Monday, November 29, 2010

The Grind Cuts Both Ways

As unlikable as the whole lot of them can be (Rivers is a douchebag, Vincent Jackson has the most juxtaposed off-field demons on any WR in the league, and GM A.J. Smith is becoming the posterboy for shortsighted bullies in upper management), what this Chargers team is doing is as much an example of one of the tenets of this blog as anything else: Talent, around which a system is patiently tailored to maximize strengths and dampen weaknesses, will and should always win out in the end. Hell, this is what Norv Turner has been doing for his entire tenure with the team, and is probably why they brought him in to replace the elder disciplinarian Schotty in the first place. In week 5, there might not have been a team you’d rather face than the Chargers, who were a dissonant mass of individual talents whose stats couldn’t hide a total lack of focus in those areas of the game where focus matters most (special teams matter, people). Now, in week 13, there might not be a scarier matchup in the league. At his best, Rivers is a fusion of Drew Brees’s methodical distributor and Jay Cutler’s moody prodigy, and with Jackson returning (never forget: the NFLPA left him out to dry), he now has the elite WR on the outside that he has lacked all year, one that stands on his own talents and need not be created by the system or the QB (Malcom Floyd on any other team is Malcom Jenkins). Indeed, Jackson’s return will likely lead to a new wrinkle in an offensive game plan that is consistently adapting to new data. It grows with its players; what a remarkable concept. Throw in a defense that proved on Sunday that it is ready and willing to coach its unheralded talents (Shaun Phillips was always better than Merriman, and who the hell is Kevin Burnett) up to the habits of any opponent, and the result is a team that seamlessly blends its own strengths with schemes designed to frustrate opponents.

That it’s not particularly pretty when looked at too closely is, perhaps, the result of any product so reliant on high notes for its identity. The Chargers, left to their base identity, are out of place in a league whose history is built on tightly run, closely managed ships. Jackson doesn’t even like this team, and he’s going to be an integral part of their playoff run. This is what leads to the ugliness that was the early part of this season, when the team was finding a way to bring it’s mixture of injuries, suspensions, and harshly edged personalities and talents together. What we’re seeing now, however, flies in the face of the “clean locker room” mentality that Bill Parcells preached into dogma even as he relied on LT’s insanity to build his legend. Rather than expelling discord, Norv Turner has faithfully stuck by his collection of talents and attempted to create a plan of attack in which they can coexist, knowing that if they do so long enough, they will thrive. It’s why he’s crucified by the mainstream media, who love a good old morality play, but it’s also why he may be the real evil genius of the league.

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