Stiller fans remember that, just 6 seasons ago, San Diego went to a Super Bowl. That year, the road did go through Pittsburgh. Those Bolts brought a stout D-unit into (the late) 3 RS but their Humphrey-led offense was thought to have little chance against the Stillers Quake 'n Quiver. That was generally true but for a couple of blown coverages. At the close, TE Albert Papanu joined Francisco Cabera in the 'Burgh's Hall of Infamy.
There are alot of ways to demolish a football team; the Chargers FO has had success with each: bad drafts, ruinous trades, signing over-the-hill FA, not signing your own stars. San Diego's signature idiocy was the Ryan Leaf deal. It's not just that Leaf hasn't (yet) produced; it is more in what SD gave up to acquire this man.
In '98, SD had the #3 overall pick. They wanted a QB; so did Indy and the Colts were first in line. No deal was possible there and so SD turned to the Cards. Arizona had the #2 pick overall; also, they had their QB in Jake Plummer. While the Snake has sucked cess in the last 3 seasons, at this time, he was coming off a highly successful rookie campaign. The Cards didn't need a QB and the Bolt really didn't need to deal.
Oh well. SD swapped 1st rounders and gave Arizona their 2nd and 4th round picks in '98 AND their #1 in '99. The Cards got (4) players (including
Pittman and Boston) in exchange for the right to draft (1) player who they didn't need. SD compounded this stupidity by dealing their 2000 #1 to the
Bucs for that team's '98 #2. SD used that pick to select WR Mikhael Ricks. Ricks is no longer with the team. This spring, the Bucs dealt that trophy, and their own '00 #1, to the Jets for Keyshawn. The Jets selected OLB John Abraham who had 4.5 sacks in 6 games before going down with an injury.
In sum, everybody got players except SD. The Chargers got hosed and have only themselves to blame. Their record this season reflects not so much an absence of top-shelf players as an absolute lack of quality depth. Typically, SD keeps it close, wears down and, finally, finds a way to blow the game in the late going. Their D-unit is pretty good; their O-unit isn't much; their special teams (excluding Pro Bowl punter Darren Bennett) are stunningly awful. Turning to the coming match-ups:
The Charger's offense leads the NFL in turnovers. They have been intercepted 29 times; they have fumbled 37 times, losing 19. That is 48 turnovers; they are the only team in the League with more than 40.
It all begins up front. This may be the only team we will see that hasn't a single O-linemen who could start for the Stillers. LOT Ben Coleman is a pretty nice player; he was a starter at LOG in Jax. While in Florida, Coleman did backup Boselli at LOT but, seriously, this a OG playing the most demanding position on the O-line. Roundtree, Fortin and Jacox are, variously, "has-been" or "never-will-be". ROT Parker is okay, but just barely.
The Chargers average 67yds/game rushing. That is 33% below the League average. Like the Raiders and Giants, SD features a big back/small back tandem. These men are Terrell Fletcher and Jermaine Fazande. Behind this O-line, they resemble Barber and Dayne much in the way that a Firefly resembles Lightning and Constant Flatulence resembles Thunder.
Ryan Leaf can throw the football but rarely has much time. As a result, the Chargers average only 5.7 yards per attempt. This is below the League average of 6.3. His WR are nothing special; Jeff Graham and Curtis Conway had their best days in Chicago. If the Chargers get airborne, it will be because the Stillers lose these matchups:
1. TE Freddie Jones vs. the Stiller safeties: Jones is big and fast enough to get downfield. He is the Bolts leading receiver. The Stillers counter with Battles, Codie and Bell. Alexander will figure if the Stiller CB can single up on the Bolt WR.
2. RB T. Fletcher vs Stiller LB: Refer to the "spot drop" in the Skin preview. When Fletcher was drafted, Natrone Means was running wild. Terrell was to be a third down back; he has the skills to do some damage.
3. Coach Lewis vs. Ryan Leaf: The SD offense is built around their QB. Leaf has yet to show he can handle pressure, especially when that comes up the center. Bring it early, bring it often.
San Diego has a respectable defense but this unit is far from formidable. Last spring, the Bolt lost DT Norman Hand to Haslett's Saints. Hand is an elite runstuffer; his presence in NO has allowed Glover, Johnson and Howard to rush the passer with little regard for run protection.
Hand is gone and the Charger Fr.7 has been further diminished by injuries to MLB Eric Hill, DE Raylee Johnson and rookie DT Leonardo Carsen. Junior Seau is a fabulous LB but the rest of the Fr. 7 are journeyman. Still, they play well together; the Chargers allow only 90 yards/game rushing and that at 3.1 yards per carry.
The Bolt safeties hit and run; FS Beckett is a rookie learning next to former Pro Bowl SS Rodney Harrison. These men are strong in run support and quick enough to help over the top. The Bolt CB need all the help they can get; Deron Jenkins was banished from Balt. and Fakhir Brown is a '99 rookie FA. I'll be watching:
1. Kreider vs. Seau: Kreider has faced the rest, now he will face the best. Faneca and Gandy will handle Parella and Mickell. The Bus will roll when Dan meets Junior.
2. Stiller WR vs. Bolt CB: If the Bolt bring their safeties up, the Stillers will have difficulty establishing the run. Jenkins and Brown aren't the best CB tandem in football but they can handle Hawk. Troy Edwards has the ability to make plays on this group; I hope he gets the chance.
3. Coach Gilbride vs. some mysterious inertia: This game presents an opportunity for Kordell to hook up deep off play action. The Bolt D-unit will be primed for a big effort; probably, they will sell out in run support. Should the Stillers have second and short, play fake, go deep, TD, game over.
Outlook: This game is all about attitude. The Bolts will want to redeem their season by knocking the Stillers out of the playoffs. Back home, after a horrendous start following on a horrendous close to '99, the Stillers had lost 10 of 11. At that point, C. Cowher instituted the "one week, even keel..." approach. This resulted in 5 straight wins and an 8-4 mark over the last 12 games. There was a glich when, around the Eagles game, talk turned to "running the table." That stifled, the Stillers have played a couple of exceptional games. Focus is all; if these teams play to their respective limits, the Stillers will win. If the Black and Gold are busy making playoff arrangements, then it may be a cold January in Steeler HQ.
The Steel Phantom