Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Chiefs II

As the divisional showdown between the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs draws closer, rival publishers Michael Lombardo of SD Bolt Report and Nick Athan of Warpaint Illustrated delve behind enemy lines to discuss Philip Rivers' rocky start, Shawne Merriman's impact and the contributions of the "Other Guy."

Nick Athan: How much heat is Norv Turner in right now in San Diego? Most NFL pundits believe he's the kiss of death on any organization as a head coach. Players such as LaDainian Tomlinson never showed emotions on the sidelines when Marty Schottenheimer was the head coach. What is the mindset of Turner right now as he tries to not only salvage this team but his career?

Michael Lombardo: Right or wrong, Norv Turner is going to get blamed for any failures the team endures this season. Last year's team went 14-2; this year's team is 1-2; and the only real difference between those squads is the coaching staff.

The sidelines spats are not directly related to the Turner. Remember, the two players who were arguing (Tomlinson and Philip Rivers) are two of Turner's biggest supporters. Tomlinson worked under Turner in 2001 and Rivers is well aware of Turner's reputation for developing young quarterbacks. The fighting is caused by losing, so Turner takes some of the blame for his indirect contributions.

Turner knew what he was getting into when he agreed to coach the Chargers. The advantage is inheriting a supremely talented team. The disadvantage is that losing is not permitted. That being said, this team won 14 games last year and had nothing to show for it. If Turner wins nines games, earns a playoff berth and advances to round two, he will be considered a success in the eyes of ownership.

NA: Phillip Rivers has now struggled in three of the last four games, including last year's playoff loss. How much has he missed former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron?

ML: Rivers sorely misses Cameron and he is not alone. The entire offense appears out of sync as they adjust to Turner's modified scheme. This is not to say Cameron runs a better offense than Turner, but Cameron had six years to work with his players and learn how to best deploy them. The only player on the offense familiar with Turner is Tomlinson.

The problem with Rivers is that he is not disguising where he wants to go with the ball. Defenders are reading his eyes and jumping his routes, which is why all four of Rivers' interceptions have hit defenders right between the numbers.

There is no doubt that Turner will make Rivers a better quarterback. The only question is whether that turnaround will come in time for the Chargers to make a run at a playoff spot in 2007.

NA: The Chargers' defense is giving up big plays. It never did that in years past and one has to wonder if this team misses Donnie Edwards more than defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. With that said, who is the leader of this defense?

ML: Although I would have argued against this only a month ago, I believe Edwards is more missed than Wade Phillips. The defense is getting shredded like Mini-Wheats by the short passing game and no linebacker is better at picking off underneath routes than Edwards.

The defense has a few leaders. Shawne Merriman is the voice of the defense and the one who gets the boys fired up before the game. Once the first whistle blows, Shaun Phillips is the player who keeps the intensity high. Phillips is a big-time talker who is not afraid to demand the best from his peers. Marlon McCree is the leader in the secondary; he gets the defensive backs prepared and into their proper alignments.

NA: There's always been a knock on the fan base in San Diego in regards to it's NFL team. In the season opener, there were tens of thousands of Chicago Bears fans and this week there should be an equal amount of Chiefs fans in attendance. Are the Chargers fans fair-weather or are they die-hards in hiding?

ML: It is no secret that the Chargers have the worst homefield advantage in the league. As Nick Hardwick once told me, it seems that everyone wants to take their vacations in San Diego. Also, San Diego is a city of transplants. Many people move to San Diego for the weather and bring along loyalty to their home teams.

Although no one likes the label, many Chargers fans live up to the fair-weather reputation. The city of San Diego was getting fleeced in an ill-begotten ticket guarantee a few short years ago until the team turned it around and the guarantee was removed. Let's just say if the Chargers were mired in an Oakland Raiders-type funk, Bolts Backers would be far less patient than Raider Nation has been.

NA: This week, most of the Chargers appear unconvinced that the Kansas City Chiefs can win this football game. Do you think they're looking past their AFC West rival?

ML: There is zero chance the Chargers are looking past the Chiefs. Kansas City has always played the Chargers tough and Sunday will be no exception. Even in last year's charmed season, the Chiefs were able to knock off the Chargers and account for half of their regular-season losses.

I believe most fans and media would be shocked if the Chargers lost this game. Despite the identical records, the Chargers and Chiefs are in very different modes. San Diego expects to compete for a Super Bowl and has the talent to do so. The Chiefs seem to be buying time until they can inject some youth into an aging roster. That being said, the Chiefs have a great coach and Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball. They will make the Chargers earn everything they get.

NA: There isn't any question that linebacker Shawne Merriman is the game's premier pass rusher. But given his four-game suspension a year ago and the fact this team is struggling defensively, does he have the ability to carry this team on his back?

ML: It is a lot easier to take a linebacker out of the game than a quarterback or a running back. Opposing quarterbacks are very aware of Merriman and rely on short drops and quick passes to negate his pass-rushing presence. However, the secondary has struggled so mightily that offenses have been able to get away with it.

Merriman will get his numbers; he has two sacks through three games and is a safe bet to be amongst the league leaders by season's end. However, unless something drastic happens the Chargers will not finish in the top-ten defensively. So, no, Merriman cannot carry the defense. He can only make things easier for the players behind him; it is up to them to take advantage.

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