Smith Frustrated by Another Slow Start

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith sounds just like every other Chargers fan after the season's first quarter: He's ticked off.

Smith built a team that is a very mediocre 2-2 and entering its bye week with more questions than when the season started.

What's scary for the Chargers is they have been manhandled on both sides of the football in stages of every game this season. Despite beating the Raiders and Dolphins, there were stretches in those games in which the Chargers' physical presence was seriously questioned.

Now it's Smith asking the hard ones -- as well as others of him.

Sure, the Chargers have had injuries, but so does every team. And is this really what the rest of the season should look like, a .500 effort from a team that is 11-11 in its last 22 games?

"I'm very disappointed in where we are, even with the record," Smith said. "To me, 2-2 is middle of the road. I was wishing for 4-0, hopeful for 3-1. The reason for that was to get out of the blocks and make a statement. When you are 2-2, you're not dead but there is no statement. It's another slow start. We are now in a hole. You turn around after a quarter, look around the division and find ourselves in chase mode."

The Chargers are off this week and by the time the AFC West-leading Broncos roll in they could be 5-0 if they beat New England on Sunday.

"Denver sits at an outstanding 4-0," Smith said. "Things are moving along great for them. Now here we sit, two games behind trying to compete for a division title. You know how I feel about division titles. They bring opportunity. Regardless of what opinions people have or how we feel about ourselves, just get in."

Coach Norv Turner
Stephen Dunn/Getty
The Chargers are trying to do that for the fourth straight time. But after coming back from a 4-8 obstacle last year, the Chargers are starting to dig another hole. And it's getting old for Smith, although he's the one bringing -- or maybe not bringing -- the players here to win a championship.

"We're not playing well," Smith said. "We're inconsistent. Some guys aren't playing well. Some guys are playing well in spurts. Playing in spurts is not a good thing. It will not win you a division. Playing in spurts is 8-8 or less. We have some guys playing terrific football. We have others playing Pro Bowl football. The mixture is not acceptable and won't get it done."

Is it too late to flip a squad? No, even if the Chargers have been hit with injuries to various Pro Bowlers.

"You have to turn this thing, with 12 games to go," Smith said. "You need most of your players playing consistent football for four quarters and others playing great football. If you have that happen, you'll be in the thick of the race. We're not doing that."

While upset with the players he hired, Smith isn't blaming the coaches he brought on board.

"In player assessment, I'm not happy," Smith said. "At this point, I have no problem with the coaching staff with 12 games to go.

Smith is frustrated because for stretches, the Chargers look pretty good. But doing that over 60 minutes? Good luck with that.

"I want the players to be consistent," Smith said. "Don't play hard for a quarter and then drift a little bit. That's what I want and I think that's what they'd like to see. ... If we continue to stay focused and believe in one another and we play four quarters of hard, consistent football, things will improve."

And if not?

"I think we're a playoff-caliber team that clearly is not playing playoff-caliber football," Smith said. "If that doesn't turn around, you won't have to be concerned about playoffs. Right now, we're not playing at a caliber to win your division."


--The Chargers' faults on defense are many, according to coach Norv Turner. Often the problem is players trying to do things they can't.

"Sometimes it comes out of frustration," Turner said of his 24th-ranked unit. "You've got guys that are very competitive and you've got guys that are saying, 'I'm going to make something happen here.' Instead of hitting the gap on the outside shoulder of the 'backer, they see the (running) back starting inside and they go in there and vacate a zone area. It's a matter of the number one thing we say all the time, 'Do your job. Everyone trust each other and do your job.' In this situation we had some guys try to do more."

The Chargers' run defense is ranked dead last.

QB Philip Rivers
Gregory Shamus/Getty
--QB Philip River is trying to win his fourth straight AFC West title. He takes confidence in knowing how the team rallied from 4-8 last year to claim title No. 3. "We're a 2-2 team that's got a lot of fight and a lot of want-to and the right kind of guys to get it back going," he said. "I think we have to be realistic and honest with ourselves. We know we have areas where we've got to improve, but it's early in the year and we've got the right guys to get it going."

--TE Antonio Gates is off to a great start; he knows his team isn't. But with five of their next seven games against AFC West rivals, Gates knows it's go-time after the bye. "This is a big stretch of our season," he said. "We haven't played as well as we wanted to in some areas, but we've got a chance to regroup a little bit, reevaluate what's going on and try to get on a little roll in these division games."

--The team was pleased RB LaDainian Tomlinson returned Sunday after missing two games with a sprained ankle. Tomlinson rushed for only 15 yards on seven carries and admits he is still finding his feet from the layoff. "Things I was seeing were there but there were certain times where I felt a little rusty, I wasn't quite right on reads from just not being in there," he said. "The bye is coming at a good time."

--There's no doubt the Chargers were not only defeated in Pittsburgh but embarrassed. But Turner isn't looking back. "It is one football game," Turner said. "I'm looking forward to doing the things we need to do this week to give us a chance to get back to where we can have great practices next week. We've got Denver on Monday night (Oct. 19) at home and I'm looking forward to that."

-- The Chargers are throwing a 50th Anniversary Block Party in downtown San Diego on Nov. 27. The franchise will introduce its 50th anniversary team at the event, which cost $35 per ticket.

--Representatives of the proposed NFL stadium to be built in the Los Angeles area said they will contact the Chargers about their interest in the facility next year. The Chargers continue to maintain that their No. 1 focus is finding a replacement for Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego County. Escondido, which is about 25 miles north of San Diego, is currently talking with the Chargers.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Number of upcoming AFC West foes in three games after the bye.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we all know we're capable of doing better." -- Coach Norv Turner on the Chargers' .500 start.


The Chargers hope this bye week brings with it a chance to rest and get well, especially along the defensive line.

After losing tackle Jamal Williams and end Ryon Bingham to injured reserve, the team then saw ends Travis Johnson and Jacques Cesaire, the starter, struggle with ailments.

Johnson likely will sit out this week to mend his groin and return to active status. Cesaire has been hobbled by a calf injury, although he is playing through it. But a week of rest will also aid Cesaire.

The Chargers could tinker with the secondary during the bye week, maybe getting Antoine Cason on the field more instead of Antonio Cromartie.

But Turner has said there will be no changes on his coaching staff and any other drastic switches during this time off aren't anticipated.


--RB Darren Sproles is almost getting two weeks of rest. The Chargers didn't use him much in the loss at Pittsburgh (no carries, one reception for 16 yards). He did add 42 return yards but it was a quiet night leading into the bye for Sproles.

--SS Kevin Ellison, a rookie, could be getting some more playing time. The Chargers haven't been thrilled with the play of Clinton Hart and/or Steve Gregory.

--WR Buster Davis can't get on the field on what is a make-or-break year for him. The former first-round pick has zero receptions.

--QB Billy Volek was coming off one of his best training camps, according to the coaches. He needs to be at the ready in case Philip Rivers takes more hits resulting from two possibilities: the running game not developing and the team consistently playing from behind.

--RB Michael Bennett's roster spot is a bit confusing. He was kept as insurance in case LaDainian Tomlinson got hurt; that happened, and Bennett wasn't used much. He didn't have a single carry against the Steelers and has 12 carries for 37 yards.


--ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) is going to rest this week.

--OLB Shawne Merriman (groin) probably won't work this week.

--DE Travis Johnson (groin) won't practice this week.

--C Scott Mruczkowski (knee) isn't going to practice this week.

--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) is out for about six more weeks.

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