10 QUESTIONS: Chargers vs Patriots Division Playoffs - Part 1
Michael Lombardo is an insider for SDBoltReport.com the Chargers site on the Scout Network.
1) The obvious topic that comes to mind after watching highlights of the Chargers all season is LaDanian Tomlinson. We all know LT is very good, and has had an amazing level of success this year, but why has he had more success this year than in the past? What's different about the team that enabled LT to break the TD record?
Michael Lombardo: The key to Tomlinson's statistical onslaught is the play of the offensive line. Marcus McNeil was a steal in the second round and his given the line a powerful run-blocking presence. Kris Dielman is in just his second season as a starter and his been the team's best lineman. Nick Hardwick and Shane Olivea are both in just their third seasons and have earned contract extensions already. Mike Goff is a typical interior mauler who can pull with the best of them.
People used to ask how good Barry Sanders could have been if he only had a quality offensive line to run behind. Tomlinson's 2006 season is the answer to that question.
2) Seeing the level of success Drew Brees has had in New Orleans, does it make you wonder "what if" he had stayed in San Diego? Would the Chargers have the same success or more/less with Brees running the show?
Lombardo: This is Brees' third consecutive stellar season, making it difficult not to wonder how this season would have been different with him at the helm. Philip Rivers' Pro Bowl year has eased the second-guessing to an extent.
Clearly, it would be difficult for the Chargers to do better than the 14 wins they posted this season, so there may have been no discernible difference up to this point. But yes, I would have to say the Chargers' odds of winning it all would be increased if Brees were still the quarterback. He is a gamer who finds a way to play his best when his team needs him the most. His experience would have come in handy in the postseason, too.
3) Of all the teams the Chargers could have played in the playoffs, which one is the biggest threat to stop the Chargers from going all the way?
Lombardo: I think the Colts pose the most match-up problems for San Diego. The Indianapolis receivers can get open so quickly they don't give the Chargers pass rush much time to get to Peyton Manning. And although their porous run defense would seem primed for a shredding by Tomlinson, their team speed actually neutralizes much of what he likes to do.
The Chargers and Colts met in 2004 and 2005 and both games were classic back-and-forth affairs that came down to the wire. Should they meet again in the AFC Championship, a similar storyline would appear likely.
4) The Chargers had a number of games that were a bit close (7 points or less) against teams you wouldn't have expected them to struggle against (Buffalo, Cleveland, Arizona and Oakland). Were the games really as close as the score indicated? What was it about those teams that allowed them to finish only one score away?
Lombardo: The Buffalo, Cleveland and Arizona games were not as close as they seemed, as the Chargers had double-digit fourth- quarter leads in all three contests and gave up points late playing prevent defense. The Chargers did eek out a seven-point win against the Raiders the second time the two met, but a seven-point lead against Oakland is the equivalent of a 17-point lead against a team with a competent offense.
The close scores in those games are less about the opponents the Chargers played and more about the Chargers themselves. Player absences hurt as well, as Luis Castillo missed the Buffalo and Arizona games, Shaun Phillips was out against the Browns, and Merriman was suspended when Oakland came to town.
5) Marcus McNeil was rumored to be on the Patriots wish list at one point before the 2006 NFL Draft. It looks like he's been able to step up and fill a need for the Chargers in his rookie season. How has he fared and what part of his game needs the most work?
Lombardo: McNeill has done a terrific job this season. The team protected him early on by attaching a tight end to his hip, but he has been flying solo since week five and the offense has taken off ever since. He has played like a veteran for most of the season and is already one of the best run-blocking tackles in the league.
Pass protection is the area of his game that needs the most work; he does a nice job of using his long arms to ride defenders to the outside but struggles against double-moves by quicker opponents.
Look for Part 2 where Mike answered questions about what the Chargers will do if New England takes Antonio Gates out of the game, the decision to release Wesley Britt (a 2005 Chargers Draft pick), the Shawne Merriman steroid issue and much more including who he thinks will win the game.