Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Chiefs I

Our Scout.com experts, Nick Athan of WarPaintIllustrated.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Chiefs and Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. Let's start this three-part series with six questions from Nick to Michael.

Nick Athan: The Chargers have somewhat of a defensive resurgence. They've been able to create turnovers with their pressure. They also appear to be flying to the ball in a more aggressive way than they did earlier in the season. What has been the stabilizing force on defense for their turnover productivity?

Michael Lombardo: The Chargers are actually getting substantially less pressure than last season and are on pace to finish with 28 fewer sacks than last year's league-leading 61. New defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell prefers to rush just four players and almost never brings more than five. Instead, he prefers to drop players into zone coverages and let them make plays on the ball. Instead of rushing an extra linebacker on third-and-long, he brings in an extra defensive back. This results in fewer sacks and more takeaways. Cottrell also puts an emphasis on stripping the ball -- the Chargers are second in the league with 12 fumbles recovered.

The player who really sparked the Chargers' turnover spree is Antonio Cromartie. He crammed his league-leading six interceptions into a four-week window. Teams have become reluctant to throw his way –- he's seen only five pass attempts in the last two games –- and it allows the rest of the secondary to attack other areas of the field.

NA: QB Philip Rivers has really carried this team offensively since he played the Chiefs in week four. It's equally impressive when you consider the fact All-World RB LaDainian Tomlinson isn't exactly churning up huge chunks of yardage. Has Rivers finally settled in and adjusted to the fact he no longer has Cam Cameron to rely on?

ML: Rivers is coming off an outstanding two-week stretch in which he completed 47-of-75 passes for 558 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Those two picks came late in a 24-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, when Rivers was forced to take some risks in order to keep his team in the game. He has certainly shown improved poise and accuracy as of late. Nonetheless, this has not been a great year for him and he knows it.

Rivers is unable to maintain his accuracy unless he has a clean pocket and clear passing lane. That can't always be the case, even on a Chargers team that has allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league (13). He needs to do a better job overcoming difficult situations and delivering in the clutch –- his fourth-quarter passer rating (47.9) is more than 65 points lower than last year's (113.2). Rivers has not fully adjusted to the absence of Cam Cameron, who was arguably the best play caller in the history of a Chargers franchise that has trotted out some high-powered offenses.

NA: The knock on Norv Turner is that he's a terrible game-day coach. He's been in this league a long time and there is a lot of heat on him at the moment. Also, the Pete Carroll rumors will once again pop up at season's end, especially if the Chargers are one-and-done or don't even make the playoffs. Do you think he has enough support to keep his job at year's end?

ML: Norv Turner's job status is directly tied to the Chargers' finish. If they make the playoffs and win even one game, Turner is as good as untouchable. Dean Spanos told Turner before the season that his only goal was to make the playoffs and win a game. If Turner completes that mission, there is no question that he will be brought back. If the Chargers go one-and-done, I believe Norv will still come back, although A.J. Smith may let him twist in the breeze for a couple of days.

If the Chargers don't make the playoffs, Turner will be let go. The Chargers would look to bring in a coach who would instantly grab the players' respect, something Turner has been unable to do. That man would not be Pete Carroll, however, it would be Bill Cowher.

NA: What has been the Chargers take on the weak AFC West this year. With a big game this Sunday in Kansas City, the Chargers can finally begin to separate from the pack. The problem with all four teams in the AFC West is that none of them appear to have a killer instinct. Do the Chargers have that now?

ML: I have seen nothing from this Chargers team that indicates they have any killer instinct whatsoever. The Chargers have won only one game by less than 11 points, a 23-21 decision over the Indianapolis Colts that only happened because Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal with 1:34 left to play. This tells me the Chargers have no killer instinct; when it's close in the fourth quarter, they find a way to lose.

The Chargers' playoff hopes are buoyed by the utterly pathetic state of the AFC West, which just last season was the only division in the league to finish with three winning squads. Several Chargers players have proclaimed San Diego to be the best team in the AFC West. The problem is that they are making those statements in the locker room instead of on the field.

NA: Assume for a minute that the Chargers can't defeat the Chiefs on Sunday. Keep in mind the once proud shrine of Arrowhead Stadium is a memory at the moment, when you consider the fact the Chiefs have already lost four games at home this season. Do you think the Chargers can still recover from a loss this weekend?

ML: In the land of infinite opportunity known as the AFC West, I am sure the Chargers would recover. For one thing, the Chiefs and Broncos have tough closing schedules. The Chiefs play three of their final four games on the road, and the Broncos are on the road for three of their final five. Secondly, the Chargers have a lot of veterans on their team who know how to unify the troops in times of strife. The Chargers know better than anybody that regular-season success only means so much, having won 14 games last season with nothing to show for it. The Chargers are guaranteed to leave the field on Sunday with at least a share of the AFC West lead and will not quit on the season until their playoff hopes are completely extinguished.

NA: Looking ahead to 2008 for a moment, with this division in a complete rebuild, what do the Chargers need to do in the offseason to take a leap forward before the season starts next September?

ML: The Chargers will need a running back, as LT will be 29 when next season begins and Michael Turner will be long gone as an unrestricted free agent. The Bolts will also look for a cornerback, since Drayton Florence will not be back and supplemental draft pick Paul Oliver has been unable to get on the field. Other areas that will be addressed through free agency or the draft include safety, defensive line and offensive line. Remember, A.J. Smith is rarely a big player in free agency and the Chargers have only one draft pick in the first four rounds (although they may recoup a compensatory pick for the defection of Donnie Edwards).

What the Chargers really need is one more difference-maker. A.J. Smith has said he is willing to break the bank for an elite player if he is convinced it will put his team over the top. CB Marcus Trufant, OG Alan Faneca or NT Albert Haynesworth could all fit the bill. A coaching change would also help, but given my answer to question three, that may not be in the cards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.


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