Chargers preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
2:30
PM ET
How San Diego finishes out the schedule likely will determine whether it reaches the playoffs for a second straight year. The Chargers will play three of their last five games on the road -- facing four playoff teams from last season in New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. San Diego won its last four games last season to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009, but the Chargers will be hard-pressed to do that again if placed in a similar situation.

Complete Chargers season preview.
SAN DIEGO -- Known by most players in the locker room as the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, undrafted rookie free agent tight end Mike Flacco carved out a name for himself with more consistent play the last few weeks of the preseason.

And the result is that the 27-year-old might find a home with the San Diego Chargers for the long-term after final roster cut downs this weekend.

[+] EnlargeMike Flacco
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsMike Flacco has one more chance to convince the Chargers to keep him on the team.
Considered a major project, Flacco is fifth on the depth chart at perhaps the most talented position group on San Diego's roster. He has a chance of sticking with the organization either on the active roster or the practice squad, depending on what happens against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday.

Flacco benefits from having a position coach in Pete Metzelaars who played tight end for 16 years in the NFL, along with a future Hall of Famer in Antonio Gates and a talented breakout candidate in Ladarius Green to watch every day in practice.

"This is a great place to learn how to play tight end," Flacco said. "Unfortunately, there's some good tight ends in front of me on the depth chart. But between the coaching and guys in front of you to watch, it's a great place to learn."

Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in May after moving on from minor league baseball, Flacco struggled mightily during his early audition with the Chargers.

Some of Flacco's foibles during training camp included tripping over grass blades and falling down on a simple out route, and getting pancaked trying to block middle linebacker Reggie Walker during inside running drills.

As they say in football, sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail -- and Flacco was the latter more times than not during the first week of training camp.

But something changed the last few weeks -- Flacco got better. And it showed in games, including a nice catch on a seam route for an 18-yard gain against Dallas in the exhibition opener, and better consistency blocking in the run game against San Francisco last week.

"The longer you're in a system, and for me just doing football stuff like blocking guys and running routes, the better you're going to get at it," Flacco said. "So the more reps I get, the better I feel."

Along with the improved performance, Flacco also has something else working for him: potential. At 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, Flacco ran a 4.68-second, 40-yard time at his pro day after one year playing football at Division II New Haven. He posted a 9.7-foot broad jump and benched pressed 225 pounds 17 times.

Gates understands Flacco's tough transition, having done it himself over a decade ago as a Division I basketball player at Kent State making the switch to pro football.

"I had the same situation," Gates said. "So you have to understand the potential, and that you have to give people time. But he started making plays and understanding defenses. And I think that's what it is for him, and why he's still here.

"I've seen him progress over time and constantly getting better, and that's what it's all about. Some guys level off and stay the same, but he constantly got better every day."

Flacco said he's been in communication with older brother Joe during training camp, with conversations that include mundane topics like comparing practice times and daily schedules.

Flacco said he's looking forward to one last chance to show what he can do on Thursday against the Cardinals at Qualcomm Stadium.

"Just this whole experience has been great for me," Flacco said. "I didn't quit baseball to necessarily pursue this. I stopped playing because I just felt my opportunity there had passed. And I was fortunate enough to have this on the table, and ended up here."
SAN DIEGO -- Add another piece of evidence that San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is back playing at an elite level. A year after finishing off the list at No. 121, Rivers debuts on #NFLRank -- ESPN’s ranking of the top 100 players on offense and defense in the NFL -- at No. 30.

Rivers’ ascension to No. 30 is no surprise after how well he played last season, leading the league in completion percentage (69.5 percent) and finishing fourth in the NFL in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5).

But the real question for Rivers is can he keep it going?

The answer to that is yes, for a couple reasons.

No. 1 is continuity. Even though former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt took his considerable talents to Nashville as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, his replacement, Frank Reich, doesn’t plan to make major tweaks to San Diego’s offense.

Reich served as San Diego’s quarterbacks coach last season, has a good relationship with Rivers and will be given even more control as the new offensive coordinator. Rivers will have more ability to run no-huddle and call plays at the line of scrimmage.

“He has complete mastery of this offense,” Reich said about Rivers. “He’s the proverbial coach on the field.”

The Chargers also have continuity in terms of personnel, with most of the offense returning from last season.

And Rivers has playmakers. He will continue to lean on the short passing game, feeding big targets such as Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green -- which means his completion percentage should remain high and his interceptions should stay low.

Finally, the Chargers are a team that will run the football, taking the pressure off of Rivers to carry the offense. While running back Ryan Mathews likely will not carry it 285 times again this season, he still will be the main running back in San Diego’s offense, with Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead serving in complementary roles.

And with the ability to consistently run the football, opposing defenses have to play Rivers honest.

“My thing is to keep fine tuning the details -- all of the little things,” Rivers said. “Every little thing matters, and it’s not relaxing on anything. I think our whole offense and our whole team has that mindset.”
Good morning. Bill Barnwell of Grantland delves into an interesting topic this morning -- the "it" factor. Barnwell explores what exactly the "it" factor is and which players in the NFL have it.

According to his research, 46 quarterbacks have been mentioned to have the "it" factor currently in the NFL, including San Diego Chargers signal-caller Philip Rivers. Barnwell explains the "it" factor this way:

“As you might expect, the It Factor is also often code for ‘This guy is winning more than his skills say he should,’ because we are somehow still in the habit of assigning wins and losses to quarterbacks here in 2014. It’s often ascribed to some sort of knowledge of how to win, like there’s a secret formula to winning that requires you to do some Dan Brown cryptography work to outscore the opposition.”

Chargers safety Eric Weddle is the No. 33-ranked player on defense in this year’s #NFLRank. According to ESPN Stats & Info, over the last three seasons Weddle is the only player in the NFL to record at least 250 tackles and 12 interceptions.

Matt Claassen of Pro Football Focus writes that Johnnie Troutman struggled in the run game against the 49ers.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com provides a scouting report on the San Diego-Arizona matchup.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes that cornerback Richard Marshall is picking up a new position -- safety.

Kyle Posey of Bolts from the Blue takes a closer look at San Diego’s impressive performance against San Francisco.

Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports predicts the Chargers will finish 9-7 this season.

Darren Smith of The Mighty 1090 AM radio talks with Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network about the Chargers in this audio link.
SAN DIEGO – As a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft by the San Diego Chargers, Ryan Carrethers expected to compete for a starting job at defensive tackle.

That competition never materialized, with Sean Lissemore cementing his role as the team’s starter and Kwame Geathers remaining ahead of the Arkansas State product on the depth chart during training camp.

But with football, players always remain a few plays away from ascending up the depth chart, and that’s what happened with Carrethers.

Lissemore did not play last week at San Francisco because of a balky ankle injured against Seattle two weeks ago. And Lissemore's replacement, Geathers, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the opening quarter of the San Francisco game.

Thrust into the starting lineup against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Carrethers held his own against the 49ers, finishing with a tackle in 25 snaps at San Francisco.

Carrethers is one of seven healthy defensive linemen for the Chargers, and currently penciled in as the team’s starting defensive tackle until Lissemore is healthy.

“It felt good to get so much exposure at such an early stage,” Carrethers said. “But I think I’m more of capable of playing with them.”

At 6-1 and 333-pounds with a 700-pound squat to his credit, Carrethers is more than strong enough to play effectively inside. However, Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has said that it’s the mental side of the game -- getting the call, getting lined on the field correctly every play and consistently playing with the right pad level -- that Carrethers needs to master in order to improve his game.

“He’s still a rookie,” Pagano said. “He’s still going to do rookie things, and he’s learning. It was an eye-opener to him just being out there with the 1s, and going against a really good offensive line that San Francisco has.

“But he’s doing better. He’s just got to keep working at it, and keep trying to get better every day.”

Once Carrethers understands and feels comfortable in Pagano’s defensive scheme, he’ll start to resemble the player that finished with a career-high 93 tackles at Arkansas State last season.

“Obviously, I’m big and strong enough,” Carrethers said. “I just think it’s getting the repetitions. Once I get it, it’s going to be over from there. I’m just working on staying consistent with my technique, pad level -- everything.”
The San Diego Chargers cut 12 players, placed three on the injured reserve list and another on the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list to get down to the NFL-mandated 75 players by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. San Diego also acquired defensive end Joe Kruger (Eagles) through waivers.

Most significant move: Cornerback Brandon Ghee was signed in free agency as a player looking to revive his career after four injury-plagued seasons in Cincinnati. The Chargers signed the Wake Forest product to a two-year, $1.65 million deal, including a $230,000 signing bonus. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Ghee was supposed to add size to San Diego’s secondary, but he never cracked the second unit on the depth chart, passed over by second-year pro Steve Williams and undrafted rookie free agent Chris Davis.

Flacco hangs on: Considered a developmental project, 27-year-old tight end Mike Flacco -- the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco -- surprisingly remains on the roster. Raw and unpolished, the former minor league baseball player struggled with running precise routes and setting the edge in the run game. But lately he hasn’t looked like a deer in headlights, making a few plays during preseason action. Led by tight ends coach Pete Metzelaars and future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, Flacco has some good mentors to learn from if he can stay with the organization as a member of the practice squad.

Chargers' moves: San Diego released 12 players -- OT Nick Becton, FB Zach Boren, TE Jake Byrne, WR Brelan Chancellor, LB Adrian Hamilton, WR Micah Hatfield, OL D.J. Johnson, TE Ryan Otten, CB Lowell Rose, P Chase Tenpenny, CB Brandon Ghee and RB Kerwynn Williams. The Chargers placed DT Kwame Geathers, DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and CB Marcus Cromartie on the injured reserve list, and moved offensive lineman Jeromey Clary to the reserve physically unable to perform (PUP) list -- which means he will miss the first six games of the regular season.
In this ESPN Insider piece Insider, ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando ranks the NFL head coaches in tiers. San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy finished tied for 20th on the list with Tennessee Titans head coach and former Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

McCoy
Sando polled 30 league insiders, asking them to provide a 1-5 rating for every head coach, with 1 as best and 5 as worst. Sando then averaged the results and compiled a piece that features comments from the league insiders on each head coach. Sando performed a similar project ranking all the quarterbacks in the NFL earlier this year.

According to Sando, eight current general managers, four former general managers, six coordinators, four position coaches, four executives and four personnel director types participated in the poll.

McCoy received six votes for a 2 rating, 23 votes for a 3 rating and one vote for a 4 rating, according to Sando’s polling.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick tops the list, followed by Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin.

No. 20 seems about right for McCoy. He experienced some success in his first season by guiding the Chargers to the playoffs, but he’s still a relatively new head coach with a lot more to prove.
Good morning. Robert Mays of Grantland profiles the best quarterback of the 2004 draft class. But it’s not one of the obvious choices -- Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger -- who have four Super Bowl rings between them. According to Mays, it’s San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

Mays: “After a two-year banishment, Rivers was again one of the best quarterbacks in football. But reentry to the club doesn’t go far enough — not after the season he had a year ago and the seven he put together before that. Last season placed Rivers alongside Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, players who have long been his peers, even if he is rarely considered in the same breath. By some measures, Rivers is one of the five best quarterbacks of the past decade. But many would list him third in his own draft class -- the famous 2004 group that includes Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

“Those two have one claim that Rivers doesn’t — each has won a championship. Same as Peyton, Brees, and every other quarterback comparable to Rivers during his 10 years in the league. He’s done enough to earn his generation’s title as the best quarterback without a Super Bowl. But he’s been so much more.”

ESPN’s NFL Nation Vikings beat writer Ben Goessling reports former Chargers cornerback Derek Cox was one of Minnesota’s roster cuts to get down to 75 players.

Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego writes that offensive lineman Jeromey Clary likely will begin the regular season on the physically unable to perform list, making Johnnie Troutman the starting right guard to open the season.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com offers five lessons learned from the San Francisco game.

Kyle Posey of Bolts from the Blue takes a play-by-play look at the dominant performance by San Diego’s starting defense against San Francisco.

Andy Benoit writing for Sports Illustrated says that the Chargers are primed for another postseason run in this team preview.

Jake Hefner of Bolt Beat highlights the performance of inside linebacker Kavell Conner in place of Manti Te’o.
SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers announced on Monday that the team’s final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday at Qualcomm Stadium will be blacked out locally in Southern California since the game was not sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff.

The NFL’s policy affects all telecasts, including cable and satellite. More than 9,000 general tickets remain available.

Instead, KFMB-TV, CBS 8, will deliver a delayed telecast of Thursday night’s preseason matchup between the Chargers and the Cardinals beginning at 1 a.m. ET immediately following the game.

The game kicks off at 10 p.m. ET. The delayed telecast will also be shown in Los Angeles and Orange County on KCAL-TV, Channel 9 beginning at 3 a.m ET. The telecast will be delivered in Spanish on Telemundo in San Diego at 2:30 a.m.

Thursday’s game is unusual in that both teams will meet again the following week in the regular-season opener at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sept. 8. So it’s likely that both teams will rest their starters on Thursday.
SAN DIEGO -- Dwight Freeney says he didn't need playing time in the preseason to know that he's fully healthy and ready to play at a level he's accustomed to after tearing a quad last season.

The light bulb came on for Freeney after beating offensive tackle King Dunlap around the edge during one-on-one pass rush drills the first week of training camp.

"I knew once I got out there and engaged an offensive tackle, cut one way and I cut the other way and I wasn't thinking about the knee -- I knew I was good," Freeney said.

But San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy wanted to see Freeney in game action to just to make sure, and the 34-year-old veteran obliged, playing seven snaps and finishing with a tackle for a loss against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday -- a 2-yard loss for San Francisco running back LaMichael James.

"For me, I already knew that I'd be OK," Freeney said. "But it's just part of the process. They want to see you out there, and make sure you don't have any butterflies, or knock off the rust, or cobwebs or whatever. It's just part of the process."

After playing in his first preseason action, Freeney likely will not see any time against the Arizona Cardinals in his team's final preseason game. The Chargers have the unusual circumstance of playing the Cardinals again in the regular-season opener, so Freeney will be rooting his teammates on who are fighting for roster spots.

He doesn't expect either team to show too much on Thursday.

"I'm sure they're not going to show us anything, and we're not going to show them anything," Freeney said. "Well, you have to show something, because you have to go out there and actually play. But it's going to be interesting to see how vanilla the game can possibly get."
SAN DIEGO -- During a conversation with reporters on Monday, San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy announced the defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament tear in his knee against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and is done for the season.

The undrafted rookie free agent out of Boise State suffered the injury with 13:06 left in the contest while trying to tackle 49ers running back Glenn Winston.

McCoy said the defensive tackle Kwame Geathers, who also suffered a knee injury in the first half of the San Francisco game, is having further tests done by the team's medical staff, so he did not know the extent of his injury.

Geathers was injured at the 7:23 mark of the opening quarter on a 4-yard run by San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde.

The Chargers are already thin along the defensive line, and those two injuries further weaken the Chargers' depth up front defensively. Starting defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (ankle) and backup defensive end Lawrence Guy (shoulder) missed the San Francisco game.

However, the Chargers made a roster move to try and bolster the team's depth up front, claiming defensive end Joe Kruger, released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.

At 6-6 and 290 pounds, Kruger was a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in the 2013 draft. Kruger injured his shoulder during the 2013 preseason, and spent his entire rookie season on the injured reserve list. Kruger will likely work as a defensive end in San Diego's 3-4 defensive front.

After waiving 11 players on Monday, the Chargers have 80 players on the roster, and must cut down to 75 by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

"It's the tough part of the business," McCoy said. "It's not a fair business, but it's all part of our jobs."

McCoy was asked about center Nick Hardwick, who left the game in the first half with a neck injury. Hardwick dealt with neck stingers the second half of last season, but McCoy said his veteran center is fine.

McCoy would not provide a timetable for the return of other players who missed Sunday's game, including Vincent Brown (calf), Manti Te'o (foot), Jahleel Addae (hamstring) and Marcus Cromartie (groin). However, Te'o was seen walking in the locker room on Monday without a protective boot on his foot.

McCoy also remained vague on the status of offensive lineman Jeromey Clary, who is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Clary has not practiced since the beginning of training camp as he rehabs from offseason shoulder and hip surgery. But the Chargers have to make a decision by Week 1 of the regular season on whether to place Clary on the active roster or put him on the reserve PUP list.

"We've discussed it from the very first day he had his surgery until today, and what our plan is with him," McCoy said. "And will let you know when we make a decision."

Asked if he had suffered any setbacks, McCoy did not answer the question specifically, only saying that Clary is working every day to get better.
SAN DIEGO -- With a Tuesday deadline to get down to 75 players, the San Diego Chargers began that process by waiving 11 players, the team announced on Monday.

The Chargers let go of OT Nick Becton, FB Zach Boren, TE Jake Byrne, WR Brelan Chancellor, LB Adrian Hamilton, WR Micah Hatfield, OL D.J. Johnson, TE Ryan Otten, CB Lowell Rose, P Chase Tenpenny and RB Kerwynn Williams.

San Diego has to release four more players by Tuesday in order to get down to 75 players. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy will talk to reporters later this afternoon.
Good morning. Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus has Corey Liuget as the top rated 3-4 defensive end this preseason.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes that the Chargers’ offense got into a rhythm against the 49ers.

More Gehlken: Dwight Freeney wasn’t pleased with the turf at Levi’s Stadium.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego wonders with Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers injured if the Chargers will shop for a nose tackle.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com covers the debut of first-round selection Jason Verrett.

Mark Sessler of NFL.com provides his thoughts on the Chargers-49ers contest.

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman of Fox Sports say the Chargers are primed for an outstanding season in this video recap of the game.

From Lobshots, this Kellen Clemens throw resulted in a completion to Donald Brown.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated raves about Keenan Allen’s catching ability in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column.
Examining the San Diego Chargers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Brad Sorensen had an uneven performance against San Francisco, appearing to hold onto the ball and move slowly through his progressions. Sorensen needs to play better against Arizona, or the Chargers could consider other options for a developmental quarterback. However, a plus for Sorensen is he has two years in San Diego's offensive system.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Branden Oliver played better against San Francisco, but I still think it makes sense for the Chargers to keep around their sixth-round draft pick in Grice.

RECEIVERS (6)


Keeping five receivers is not out of the question but, with Brown still injured, having six receivers on the roster makes sense. Javontee Herndon remains a good practice squad candidate, along with Torrence Allen.

TIGHT ENDS (4)


Tight end is probably the strongest position group on San Diego's roster.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)


With Jeromey Clary still on the physically unable to perform list, he likely will not be active for the regular-season opener at Arizona. Chargers have a tough decision to make on whether or not to add him to the 53-man roster at the start of the season. Watt has been the most impressive rookie performer.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)


This group remains fluid, with Geathers suffering a knee injury against the 49ers, opening the door for players like Doug Worthington and Tenny Palepoi. I thought Carrethers had a solid game against San Francisco.

LINEBACKERS (10)
Cordarro Law flashed against San Francisco, finishing with four tackles, a sack and a pass deflection. Undrafted rookie free agent Colton Underwood also totaled three tackles and a quarterback hurry against the 49ers.

CORNERBACKS (5)


Butler provides toughness, consistency and an ability to play special teams. I still like Davis over Steve Williams as a practice squad candidate. Davis can play slot defender and return punts. Although Williams played better against San Francisco. Brandon Ghee remains in the mix.

SAFETIES (4)

Interesting to see Marshall get some reps at safety against San Francisco. That gives the Chargers more versatility, particularly with Addae's hamstring injury.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Undrafted rookie free agent punter Chase Tenpenny averaged 45.4 yards a punt against San Francisco.
video
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – We laid an egg.

Humbling.

Embarrassing.

Liuget
Those were some of the words defensive players for the San Diego Chargers uttered after the team’s disappointing performance last week at Seattle, giving up 243 rushing yards to the Seahawks.

Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said his coaching staff challenged players on the defensive side of the ball to play better, especially in regards to consistent tackling and getting after the quarterback.

To their credit, the starters on defense responded, holding the San Francisco 49ers to 69 total yards on four drives in the first half, and just 22 yards on the ground.

“I thought it was an overall great team effort,” Chargers inside linebacker Donald Butler said. “Definitely, a little more focus than last week. We had something to prove after last week.”

Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson described the loss to Seattle more bluntly: “We got our (butts) handed to us.”

San Diego defensive lineman Corey Liuget served as the catalyst to a bounce-back performance for the Chargers. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder could not be blocked by the 49ers in the opening quarter, and lived in San Francisco’s backfield.

Liuget finished with four tackles (two tackles for a loss), a strip sack and forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and a pass deflection in just over a quarter of work against one of the better offensive lines in the NFL.

“When he gets hot, makes plays early and gets rolling, he’s as good as anybody in the league,” Johnson said about Liuget. “If he keeps playing at that level, people are going to recognize him. He is a big-time talent. And as he continues to progress, get older, better and more consistent, everybody’s going to know his name.”

Like the rest of his teammates, Liuget said last week’s loss to Seattle served as extra motivation to play better against a talented offense such as San Francisco.

“We were motivated as a defense and as a team,” Liuget said. “We got our butts handed to us last week. And we just knew for a fact what we had to come into this game and do -- tackle and make sure we get off of the field.”

Everyone around the league knows how dangerous San Diego’s offense is, how tough the Chargers are to stop on that side of the ball. But San Diego’s defensive players made a statement on Sunday against the 49ers that they will have to be reckoned with as well.

“Our energy and excitement was up, and we played like it,” Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. “When our front and backfield play together and do what we’re coached to do, we can play really well.”

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