Chargers look to continue turnaround
By Christopher Smith, Chargers.com
Head Coach Norv Turner reflects how the team has overcome its turnovers and special teams issues and improved in other areas to remain in the AFC West race.
SAN DIEGO – The Chargers are in position to contend for a fifth consecutive AFC West championship.
A game back of Kansas City, San Diego isn’t in ideal position to make the postseason but its odds have improved dramatically since a 2-5 start. The Chargers are 6-1 since, including a 31-0 win against the Chiefs two weeks ago.
But the five losses all were by eight points or less, and many players improved physically during that span, Head Coach Norv Turner said.
“The hardest thing for me obviously was the first seven games. You look at physically what our guys were doing; we had a lot of guys that were playing as good as they could play and we weren’t giving ourselves a chance because of the special teams problems and turnovers,” Turner said. “I knew if we could clean those up, we’d go win our share of games and we’ve done that.”
The Chargers could secure a winning record Sunday by beating the Bengals despite 103 roster moves since final cuts and a league-high 72 different players that have appeared in at least one regular season game. The record for most players to appear in at least one game in a non-strike season is 74, set by Arizona in 2005.
“We’d like to not have the mistakes to start with, but because of the injuries and because of some young guys that were put in tough positions, it happened,” Turner said.
San Diego lost 12 fumbles and allowed 23.6 yards per punt return and 77 points directly from special teams miscues and turnovers in the first seven games of the season. Those numbers dove to three lost fumbles as the Chargers allowed 12.5 yards per punt return and just 31 points off special teams and turnovers in the last seven games of the season.
“We got some veteran guys in here and it showed up right away,” Turner said. “It’s been a challenge. We’ve played a lot of guys. We’ve had some changes this week so every week there’s a new challenge and our guys I think from a coaching standpoint and a player standpoint have handled it.”
Aside from issues with turnovers and special teams during the first half of the season, San Diego has improved in several offensive and defensive areas from its 13-3 season in ’09.
• Averaging almost 43 yards more per game
• Averaging 3:41 more time of possession
• Averaging 26.8 more yards rushing per game
• Averaging 0.6 more yards per rushing play
• Averaging 16 more yards passing per game
• Allowing an average of just 6.5 points in the second half compared to 11.5 points in ’09
• Allowing 71 fewer total yards
• Allowing nearly one yard less per play
• Allowing 27 fewer rushing yards
• Allowing 43 fewer passing yards
• Recorded 11 more sacks with two games remaining
Turner attributes San Diego’s 6-1 record in its last seven games to young players taking better care of the football and special teams units bolstered by the additions of players like Quinton Teal, Antwan Barnes, Tyronne Carter and Patrick Watkins and the healthy return of Brandon Siler and Larry English.
“There’s no question. To me it started with our running backs and they’ve done a great job protecting the football,” Turner said. “We need to continue to make sure we do that. But certainly other positions that handle the ball have done a much better job but with the personnel changes we’ve made we cleaned up our special teams dramatically.”
Philip Rivers has thrown for more than 4,000 yards despite missing four of his top receivers and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates at times. The running game has improved even though first-round pick Ryan Mathews has been affected by an ankle injury for most of the season.
The defense has been hovering at No. 1 in yards allowed for most of the year and has gotten more pressure on opposing quarterbacks since Turner became coach in ’07 despite a turnstyle of players at outside linebacker.
Still, San Diego (8-6) cannot guarantee itself a playoff spot even with wins in its final two regular-season games.
“We’ve got to win the next two to have a chance and then we’ll see what happens,” Rivers said.
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