DaBolts, BFTB: Great question. It's vital to get a running game back. We just missed trading for Michael Bush out of Oakland for a second day draft choice. Unless we come up with a coherent running game I don't believe we will go deep into the playoffs. We have one of our posters who calculates success rates per Football Outsiders; against the Patriots only 4 of 28 running plays were 'successful'. Near the end of the game a power running game that chewed clock would have put it away earlier. We are one of the worst teams on time of possession despite putting up a lot of points for just this reason; this puts a lot of stress on our defense.
Some are questioning whether we should be giving more touches to Darren Sproles and Jacob Hester while LT is out; I tend to agree with that. LT is making a good try, but he clearly is off his game. The attempt to trade for another running back also bespeaks a lack of confidence in Hester that isn't encouraging. The offensive line has battled injuries early; the other hope is that they start doing a better job opening up the lanes. The lack of running game isn't all in the backs.
Buffalo Rumblings: San Diego's passing attack has been lethal this season. Philip Rivers is the league's highest-rated passer and has already thrown 14 touchdowns this season, a category he leads alongside Tony Romo. Is there a weakness to Rivers' game and the Chargers' passing attack overall?
DaBolts, BFTB: Pressure. Rivers has had two sub-par games against Oakland and against the Dolphins. Both teams got lots of pressure, and his timing was just a little off. The Chargers have a number of very good targets in Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers; they can all beat a team. Get to Rivers before he has time to find them. Our offensive line has been suspect at run blocking, but has been mostly terrific at pass blocking, so it's a steep hill. The other thing that helps is when teams break out ahead of the Bolts early. If you can nickel and dime Rivers without worrying at all about the run and put in whatever pass rush specialists, then you have a disruptive scheme.
Buffalo Rumblings: The Chargers "boast" the league's 31st-ranked pass defense despite having two of the league's best corners. Logic would dictate to an outsider that the loss of Shawne Merriman has hampered the Chargers' pass rush, and thus led to the big passing numbers of San Diego's opponents. Is this the case, or is there another reason for the Chargers' inability to slow down opposing quarterbacks not named Matt Cassel?
DaBolts, BFTB: Losing Merriman is huge, but there has also been a fundamental breakdown in covering tight ends; our safety Clinton Hart has been victimized a lot. Also, Antonio Cromartie just melted down against Denver, though he came back strong against the Jets. Lastly there was a tendency to go with a soft zone early in the year, coupled with too much predictability in our blitzing schemes which allowed teams to just chew us up with 8-12 yard passes.
Even against New England, they came out in the second half throwing those shorter underneath routes and moved the ball very well that first drive. I do think defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell has been more aggressive, and played more man to man lately. The other component was at the beginning of the year we saw Matt Wilhelm and Derek Smith starting at ILB. Stephen Cooper, who was on suspension and Tim Dobbins, who just played his way into the starting job are doing a much better job getting pressure and stopping the run.
Buffalo Rumblings: Marty Schottenheimer got the boot as your team's head coach because of his inability to win in the post-season; Norv Turner got that done last season, but the Chargers have suffered two straight sluggish starts (at least record-wise) under his watch. What are Chargers fans' general feelings on Turner?
DaBolts, BFTB: They are mixed. Charger fans are roughly divided into three camps: those that like the coaching, those that don't like Cottrell and those that don't like either Norv or Cottrell. The war drums were definitely beating after the loss to the Dolphins. Norv gets very little slack from the fans because of his mediocre record. At the beginning of this season the local rag called back some folks who wrote in calling for Norv's head on a silver platter early last year; mostly they were sheepish and liked Norv at that point. That didn't diminish calls for his release after the Dolphins game however. For myself; I think he does a good job. When he took over last year if Gates and LT were under-performing, we would have been losing every game. He has really opened up this offense. I'm less enthusiastic about Cottrell; I'd like to see a lot less zone and more aggressive blitzing but there have been injuries that have unquestionably hampered this defense.
Many thanks to DaBolts for stopping by. Your thoughts on his thoughts are welcome and encouraged.