A Report Card: First Nine Games

It is easy to pin San Diego's 4-5 start solely on poor special teams. But the truth is the Chargers have several issues beyond the third phase of the game. We flesh some of those out by grading every unit of the roster for its showing in the first nine games.

PASSING OFFENSE: A -- QB Philip Rivers continues to prove he belongs among the game's elite players. Without him, the Chargers would be devastated and he continually keeps them in games with his right arm. Rivers has thrown for 2,944 yards and 19 touchdowns. TE Antonio Gates has been just as good (nine scoring catches) despite being compromised by injuries. Wide receivers have been OK; many have had trouble staying on the field. The pass blocking has been solid, especially how often Rivers is dropping back to pass and the running game being so-so.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Much was made of how the running game would blossom with a washed-up LaDainian Tomlinson gone and a fresh Ryan Mathews on board. But Mathews has an ankle injury and ball-security issues (three lost fumbles in 102 touches) which has derailed those plans. Mike Tolbert, with seven rushing touchdowns, has been solid. But he, too, has had trouble handling the ball. The run-blocking seems improved, but a real rhythm is still being sought. The Chargers fell behind so often, Mathews was hurt -- and Rivers is so good -- that the team has been reluctant to stay with the running game on a consistent basis.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- CB Antonio Cason has held up well in replacing Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer is quietly having another solid season. The safety play -- Eric Weddle, Steve Gregory, Paul Oliver -- has been average. The unit still has trouble creating turnovers. The pass rush is hit or miss: Shaun Phillips has seven sacks, but four of those came in one game. Larry English has been hurt and unable to contribute.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Chargers have been better here, although they got pushed around pretty good in Houston in the last game. But Antonio Garay has brought some stability to the interior line; Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire on the edges are adequate. Inside linebackers Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett have been active; Burnett is having the better year, especially in pass coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- Unreal. The Chargers have had four of their punts blocked and another one which was labeled a deflection. They've given up three returns for touchdowns. Botched snaps on kicks; a kicker slipping and injuring his groin. The return game isn't that bad, but not nearly what the Chargers were expecting with Darren Sproles providing ordinary production.

COACHING: C -- Norv Turner did the most important thing any coach can do when things go south: he kept the team intact. After another horrible start (2-5), many teams would have gone into the tank and called it a year. But Turner has kept them believing, and if nothing else, he should be commended for that. Now, about yet another terrible first half and the Chargers being painted yet into another corner? He gets no love for overseeing that. The defense is improved, but coordinator Ron Rivera still seeks a play maker. The secondary figures to get tested more in the second half; so far, it hasn't cost them a game.



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