In this week’s installment of “Know Your Packers Enemy,” I talked with John Gennaro, the managing editor of Bolts From the Blue. It’s hands down the best Chargers blog I found in my search and John does a fantastic job ruling over it. You can follow John and the blog on Twitter (@BFTB_Chargers) as well.
Enough with the intros, let’s talk some Packers-Chargers.
ZACH KRUSE: First things first. What’s the vibe around San Diego right now? The Chargers still find themselves atop of the AFC West at 4-3, but is this a dejected fan base after the OT loss? What about Norv Turner? Are you as down on him as the head coach moving forward in San Diego as some of the other Chargers fans I’ve talked with?
JOHN GENNARO: Yes, yes, yes. Not just the loss to the Chiefs, but the loss against the Jets has also left a bad taste in the mouths of Chargers fans. With no wins over teams with winning records, and the Chargers constantly playing against themselves (due to turnovers and penalties) as much as they’re playing against an opposing NFL team, it’s hard to imagine this team going anywhere.
JG: Football Outsiders did a great job of running through the theories (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2011/what-wrong-philip-rivers) as well as looking over the tape, and came to the same conclusion that everyone else has: We don’t know. It’s obvious that his footwork is messier than usual, but there’s no real reason why. He’s throwing off of his backfoot and falling away instead of stepping into his throws, but again this seems to be more by choice and panic than anything else. Outside of a possible personal problem (that I won’t speculate on), there’s no easy explanation as to why Rivers is playing so much worse than what we’ve come to expect from him.
ZK: Speaking of injuries, the Chargers are banged up across the board. Is LT Marcus McNeil playing at 100%? He was having issues Monday night against Tamba Hali that are uncharacteristic of McNeil’s career. Can Kris Dielman be expected to play after his concussion/seizure? And what about Antonio Gates and Mike Tolbert?
JG: Tolbert is probably fine to play even though he’s banged up, and Gates is in the same boat. They’ll be less effective than they would be when healthy, but they’re needed. Marcus McNeill injured his neck but is probably fine. His issues on Monday night had a lot more to do with Tamba Hali being insanely good and Kris Dielman not being there for support than his neck. Dielman will miss this game as well, and they’re going to make sure to keep him off of the field until they’re 100% sure he can come back without any complications. The biggest injury concerns seem to be Ryan Mathews, who has been arguably the Chargers best player this season, and Curtis Brinkley, who filled in for Mathews admirably on Monday night. If the running game is comprised of a beat-up Mike Tolbert and a beat-up Jacob Hester, I can’t imagine it being very effective.
ZK: Last thing on injuries. The Chargers are averaging in the low-20’s this season after several years of high-20’s. Rivers slow start obviously has a lot to do with it, but can some of the blame be laid on the lack of continuity in the offense? From what I can tell, there hasn’t been a full cast of the key players on offense in back-to-back weeks yet for the Chargers in 2011.
JG: It comes down to issues in the red zone. Part of those issues are Rivers, part are the playcall and part is the lack of continuity from week to week due to injuries. The Chargers have been one of the worst teams in the league at getting 7 points when inside the opponent’s 20 yard line this season. Their receivers are built more for winning matchups downfield, so they struggle with the short field. In years past, the red zone is where guys like Mike Tolbert, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates shined. This season, though, injuries have hurt the normal gameplan and San Diego has struggled to find a working alternative.
ZK: Aaron Rodgers is having an incredible season throwing the football, but the Chargers pass defense ranks near the top in the NFL in yards allowed. Who are the guys, both in the secondary and pass rush, that Packers fans should know before Sunday? Is there a confidence level in that group?
JG: Quentin Jammer and Eric Weddle keep the group as good as they are. Antoine Cason has been benched, but in his place is a talented rookie named Marcus Gilchrist that sometimes makes rookie mistakes. You’ll probably see Jammer on Jennings the entire game, with Weddle playing Center Field looking for interception opportunities. How Gilchrist, Cason, Dante Hughes and the rest of the Chargers CBs play against the 2-5 WRs for Green Bay will determine the game. The confidence of the Chargers secondary is lower than normal. Cason was abused by Plaxico Burress in New York to the tune of 3 (relatively easy) TDs, leading to his benching. Gilchrist was then abused by rookie Jonathan Baldwin of the Chiefs, who hadn’t done much prior to his game against the Bolts. Those two guys scare a lot of Chargers fans at the moment, but they are both very talented as well.
ZK: The Chargers 2010 season was derailed in part because of the many failures of the special teams units. To fix the unit, San Diego brought in Rich Bisaccia from Tampa Bay. It started sloppy, as Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, but there hasn’t been many blunders following Week 1. How has Bisaccia helped transform the special teams?
JG: He’s been every bit as good as advertised (he was lauded as one of the best ST Coaches in the league, and mentored Raheem Morris and Mike Tomlin), and you can see the Special Teams unit getting better and better each week. Kick Returns and Punt Returns are no longer an issue, partly because Nick Novak was brought on after Nate Kaeding was put on IR and has been kicking the ball out of the end zone. Protection for Mike Scifres, one of the league’s best Punters, has been fantastic. Bisaccia is one of the loudest people at practice. He’s a teacher and a perfectionist, and right now it’s difficult to argue with the results on the field.
ZK: Is there going to be a physical advantage on Sunday for the Packers? Green Bay is coming off a bye, while the Chargers had to play on Monday night in a game that went into OT on the road. I’m sure you’d like to voice your displeasure with that NFL scheduling gem.
JG: It happens. I don’t like that they have a Monday night game on the road (their second consecutive road game) and 11 days later have a Thursday night game. Three games in 11 days seems like it should get a bye in the middle, but the schedule cannot be perfect for every team. The biggest problem is that the Chargers usually limp out of games against physical teams with lots of injuries, and that’s exactly what happened against the Jets. Against the Chiefs, the Chargers were missing Tolbert, Shaun Phillips and Dielman, with Ryan Mathews and Malcom Floyd playing injured. A few days later, things look even worse for Sunday’s game. It won’t get any easier against the bruising Raiders on Thursday, either.
ZK: If you’re in the prediction business, give me a guess on the score for Sunday.
JG: 31-23, Packers.
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2