Chargers Lack Killer Instinct

Is their ever a silver lining to be found in a 3-11 season? What constitutes praise in a season that goes far beyond losing? Is it a week to week evaluation or does each unit get assessed by the season as a whole? The famous saying is, "you will be remembered by your last performance." The San Diego Chargers have two games remaining and have two shots to prove the beginning and middle of the season were aberrations. It starts this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For much of the season the Chargers have not been able to stop the run. They have made a concerted effort to correct that in recent weeks and have held their opponents to a total of 151 yards rushing over the last two games. They have decided to make the quarterbacks beat their young secondary and they are one for two on game planning.

"Our rushing defense was the best it has been all year," said Marty Schottenheimer. "Our linebacking corps was very, very good against the run. I had felt we managed that part of it very well."

While Schottenheimer says there were "not very many" mental errors on defense, it is hard to believe when Brett Favre misses just ten passes on the day and has a passer rating of 122.2. Someone had to be out of position, or were they just beat?

"We are still not putting pressure on the quarterback like we need to," Schottenheimer says in defense of his secondary.

They have not put pressure on the quarterback all year long. What made them think it would suddenly change? The only consistent pressure they had came on blitzes. They employed it for one quarter against Green Bay, had some success, and then abandoned it when they got the lead.

Instead of taking the bull by the horns, they went into typical Marty-Ball. Play conservative and hope like heck they can be ahead in the end.

Then the first kickoff after they take the lead gives the Packers the ball at the SD 42.

"It was a poor kick," says Schottenheimer. "It was a poor kick."

The kick landed at the Green Bay 13 and it did not have the hang time Mike Scifres is accustomed to, but they still have a coverage team. Wiping that from the slate, the Packers showed why they were the team to beat. On the second play of the drive, Favre went deep for Robert Ferguson and connected for a 40-yard touchdown.

That my friends is the killer instinct. Immediately the Packers took the crowd out of the game – or did they bring the crowd to their feet at Qualcomm, I forget. The quick strike ability is non-evident on offense in San Diego.

Back on defense, they have not been able to come up with the big stop when they have needed it.

"They've had some unfortunate situations happen," Bill Cowher said. "They've been ahead in some games, taking the Chiefs to the fourth quarter and being ahead of Green Bay last week. He's got a young team but they're playing hard, getting better. Their record isn't real indicative of how these guys play."

"I have never been through something like this," Stephen Cooper, the man with the lone interception of a tipped ball, admits. "As a team a lot of guys were hurt because we played so hard, we played so good throughout the game until the fourth quarter."

Until the fourth quarter…

With the game on the line, crunch time, the Chargers defense sprang a leak. It is like not showing up for the last two minutes of a basketball game.

Now the team faces a different challenge. They square off against a tough Pittsburgh team -- in Pittsburgh. Not only will they face a physical presence up front, but they have two backs who offer many challenges. Then there are the talented receivers who wreak havoc with regularity.

How will the team respond?

No one knows until they play the game. You hear the talk, but it is all for naught when gametime hits and one team steps up to the plate to back up their words. The Chargers are hoping they end the season on a winning note.

The golfing season is almost upon us – and it is debatable whether it is already here, but the stamp this team will leave on its fans can be summed up in these last two games.

Is there reason for optimism in San Diego or is the optimism relegated to just the 2004 NFL Draft in April?

Denis Savage can be reached at

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