Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Chiefs II

Our Scout.com team experts, Nick Athan of WarPaintIllustrated.com and Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Chargers and Chiefs. Let's wrap up this series with six question from Nick to Michael.

Click here to read Part I of this series, where Nick talks about the development of Tyler Thigpen, the play of Donnie Edwards and the overall state of the Chiefs.

Nick Athan: There seems to be a lot of questions as to why the Chargers are underachieving this season. Does the blame fall squarely on Head Coach Norv Turner or is it on the players?

Michael Lombardo: When a team underperforms as much as the Chargers have, everyone must shoulder the blame. Turner certainly deserves his share of it, as his team lacks focus, discipline and a killer instinct. However, everyone knows Turner is no more than a glorified offensive coordinator, and the offense has been productive.

The players must be considered the primary culprits for this mess, as they are the ones on the field. Injuries and offseason defections have taken a toll -- the running game needs RB Michael Turner and FB Lorenzo Neal almost as much as the pass defense needs LB Shawne Merriman and CB Drayton Florence -- but the players on the field have failed to perform.


QB Philip Rivers
Stephen Dunn/Getty

NA: Some people thought QB Philip Rivers was a lock to be a future All-Pro quarterback in this league. Has he grown enough and can he carry this team on his back, especially knowing the defense is flawed?

ML: I firmly believe Rivers is one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL right now, with the ability to climb higher up the ladder in the near future. That may seem like a stretch to some, but the numbers support the claim. Rivers leads the NFL in touchdowns (19), passer rating (107.8) and yards per attempt (8.7).

More important than the numbers are Rivers' intangibles. He is the unquestioned leader in the locker room, a role he cemented with his valiant effort in last season's AFC Championship Game, when he played without the ACL in his right knee.

NA: For my money, LaDainian Tomlinson is still the game's best all-around running back. Do you think his skills have waned? How many years does he has left?

ML: It is difficult to determine how much Tomlinson's skills have eroded due to the toe injury that's burdened him all season. He finally looked healthy in Week 8 against the New Orleans Saints and the results were 19 carries for 105 yards (5.5 ypc) and five catches for 65 yards. Coming off the bye, he should look more like vintage LT.

Tomlinson, 29, has three years remaining on the eight-year deal he signed prior to the 2004 season. I expect him to play out that deal and then retire following the 2011 campaign. He has talked openly about not wanting to play his way out of the league.


DC Ron Rivera
Doug Pensinger/Getty

NA: The Chargers fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell two weeks ago in hopes of kick starting the defense. Turner has now promoted linebackers coach Ron Rivera with the task of re-energizing the Chargers 3-4 base defense. What type of coach is Rivera and can he get the Chargers defense back on track?

ML: Rivera is a fiery coach who will attempt to rebuild the defense from the bottom up. He will focus on the fundamentals and get the players to worry more about themselves than their opponents. He'll also inject a sense of attitude and responsibility into a unit that has been noodle-soft since Merriman went down.

I expect the defense to improve under Rivera, as he'll bring a new energy and more aggressive play-calling. However, to expect the defense to return to its form of a season ago is unrealistic. Keep in mind, Rivera's background is with the 4-3 defense; most of what he knows about the 3-4 he learned from Cottrell.

NA: Along those lines, the secondary has been torched often in 2008. How bad is the secondary and do you think they'll be tested early and often by the Chiefs offense?


CB Antonio Cromartie
Donald Miralle/Getty

ML: San Diego's pass defense ranks last in the NFL, allowing more than 7 yards per game more than the next closest team. However, all the blame shouldn't fall on the secondary. The pass rush has gone two straight games without a sack and has been spotty ever since Merriman's injury.

That doesn't absolve the Chargers' cover men. Antonio Cromartie's play has fallen through the floor due to his lingering hip injury and lack of focus. Also, the safety tandem of Clinton Hart and Eric Weddle has been caught out of position too many times.

I think the Chiefs will take their shots, but I don't anticipate a pass-happy attack. The Chargers thrive off generating sacks and creating turnovers, and the last thing the Chiefs want to do is give San Diego's defensive playmakers too many opportunities against an inexperienced QB.

NA: Finally, the AFC West this season is being categorized as the NFL's worst division in 2008. Can't say I disagree with that when you see the Chiefs (1-7) are only three games out of first place and hold the tie-breaker over division-leader Denver. Why do you think this division is so bad and do you share my opinion that a 7-9 record finally might win the AFC West?

ML: I'd say the AFC West is the second-worst division in the NFL, right behind the NFC West. The Arizona Cardinals are a legitimate playoff team, but the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers are all worse than anything the AFC West has to offer.

There isn't any one reason the division is bad, as each team has its own struggles. The Bolts have suffered from a lack of health and leadership; the Denver Broncos can't run the ball or stop the run with any consistency; the Chiefs are in a full-on youth movement; and the Oakland Raiders will be a joke until Al Davis steps down.

I don't believe a 7-9 record will win this division. In fact, I think it's possible the Chargers and the Broncos will head into their Week 17 matchup with identical 8-7 records, with the winner moving on to an ill-deserved playoff spot.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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