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I caught up with John over at Bolts from the Blue and asked him a few questions about the Kansas City Chiefs week seven matchup with the San Diego Chargers.
We talked about LaDainian Tomlinson, stopping Philip Rivers and Shawne Merriman. John also talked a little bit about the Chargers originally switching to the 3-4. In short, there's not a good chance things will work to perfection in year one unless you have several key parts in place.
Many thanks to John. Complete question and answers are after the jump.
Is LaDainian Tomlinson on the decline? If so, will the Chargers beef up Darren Sproles' role in the offense?
My response to this question cannot be taken as the response of our fanbase. These are issues that we're very torn on. I'll answer them separately, because they're equally important issues.
LT - Technically, LT began his downfall last year. He posted career lows in carries and yards, as well as the lowest number of rushing TDs and the lowest yards per carry since his rookie season. However, I'm of the belief that this has more to do with him having tired legs than anything else.
Although he started his career by juking people out of their shoes, he's has developed into a very smart runner who I think can be successful again if he can have some of the load taken away from him and remains healthy.
Sproles - Major point of contention between Chargers fans. I'm of the belief that Sproles numbers where stay exactly where they are. Around 60 carries and more than 30 receptions for the season keeps him fresh during punt and kick returns. Increasing his load, as everyone saw with Devin Hester last season (and Dante Hall in the past), will make the Chargers return game less dynamic.
I think Darren Sproles showed in his only start, against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season, that he's not fit to be a starter in the league.
My belief, or perhaps I should say my hope, is that 50-100 of LT's carries are given to the Chargers rookie RB Gartrell Johnson. He's a power running back cut from the same cloth as Stephen Jackson. If they use him effectively (allowing LT to take a series off every so often, pounding the ball in the 4th quarter, short yardage situations), he'll make the running game better and the "three headed monster" will be healthy going into the postseason.
If you're the Chiefs defense, what do you stop first?
The passing game. You have to get a pass-rush on Rivers. If you can't do that, you can't beat the Chargers in 2009. There's nothing else you can focus on.
Philip can manage fine without a running game, and he spreads the ball out enough that you can't focus on one receiver with your secondary. He's patient and he's smart. You won't force him to make a mistake unless you he's throwing with Chiefs hanging off of him. If I'm a defensive coordinator, I'm playing basic Cover 2 over the top and bringing heat with the linebackers.
If you can get him to the ground, he has issues with fumbling the ball.
What do you expect out of Shawne Merriman this year? Is he the focal point of the defense?
Merriman makes the defense go. However, I have no idea how to answer your question. If his knee is 100%, I expect at least 14 sacks from him.
Ron Rivera, in his first offseason as the defensive coordinator of a 3-4 defense, seems to be brewing up some insanity that will make the second question impossible for me to answer. The initial word out is that instead of your basic 3-4 setup, Ron is planning on running out a defense that plays with three pass rushing linebackers (Merriman, Phillips, English) and one inside linebacker (except on obvious passing downs).
Also, nobody has any idea who is playing defensive end in place of the departed Igor Olshansky, if anybody.
If I was a defensive coordinator right now, I'd start with slowing down defensive tackle Jamal Williams and then I'd focus on Merriman. If you can't stop Jamal from blowing through the middle of the line, you don't stand a chance.
The Chiefs are switching to the 3-4 defense this season. What was it like when the Chargers originally switched to the 3-4?
Crazy. I wrote an article about first-year 3-4 defenses here. Most teams actually get worse in their first seasons in the system.
The Chargers were lucky enough, that season, to find an outside linebacker that was a good pass rusher (but never knew it) in Steve Foley. He went from a mediocre outside linebacker with the Bengals to a 10-sack star with the Chargers, and the team went from 4-12 to 12-4.
It's different now, just five years later, because the Chiefs have players that have played in and against a lot of 3-4 defenses. I think the Chargers were the second or third team to run it full-time, so the first season was filled with missed assignments and silly mistakes.
It takes a few years before you have the right guy in every slot, but the most important spots are ones that the Chargers had filled that year. Donnie Edwards was the smart "coverage" middle linebacker, Steve Foley was the pass rushing outside linebacker, and Jamal Williams was the dominant nose tackle that took up two (or three) blockers.
If you have those pieces, you'll be alright in the first year.
Many thanks to John over at Bolts from the Blue for answering these questions. My prediction for this game: Chargers 24 Chiefs 14