Sunday, December 30, 2007

Endgame: San Diego Chargers

The NFL Playoffs are at hand. As such, Alex and Zac will be revisiting all twelve playoff teams, the characters that have made it to the final chapter in this season's story, and digging deeper to find out just who they've become having arrived at this point. Today, Zac takes a look at the San Diego Chargers.

"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
-Bruce Banner

If the Chargers were a song, they would be:

Bloc Party – “Flux”



It’s all about emotional transitions here.

If the Chargers were a political figure, they would be:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President of Iran

They’ve got a lot of bluster, to the point where they’re pissing off a lot of people, but nobody is quite sure whether or not they’ve got the goods to be a major player.

If the Chargers were a vacation destination, they would be:

Miami

Good in concept, fun in the right frame of mind, but very easily overrated unless conditions are right.

If the Chargers were a natural phenomenon, they would be:

Forest fire

They move quickly and can be incredible forces, but good luck figuring out if they’re going to be productive or destructive until everything is said and done.

If the Chargers were an NBA player, they would be:

Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks

They wear their emotions on their sleeves, but those same emotions have almost no connection to in-game performance (good or bad), making the end results all the more mind boggling.

Who are the Chargers?

I couldn’t keep from gushing over the Chargers before this season, which began so awfully. What I couldn’t foresee, and what proved to be this team’s undoing for the first half of the regular season, was that Marty Schottenheimer leaving, and the doctrine of discipline he took with him, would expose this teams glaring character deficiencies. Discipline was what kept the ego driven diva tendencies of LaDainian Tomlinson from revealing themselves. Discipline was what turned an inconsistent defense into one that harnessed its talents and gave quarterbacks nightmares. Discipline was what kept Phillip Rivers from becoming a victim of his own draft status. Most of all, discipline was what turned the Chargers into the team to beat in the NFL, leading them to a 14-2 record. As such, the sheer lack of discipline this team has had to overcome has led several people to declare the “Norv Turner experiment” Chargers, currently at 10-5 and looking nothing like the precise machine from last year, a failure.

They aren’t wrong, but they aren’t right either…at least, not yet.

What critics who are quick to bury Norv and long for Marty fail to realize is that the regime change was never about making the Chargers have a better record. It wasn’t even about making the Chargers a better team, really. Marty engineered a unit that went 14-2; to ask for better than that is unrealistic. Instead, when AJ Smith made the switch, I think he fully expected this team to struggle on its way toward what the Chargers never found with Marty at the helm: Playoff swagger and, in turn, postseason success.

Love him or hate him, Norv has this team swaggering its way into the playoffs. Riding a five game win streak, and having beaten last year’s champs, the team that looked completely lost at the start of the season seems to have found itself. Tomlinson has found his happy place, and is once again carving running paths out of small cracks in defenses. More intriguing still is the fact that Chris Chambers has integrated himself into the passing game, his addition freeing Antonio Gates and making Vincent Jackson a relevant downfield threat, essentially a case of one plus one equaling three. Meanwhile, whatever steps the defense lost in terms of brutality have been replaced by the terror they now bring as they swarm the field. No throw is safe anymore, with McCree and Hart policing the deep backfield, Jammer relying on his veteran savvy as a cover corner, and Antonio Cromartie turning the interception into a thing of beauty once more. In replacing Martyball with Norv Turner, what was once a machine functioning on precision is now a living, breathing personality, complete with all the emotional growing pains that come with the transformation. Having emerged from these growing pains, the Chargers look flashier and, somehow, more dangerous than they ever did last season.

More importantly, this team looks mean. Freed from the constraints of rigid discipline, this team has been left to find its persona, and what has emerged is a ruthless, angry, somewhat insecure bully. Perhaps no player has embodied this change as much as Phillip Rivers, the quiet cog in the machine who became a tantrum throwing, taunting, overtly nasty former top five draft pick. It is on his maturing into his personality, however, that the Chargers’ playoff hopes depend. If he can channel his anger at the world into consistent performance, finding his three headed receiving monster when need be and allowing Tomlinson to carry the team when he can, this Chargers team is built for war. If he lets his insecurity swallow his game, this team may not even survive the first round. In any case, I think opponents should be more frightened of this team at 10-5 than they ever were of last season’s 14-2 squad. In my preseason evaluation, I spoke of last year’s Chargers as a work of art, which made them brilliant in execution but ultimately too static in nature to impose their will on enemies. This year’s team, by contrast, is the petulant, angry artist, with a fire in its belly that all the discipline in the world can’t create, a fire that only comes from living, breathing, often unstable entities

1 comment:

Dave H said...

Great article, hard to find people talking about the Chargers with intelligence.

We'll see what happens in the playoffs, hopefully this team is a completely different animal this year.

It's Crime Time baby!