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NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
Heading to South Beach, a place where one's inhibitions can be set free.
Does that go for an NFL team which is sinking below .500 as well?
The reeling San Diego Chargers face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and if misery loves company, the Bolts have come to the right beach.
They've traded the shadow of the Pacific Ocean for the Atlantic Ocean, hoping to snap a two-game losing streak.
What's clear is the Chargers need to win and win now. With a trip to Kansas City and a home date with the Bengals up next, the Chargers can't let an opportunity to beat an inferior opponent pass.
Which might mean it's time to roll the dice. Time to push all the chips to the middle of the table. Time to play with a carefree attitude that should accompany a team that hasn't made the playoffs in three years and wasn't expected to this year.
Not with a rookie general manager.
Not with a rookie head coach.
Not with a rebuilt defense that is just getting around to know each other's name.
So if it's fourth-and-inches, go for it. If it's a gamble being considered, take it. If wisdom might say one thing, but the season's balance -- for now -- might hang on a coach's verdict, it's time to be bold.
"We are doing whatever we think is best to win the football game," coach Mike McCoy said about pushing the envelope to slap his team across the face. "I'm not going to make excuses for anything we do. We do what we do and we are not going to change. I'm not going to just go crazy because of what your record is."
Ugh. Typical coach speak. But where's that bold innovation that was promised? Where's that breath of fresh air after the Norv Turner era?
Playing it safe had McCoy kicking a field goal a foot or so from a possible win in regulation in what was an overtime loss at Washington.
Playing it safe had McCoy going for a field goal at the Denver 8, one yard from a fresh series. Field goals? Against Peyton Manning and the Broncos?
Playing it safe had him punting at midfield against those same Broncos, looking to play the field-position game against the NFL's most proficient scoring team.
Hey coach, you're on a one-year honeymoon. Why not play loose before things really get tight.
"I think that is the biggest mistake you can make," he said. "If you don't get it on some of those points then what are you going to say then? Then Peyton Manning goes down and scores on a short field. You can look at it however you want, but we are doing whatever is the best opportunity."
OK, but this feel-good sensation of what this staff has brought is in jeopardy of being lost. Play it too safe against the Dolphins and lose, then get beat by the Chiefs, then fall to the Bengals -- all of a sudden a two-game losing streak becomes five and then things will get tight.
"We're not going to second-guess ourselves," McCoy said of himself and his staff.
No worries, that's what the media and fans are for. But at first glance, a Chargers team that was expected to do much has a chance to do something special -- but it'll have to take chances to do so.
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 12-12. To put another touch on how close this series has been, they have split their four games in the postseason. No game between these teams is more famous than the 1981 Divisional Playoff Game when the Chargers prevailed in overtime, 41-38, in one of the NFL's most storied contests. Although the Chargers played in Florida earlier this year when beating Jacksonville, Sunday marks their first visit to Miami since losing to the Dolphins, 17-10, in 2008.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--WR Keenan Allen leads NFL rookies in receiving yards (568) and is tied in receptions (38). But despite his success, what the team is going through diminishes his accomplishments. "The teams that we have played have been beatable," the Chargers' third-round pick said. "The record (4-5) is definitely what it is, but I think it could be the total opposite."
--QB Philip Rivers said the Chargers' locker room is a lot different - from media reports - than the one in Miami. "I think it's a close group; it's a friendly group," he said. "When I say friendly I mean from corner to corner. It's not a very cliquish group in the sense of you don't really see the packs. Sure you hang out with your group, understand that, but just in general you'll see (Nick) Hardwick chatting it up with the defensive backs. It's a very friendly, open group. I can't imagine one guy in the locker room thinking the team doesn't have a healthy working environment. They enjoy coming here day to day."
--ILB Manti Te'o has played, well, OK. Nothing special, nothing spectacular in the rookie's past two games; he did collect nine tackles in each of the games. But when it's time for a big play, Te'o has seldom been seen. Just maybe ILB Donald Butler, the team's best run-stopping, returning to play after battling a groin injury will speed up Te'o's learning curve.
Said Butler, "He's played a lot of football at this level, so the more experience you have in there with him and the more the two of those guys work together, the better they'll be. I think we can always communicate better as an entire football team. We had a couple times during the game were there was a lack of communication on the defensive side of the ball, but I think for the most part it was pretty good."
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 - Number of left tackles the Chargers have used this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going down to win a football game. We've got to worry about ourselves No. 1, and worry about the San Diego Chargers organization." -- Chargers coach Mike McCoy, when asked if the Chargers might be distracted over the Dolphins' locker-room controversy.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
OLB Larry English was placed on IR, the result of a pectoral injury that will cost him the season. English, a former first-round pick, was injured when sacking Peyton Manning on Sunday. He had played better of late (2.5 sacks this year) but he leaves the field this year with the same reputation that he had at the beginning of the season: one of the worst picks in former GM A.J. Smith's tenure.
English is another outside linebacker the Chargers have lost this year; Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney also suffered serious injuries.
Although Ingram, who tore his ACL in offseason workouts, could start practicing. If he is able to contribute is still a huge question.
The Chargers filled English's roster spot by signing OLB Adrian Robinson.
--OT D.J. Fluker has made his mark as a right tackle this year, playing so well he's being considered for numerous All-Rookie teams. But with the question marks at left tackle, it appears Fluker, the team's first-round pick, could swing over to that side on Sunday.
--OLB Tourek Williams, a sixth-round pick, wasn't expected to have much of a role this season. But with the injuries decimating the outside linebacker spot, Williams could start this week. He had a sack of Peyton Manning last Sunday.
--CB Derek Cox, for now, remains the starter. But the free-agent pickup has been benched in each of the past two games.
--C Nick Hardwick (neck) didn't practice on Wednesday and his status isn't clear for Sunday.
--LT King Dunlap (neck) didn't work and all indications are he won't play Sunday.
--OLB Jarret Johnson (hamstring) was out but could try to practice later in the week. Still, if he goes Sunday, he'll likely be compromised.
--FB Le'Ron McClain (ankle) didn't practice and is looking iffy for this week.
--WR Eddie Royal (toe) didn't work, but he's proven he can play on Sundays without practicing.
--SS Jahleel Addae (ankle) was limited but should play on Sunday.
--G Chad Rinehart (toe) was limited but should be available this week.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers offense has been somewhat pedestrian of late, and maybe it goes back to attacking more and scoring more points this week.
It has scored just two touchdowns over the last eight quarters, and against a shaky Dolphins defense, the table is set for a big game from the offense.
Look for the Chargers to try and get up early on Dolphins -- not so much to take the crowd out of the game -- it is in Miami -- but because the Dolphins aren't built to rally. Then again, after rushing for 2 yards in Monday's loss to the Bucs, we're not sure what it is built for.
With the upheaval along the Chargers' offensive line, this might not be the game in which Philip Rivers puts up huge numbers. But it could be the game the coaches continue to increase their trust in Ryan Mathews; he had two 100-yard games in his last three outings coming into Sunday's game -- a tight hamstring limited his production after he got off to a solid start.
But with the Dolphins having trouble stopping the run, ranked No. 20, so the Chargers should pound away early. Then, Rivers can employ the play-action, after the pass-rushers have been sufficiently shown that the Chargers can, and will, run the ball.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers pass protection, with a banged-up offensive line vs. Dolphins pass rush, which has some weapons -- The Chargers' offensive line will consist of ... heck, we don't know either. There is no certainty that LT King Dunlap, C Nick Hardwick or LG Chad Rinehart -- opening-day starters all three -- will be able to go because of various injuries. The Dolphins don't have much, but they do have some decent pass-rushers in DE Cameron Wake (5.5 sacks), LB Olivier Vernon (4.5 sacks) and DT Randy Starks is a two-time Pro Bowler.
--Chargers pass defense, with a reeling secondary vs. Dolphins passing game with QB Ryan Tannehill -- Peyton Manning made the Chargers' defensive back end look bad -- but he's done that to a lot of teams. But it was the lack of passion, tackling and communication that stood out as the secondary looked very shaky -- starting CB Derek Cox was benched at one point and S Eric Weddle was caught loafing and not providing pursuit on a touchdown reception. Tannehill, and truer words have never been spoken, is no Manning. But he's got a big arm and a decent deep threat in Mike Wallace. If those two ever get on the same page -- we know, a stretch -- they could be lethal. Sadly, the Chargers' secondary could be the tonic for those two to do just that. Remember, the Chargers have seen rival quarterbacks put 313 passes in the air and have but one interception by a cornerback.