Miami

The faces of the San Diego Chargers have most recently been Philip Rivers for the offense and Eric Weddle for the defense. Don’t get me wrong, these two have done a stellar job at leading their counterparts and mentoring incoming talent, but unsung frontrunners such as center Nick Hardwick and outside linebacker Jerret Johnson have recently announced their retirement and that grants some empty leadership slots to be filled. Addressing the elephant in the room – can Donald Butler step up and fill the void? Ultimately, it’s not a question if he can, rather his duty to step in and drive.

The 2014 campaign was not a pretty one for Butler who was recently signed to a multi-year deal just the previous season. Watching him wasn’t what it used to be and his uninspiring attitude was hard to overlook.

Of course the blame can be put on the injury stricken defense, but all excuses aside, Butler now needs to become a true leader. Not last year, not yesterday, but starting now.

Butler will enter the 2015 season after recovering from a season ending elbow injury. Moving forward, the limelight is now on his work ethic. Injury is arguably the number one reason players never return to form, so it’s imperative that Butler works hard and proves to his teammates he is willing to put in the work. The Bolts are going to need him completely healthy and 100% ready to go next season.

I hate to bring this up, but the Miami game last year was by far one of the worst games in San Diego history. The 37-0 deficit was enough to bring the team moral to its lowest, and Butler was the main contributor. There’s no need to beat a dead horse, but you get the drift. Butler’s leadership should encompass morale which will allow him to be the go-to guy when spirits are low. Tenacity and optimism are the key ingredients to keeping the flame lit.

Lastly, there needs to be more production on the football field. Butler finished last year with only 45 total tackles, 1 sack, and no interceptions or forced fumbles. If the Chargers’ talented linebackers need any type of leadership, it’s going to have to start with Butler’s efforts. By all means, last year’s stats were nothing to brag about. Yet on the other hand, I’m confident he will improve his productivity. Teammates such as Manti Te’o, Andrew Gachkar, and Jerry Attaochu need Butler’s guidance.

Leadership is easily mentioned, yet tough to execute. Donald Butler doesn’t need to step up, it’s his duty. In order to accomplish greater things in 2015, the Chargers need his direction. With a new linebackers coach and new season, it’s safe to assume that Butler will have the chance to fill the void.

Briana Soltis

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

 

You always hear the saying “defense wins championships” in sports; specifically in professional football. Even though last night wasn’t a championship game and it ended in a loss, there is still a lot of promise for the Chargers defensive unit.

Injuries have crippled the team, specifically the defense, all season long; five defensive starters alone were inactive for the Miami blowout. The bye week mended the bruised unit and allowed for well-needed adjustments. That being said, John Pagano was able to bring his team to greater heights after week 10. Last night’s game proved all doubters and naysayers.

The Chargers entered the game ranked no. 8th in overall defense; a very impressive number considering previous sub-mediocre seasons. Frankly, I don’t think Pagano is done in San Diego just yet. Not only did the defense prove their worth, they did it against a 9-3 Patriots no. 6th ranked offense. The defensive unit had one sack by outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, an interception by linebacker Manti Te’o, and a game changing force fumble by safety Jahleel Addae that was picked up and taken to house by safety Darrell Stuckey. However, it was Ingram who impressed everyone with his hustle and ability.

Ingram finished the game with a total of five tackles, one sack, two stuffs, and a pass defended. He embarrassed the Patriots guard’s all night with his speed and reminded the team and fans of how much he was missed earlier this season. With him on the field, the defense is strikingly better. If Ingram can remain healthy, the likelihood of him becoming a Charger’s captain and leader looks extremely hopeful.

Another noteworthy performance was by Pro Bowler safety Eric Weddle. With a total of seven tackles, Weddle covered tightened Rob Gronkowski almost all night; frustrating the 6’6 brute. Gronkowski only averaged 10.9 yards per reception; the third lowest of his season. He was also held to just one touchdown and eight receptions. Can we say Weddle for Pro Bowl 2015?

If that wasn’t enough, the defensive unit continuously frustrated Tom Brady. I’m sure everyone saw him sitting on the field, throwing his hands up in what appeared to be curse words coming from his mouth after giving up his seventh interception of the year. Brady finished the game with a passer rating of 90.8; his fourth lowest of the season. The Chargers defense also held Brady and company to a few major stops in the red zone and at least four three-and-outs in the second half.

In addition, the Patriots were also held to just 23 points. Every win on the Patriot’s season, except against the Oakland Raiders, has had a score of 27 or more points; the Pats’ entered the game averaging 29.9 points a game. Tom Brady even said during the post game interview that their defense helped them to victory.

Overall, Charger fans should be extremely proud of how well the defense executed. There’s no question it was the best performance of the season. If the offense can get back to the basics, adjust, and come into the Denver game as top performing offensive unit, aided by a stellar defense, there is no doubt that the Chargers can defeat the Broncos. A win will not only increase their chances for a playoff wildcard, it may even grant them the opportunity of claiming the AFC West; something that hasn’t been done since 2009. Continue to support the Super Chargers because there is still a lot of football left.

 

Briana Soltis

The start of the 2014 season looked extremely promising for the offensive line. Veteran center Nick Hardwick was returning after questioning retirement, right tackle D.J Fluker was entering his sophomore season, and a healthy left tackle King Dunlap was set to make another impact. Adding to the mix was guard Chris Watt; a third round draft pick in this year’s draft. However, being past the halfway mark and into the bye week, the offensive line has crumbled into little football pieces; almost unrepairable.

Shortly after the one point loss to the Arizona Cardinals on a Monday Night Football showdown, Hardwick was placed on injured reserve; not returning for the rest of the year. Rich Ohrnberger was to fill the position, however injuries have inhibited him to be able to play effectively.  He too has missed some games. The injury bug struck so hard that at one point it left Watt, not a true center, filling the void as the fourth backup to Hardwick. At that point, the offensive line started to disintegrate and show their true colors. The next man up motto almost seemed like a joke.

It should be no surprise that the Chargers are ranked almost last (30th) in the NFL for rushing yards. Yes, the void of Ryan Mathews has greatly impacted the run game, but the guards and center haven’t done a sufficient job at creating holes for the run. In week 3 against the Buffalo Bills, Donald Brown had 31 attempts, ran for 62 yards and only averaged 2.0 yards for the game. If you remember, the Bills have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The run game had no chance. As many know, Johnnie Troutman is the right guard on the line, but does it shock anyone that he isn’t performing well? I’m not at all. Scary enough, Watt hasn’t even been able to outperform him to snag the starting role — as predicted in the offseason. It wasn’t until the Miami where the entire offensive line hit rock bottom.

The Chargers were shut out a few Sundays ago by the Miami Dolphins. That hasn’t happened since 1999 (I was eleven years old). Philip Rivers had a total of three interceptions and one strip-sack fumble. Does it sound oddly familiar to the 2012 season? Before the three game losing streak, Rivers was said to be the league’s MVP contender, but he doesn’t look like that anymore. If you look below, Rivers’ poor play has been due to an extremely underperforming offensive line:

SD vs Miami Oline 1

-Rivers sets up for a pass play on 2nd and 18. Eddie Royal to the lower right looks to be making a route in open coverage and the offensive line looks to be blocking correctly to allow Rivers sufficient time in the pocket.

SD vs Miami Oline 2

-Notice Troutman, turned around, looking completely lost and confused while exposing Rivers to Miami player #79. Fluker is basically playing the right tackle and  right guard position. But it’s becoming more evident that he might excel at the right guard position. As a result, the play ended in one of the three interceptions of the game.

Just as I mentioned, Fluker is being forced to play two positions at once. Do you miss Jeromey Clary yet? This type of play is a disgrace at the NFL level and absolutely needs to be address by the coaching staff sooner than later; if not, the next draft. Could it get any worse? Yes, and it does in the next example:

SD vs Miami Oline 4

-A view of the offensive line setting up for a well needed 8 yards on 3rd down. Antonio Gates looks to be the receiver while lined up on the right side.

SD vs Miami Oline 3

-In this view, Rivers appears to have pocket time to convert. However, the play never ended that way.

SD vs Miami Oline 6

-Dunlap was horribly beaten on the edge. Keep in mind, this play only lasted roughly three seconds. That’s how little time it takes to disrupt an opposing offensive line and quarterback. The play ended in the games only strip-sack fumble.

Lastly, Watt was given an opportunity when Ohrnberger was removed from the game. The rookie’s inexperience was exposed horrendously:

SD vs Miami Oline Watt 1

-Rivers has a pretty decently protected pocket, however Watt starts to crumble under the pressure from Miami’s Dion Sims at the far right.

SD vs Miami Oline Watt 2

-Well, this doesn’t look great. Watt is easily manhandled and left looking behind him while #80 attacks up the middle for Rivers.

SD vs Miami Oline Watt 3

-A very painful looking sack occurred on the play while Watt looks like he is in complete disarray. Rookies will be rookies. However, with the mindset of “next man up”, Watt doesn’t look NFL ready.

An efficient guard and offensive lineman will protect the passer and open up the pocket for the quarterback to see an open receiver. At this point, the Chargers current linemen have allowed the pocket to collapse sooner than desired leaving Rivers to increase his release rate to 2.52 seconds in order to get the pass out quicker. If the line is collapsing in three seconds or less, that ultimately leaves Rivers forcing to throw and converting in .52 seconds or less. Even if you’re Peyton Manning, that is horrible protection for any quarterback.

Basically, the offensive line has looked like the former 2012 line; nonexistent pass protection, no open lanes/holes for the running back and players looking like a lost child in a grocery store. Not to mention, they have been hit by injuries. The sad part, this was just the Miami matchup and more horrendous play occurred well before this game. Tom Telesco and company have many issues to address, and the offensive line is the biggest one. Everyone is pretty excited to see Ryan Mathews return to the practice field, but can the line hold up? It’s going to take more than a bye week to clean up this train wreck.

 

Briana Soltis

Tutu1

 

 

An identity crisis happens to many athletes, at every level. After Sunday’s meltdown in Miami, the Chargers find themselves in desperate need of some serious soul-searching and identity realization. Many things went wrong; even the Coaches were outperformed. However, if you looked close enough, it was obvious that one Charger player still gave his all…as if he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. Believe it or not, that player was Seyi Ajirotutu (TuTu).

It’s hard to imagine just one player, out of an entire team, giving everything he has. After seeing the Chargers embarrass themselves Sunday, you would understand that this did indeed happen. Almost all Chargers fans sat on their couches, bar stools and lawn chairs with their jaws on the floor in complete disbelief and even fury! Unfortunately, the entire nation saw the car wreck, too. Even with everything going wrong for the Chargers, combined with poor play, TuTu was playing as if it were the last game of his career.

He’s not one of those “well-known” players or even the face of the Chargers organization, but he certainly deserved the game ball, and here’s why. He plays with grit, passion and takes every play and yard personally…the reason, I suspect, is his NFL story.

TuTu was an undrafted rookie in 2010 signed by the San Diego Chargers. After an average rookie season, he was waived. In 2012, he spent some time with the Carolina Panthers before being cut. Bouncing back to San Diego, he replaced Richard Goodman, but unfortunately spent the rest of his 2012 season on injured reserve. He received another chance when the Chargers re-signed him in 2013. He then proved his value by catching the game-winning touchdown pass, with 24 seconds left in regulation, against the Kansas City Chiefs. With that track record, TuTu plays as if he will never step onto the field again; fighting to the very end. However, that fight cost him Sunday afternoon.

During regulation, TuTu was involved in a couple scuffles with Miami players. But late in the third quarter, he was ejected for making contact with an official. Prior to that, TuTu was frequently double teamed on special teams; yet still provided crucial blocks which contributed to Chris Davis’ punt return success. Doing your job during an extremely disgraceful and embarrassing game is hard when overall morale is down, but TuTu still managed to go all out.

If more players had his mindset and vitality Sunday, the outcome may have been different…and just maybe, players could have found it within themselves to play from their heart instead of their “you know whats”. The Chargers identity was lost, kind of like the Warner Bros. movie Space Jam; talents and spirits stripped away by the evil Miami space monsters. It will take a lot during this bye week to regain the momentum they had during the first six games of the season. Yet, if every player can acknowledge TuTu’s grit and hunger for the game, maybe the season will end as it did last year; winning the last four contests and clinching a wild card ticket into the playoffs.

 

Briana Soltis

homecomCA1

A NFL team is typically comprised of players from all over the nation; including various countries. When it comes down to traveling back to their hometown, players can’t help but feel emotional to be able to play in the city they grew up; often in front of friends and family. For five current San Diego Chargers, heading back to Miami is more than just a homecoming engagement; it’s redemption.

The Chargers are currently headed east to prepare for Sunday’s matchup against the Dolphins; a game that hasn’t been won in over 33 years. Players Corey Liuget, Tourek Williams, Brandon Flowers, Branden Oliver, and the former Dolphin Ronnie Brown all head back to a place they made so many memories in. I will bet that the song, Coming Home by American rapper Diddy, is blaring in almost all of these five players’ headphones on the trip there; reminding them that this is one of the most important games they will play this season.

Last year’s game against Miami didn’t end pretty. The Chargers lost by only four points, but don’t let the game score fool you; it wasn’t the teams’ better performances. Miami held San Diego to a single touchdown and without any in the final three quarters of the game. Miami’s terribly ranked rushing game, 26th of 32 teams, was able to rack up over 100 rushing yards against the Chargers. If that didn’t sound ugly enough, the Chargers team had ten penalties for a total of seventy-six yards and went 1 for 3 in the red zone. However, this was last year and the Chargers know how vital this win is for the team.

Have I mentioned that this game is extremely important? It paves the AFC playoff picture and a chance to abolish the 33 year slump. For these five players, going home to mommy and daddy isn’t on their mind; defeating the Dolphins is strictly all business. For Ronnie Brown, losing is not an option; he spent the first six season’s in the NFL with Miami before leaving to Philadelphia via Free Agency. Now a Charger, he is seeking revenge the second time around. You know the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”; you can guarantee that Ronnie will not be fooled this time around.

The stout rookie Branden Oliver looks to also make a splash in South Beach. After an unproductive game against the Denver Broncos last week, BO is determined to start back where he left off after the New York Jets game. With Donald Brown back in the lineup, the run game should show a significant improvement from previous weeks.

Corey Liuget is also heading back to his hometown with vengeance. After a poor performance in last year’s game, he too is looking for payback. Last year, Liuget totaled 5.5 sacks for the year with 42 tackles combined; in the Miami game he had zero sacks and only three tackles. Numbers like these do not impress Liuget, and he now looks to improve from last year. This game not only adds to a rich history with the Dolphins, it fuels the fire for these five men and their teammates.

“Any given Sunday” is commonly said by many football fans and enthusiasts, but the Chargers are seeking more than that. This isn’t just a regular Sunday, but a homecoming to remember for years to come.

 

Briana Soltis

ChargersDolphins

 

 

Each season is different than the previous in the NFL, while teams relentlessly attempt to improve from prior years. For the Chargers, it has been the last 32 seasons since they have accomplished what they have not since 1982 ( A historic playoff win by a score of 41-38 in one of the best games ever played). That being said, there is some unfinished business still to take care of this week. Heading into week nine, coming with a vengeance, doesn’t even begin to describe the team’s mission.

The Chargers are set to travel to Miami this Sunday and faceoff against the Dolphins. What many may not know is that the Chargers have not won in Miami during the regular season since 1980; even before many fans were born. It’s been over 33 years, a long and drawn out tenure that needs to be demolished and broken this Sunday. Forget the three divisional games played in a row, forget the loss in Denver after only having four days off, and forget that it’s difficult for a west coast team to travel over four hours to play an east coast team because this game is probably the most significant game of this season up to this point.

After Sunday, the Chargers enter their severely needed bye week. Going into Miami with a record of 5-3 isn’t terrible, but if they don’t leave at 6-3, their season is in tremendous jeopardy. No, the sky isn’t falling, but the Bolts face a tough stretch of games to finish off the regular season. Right now there are five AFC teams with a 5-3 record and three teams with a 4-3 record – Miami being one of those 4-3 teams. Already looking at the playoff picture, the Chargers absolutely need to win and head into the bye week at 6-3. If they don’t, the four other 5-3 team’s chances to snag the only two playoff wildcard spots are favorable, leaving the Chargers with no playoff appearance and some incredible soul-searching. It’s vital, like the desert needs rain, for San Diego to accomplish something they haven’t been able to in 3 decades.

It’s no secret that the Chargers are banged up and injured. Even Peyton Manning acknowledged the fact that the Chargers are in desperate need of their key players that are currently rehabilitating to get back on the field. Yet, the Dolphins don’t care. Why should they? It’s already predicted for the ‘Phins to win while adding a home field advantage to the equation.

San Diego has one of the worst rushing offenses right now; ranking 30th in the league facing Miami’s 16th ranked rushing defense. However, it’s Philip Rivers’ arm that can lead them to victory. The Dolphins given up seven touchdown passes in the last three home games. Rivers and company need to perform flawlessly in order to dismantle Miami’s secondary. With the possibility of Donald Brown coming back, and Branden Oliver continuing to impress with his talents, San Diego also looks primed to have a big rushing game against the Dolphins. Miami has allowed 11 rushing TD’s in their last 10 home games. Additionally, they have allowed 3 rushing scores at home this year. With stats like that, there’s absolutely no reason for the Chargers to not come up successful on offense.

Just imagine the plan ride home if the Chargers can get the job done. Envision the celebratory atmosphere and the utmost satisfaction of achieving something that hasn’t been done in decades. The win in Miami isn’t just needed, it’s crucial. The Charger players know how important this is and how it will pave the way back into back-to-back playoff appearances – something that has not been done since 2009. A moment in history will be made this Sunday, but which instant will occur? Another year added onto the already miserable 33? Or will the slump finally be broken? Stay tuned on Sunday and you will find out.

 

Briana Soltis

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