Three questions with Jay Paris, Chargers beat writer for The North County Times
Q: What turned around the Chargers’ season after a 2-3 start?
A: The Chargers were shell-shocked after their opening-game in Oakland, as they lost both the anchors of each line: three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams and one-time Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick.
Fixing both holes in the middle took some time. The Chargers realized they weren’t going to win many close, defensive games as the running defense was shot, which led to opponents being able to pass the ball and put up some points. Not that Norv Turner needed much of a nudge, but he went completely to a pass-first offense — despite having $12 million invested in the backfield in LaDainian Tomlinson and franchise-tag player Darren Sproles. Philip Rivers took that lead and ran with it and is having an MVP caliber year — although he is not getting much love from the national media.
The Chargers finally got the run-defense adequate by bringing in street free agents, then blew up the secondary by cutting strong safety Clinton Hart and inserting rookie Kevin Ellison.
Q: Philip Rivers might be the NFL’s least-appreciated quarterback. What makes him so special?
A: A wise coach once told me the least important attribute of an NFL quarterback is a strong arm. What is most important, he said, was leadership. Rivers oozes that and the players respond. But Rivers, despite a shot-put like delivery, can throw the deep ball with lanky, 6-foot-5 targets in Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd.
Rivers has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in consecutive years — only Dan Fouts had done that as a Charger — has won four straight AFC West titles since being annointed the starter — the best run in franchise history — and is so accurate his touchdown-to-interception ratio is always off the charts: 27-9.
The thing about Rivers is he is a family man — know any other $92 million quarterbacks still driving a minivan? — and he’s never looking for a camera to look into. He’s not into being a soap opera quarterback, leaving the commercials and TV spots to others.
Q. Can the Chargers make it three in a row in the playoffs over the Colts if the AFC’s two best teams meet in the conference title game?
A: The Chargers certainly think so, and I agree. That’s not to say they aren’t playing with fire in beating the Colts so often — at some point does that turn? But the Chargers’ weakness, stopping the run, macthes the Colts, who can’t run it. The Colts will rely on Peyton Manning’s big arm, but if the Chargers’ pass rush is on with Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman, it can give him problems. Remember the Chargers once picked off Manning six times in a game. So while they respect No. 18, they don’t fear him. The Chargers don’t match up as well against the Patriots and seem intimidated by them as well. But the Colts? The Chargers will say bring it on.