San Diego Chargers aren't dead yet

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
12:00
PM ET
TurnerJason O. Watson/US PresswireNorv Turner is the only NFL coach who downgrades NFL betting lines.
The pundits are having a ball this week.

This is the year that the San Diego Chargers will finally fall back to earth. This is the September malaise that will doom the franchise.

That is the conclusion after watching myriad shows early in the week. Yes, it seems the perception is that the Chargers are no longer a playoff team. The reason, of course, is that San Diego has started the season 1-2 after losing at Seattle in Week 3.

The Chargers have made a habit of starting slow. They are 6-8 in September in four seasons under coach Norv Turner. San Diego, though, has always bounced back under Turner, winning the AFC West in each of his first three seasons in San Diego.

After listening to the talking heads, however, this year is different. This is the end of the Chargers as we know them.

Allow me to chime in: The San Diego Chargers aren’t dead yet.

I just don’t see the Chargers’ current state being the result of a team in major decline. It is the result of a team needing to address miscues and start playing better fundamentally. But there are not major issues on this team.

Look, the Chargers have lost both of their games on the road and by one touchdown in each contest. In both games, San Diego was driving to tie the score on its final possession.

San Diego is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in offense and is ranked No. 4 in the league in defense after three weeks.

Sound like a team in the midst of a downward spiral to you?

The only reason the Chargers have two losses is because they have been careless. The killer has been on special teams. San Diego has allowed three return touchdowns in the two losses. The special teams have not adjusted to the loss of special-teams ace Kassim Osgood. (Check out Jeffri Chadiha's piece on Osgood and other special-teams aces.)

Expect to see some starters inserted on the special-teams coverage units Sunday at home against Arizona in an attempt to clean up the issues. I’m not sure San Diego’s special teams will click at the same level they did when Osgood was roaming the field, but it will stop costing the Chargers games.

Also, San Diego has nine turnovers and has committed too many stupid penalties. These are things that can be worked out. It is not as if the Chargers are dealing with lesser talent. They are just playing sloppy football.

And Turner isn't pushing the panic button.

“The hardest thing is when you put the tape on and you see a lot of guys doing what they’re being asked to do and playing at a real high level,” Turner told reporters in San Diego earlier this week. “Obviously it makes a big impact when you see the plays that keep you from getting done what you want to get done. We know what they are and we know we have to eliminate them.”

San Diego knows its history. It knows this is really no different from recent slow starts.

In 2007, San Diego started 1-1 and then was 5-5 before winning its final six games of the season. In 2008, San Diego was 4-8 and then won the final four games to win the division as Denver collapsed. Last season, San Diego was 2-3 and then rolled off 11 straight wins to finish the season.

This is nothing new.

Arguably, the Chargers are performing better on offense and defense than they did last season.

The offense, which is getting better production from the running game than last year, is rolling (except for the turnovers). The Chargers have the No. 12 rushing offense in the NFL despite the fact that rookie starter Ryan Mathews has missed the past six quarters with an ankle injury. Last season, San Diego was ranked No. 31 in the league on the ground.

The passing game has been beyond good. You can’t pin the 1-2 record on the absences of receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill. Quarterback Philip Rivers is leading the NFL with 1,087 passing yards. He set a franchise record by throwing for 455 yards against Seattle. How can anyone say the Jackson absence is killing this team?

McNeill ended his holdout after two games and he will eligible to play in Week 6 at St. Louis. And his replacement, Brandyn Dombrowski, has played well. Offensive line protection isn’t the problem, either.

Defensively, San Diego is swarming. The defense has allowed 34 non-garbage-time points. It has forced seven turnovers. Teams are not teeing off on this unit.

In many ways, San Diego is playing better now that it has in the previous three years in the early part of the schedule. In a lot of ways, the Chargers are playing like the Turner teams that rolled at the end of the season.

Don’t fool yourself. The Chargers aren’t dead yet.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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