Chargers still have time

The Chargers' problems run deeper than their 0-2 record. They have a list of issues that must be resolved, and soon, if the team has any hopes of playing into late January.

Atop that list is the play of Drew Brees. After throwing only seven interceptions in 2004, he is now on pace to toss 24 picks in 2005.

He has not, however, completely regressed to his awful form of 2003, which may stick the Chargers with an even bigger dilemma.

This was supposed to be the year the team's quarterback picture got cleared up for the long term. Either Brees would excel again, and Rivers would become trade bait; or Brees would fall apart, and Rivers would become the quarterback of 2006 and beyond. Now the team is facing a third scenario. What if Brees is painfully ordinary, mixing in moments of brilliance amidst a sea of mediocre play? There is no easy answer to that question, but the team may be forced to come up with one.

One of the primary reasons that Brees was brought back for 2005 is that the team placed a premium on continuity this offseason. Their only noteworthy defection was offensive line coach Hudson Houck, but it now appears as if that may be more crippling than anyone could have ever anticipated.

After allowing only 21 sacks in 2004, the Chargers offensive line is on pace to give up 48 this year. Also, LaDainian Tomlinson averaged 3.9 yards per carry last year behind this same offensive line, but that number was low because Tomlinson played through nagging injuries from week two on. Now, Tomlinson is healthy and averaging only 3.3 yards per carry through the season's first two games.

"We didn't make plays at the right times," offensive tackle Roman Oben said.

The offensive line needs to play better, especially the tackles. This makes one wonder how the team has done such a poor job of addressing the position.

A.J. Smith came to San Diego in 2001. Since then, the team has drafted eight offensive tackles. Six of them are no longer with the team in any capacity. One who is still with the team, Courtney Van Buren, is spending his second consecutive season on the injured-reserve list. The other, Shane Olivea, is one of the starters whose uninspiring play is sparking this rant about the team's lack of talent at the tackle position.

"We want to dominate the line," Olivea said.

The final problem plaguing the team is their horrendous pass defense. They were hoping that Shawne Merriman could come in and ignite their pass rush, which would in turn make their secondary more effective. Unfortunately, Merriman has been hurt, and their pass defense is still hurting because of it.

Last year, the team allowed 253 yards passing per game, the second-worst number in the league. Through two games this year, they are allowing an average of 237 yards, which is better but still nowhere near good. Also, last season the team compensated for their porous coverage by hauling in 23 interceptions, the third-best total in the league. This year's team in on pace for only eight.

"The defense has got to go out and do their job despite the adversity we run into," safety Terrence Kiel said.

So while the Chargers' 0-2 record may cause some to worry, it shouldn't. If the team can beat Eli Manning's Giants next week they will be 1-2, which is the same record they had after three weeks last season. They ended up with a more-than-respectable record then, and this slow start won't stop them from having an equally stellar record this year.

"We have lost two games--one by four points and one by three points--to two good football teams," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We can not be complacent with playing good but not winning games. We have 14 regular season games left and those are more important than the two we have already played."

What will stop them is inconsistent play at quarterback, on the offensive line and in the secondary. If the team can find a way to solve those problems, and fast, they'll be fine. If not, they could be in for a long season, and not the kind that goes deep into January.


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