|L.T., L.J. try to break out of their funks when Chargers host Chiefs|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 September 2007 12:37|
L.T. and L.J. can't run the ball. Teammates have been screaming at each other. The defending AFC West champion Chargers can't cover or tackle - and wouldn't you know it, the guy who led them in stops for the last half-decade returns to town in a Kansas City uniform.
So, welcome to the mostly mild AFC West. The Chargers and Chiefs - both 1-2 and tied for last with Oakland - open division play at Qualcomm Stadium, both desperately needing a win.
``Just for confidence purposes, we need to get ourselves back on track,'' said reigning league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, who shockingly is still sitting on the launching pad while almost everyone else has blasted off.
The Chargers aren't sneaking up on people anymore. They certainly aren't powering through opponents as they did last year, when they went an NFL-best 14-2 before their playoff pratfall against New England. Under Norv Turner, they've already lost as many games as they did last year under Marty Schottenheimer.
Tomlinson has gained only 130 yards on 57 carries - a 2.3-yard average - with one touchdown, while catching a TD pass and throwing for another. He's looked nothing like the guy who set NFL records with 31 touchdowns and 186 points and won his first rushing title with a career-best 1,815 yards.
During Sunday's 31-24 loss at Green Bay, Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers argued on the sideline after the Chargers failed to convert a third down.
Kansas City's Larry Johnson also has yet to get going after holding out for 25 days during training camp in order to secure a big contract that will pay him $27.7 million over three seasons.
Johnson, Tomlinson's closest pursuer last year, has gained only 140 yards on 50 carries, an average of 2.8 yards, with no touchdowns.
Johnson complained about the play-calling in a 13-10 win over Minnesota, and was among Chiefs players yelling at each other on the sideline.
The two star backs can sort of understand each other's frustration.
``They're struggling to throw the football, so everybody's saying, `Let's stop Larry Johnson and make the Kansas City Chiefs throw the football and beat us,''' Tomlinson said. ``In our case, we're throwing the ball well, for the most part. So we have had some success moving the ball somewhat.''
Added Johnson: ``We both know we're real good running backs and we've got a lot more to offer our respective ballclubs.''
Tomlinson doesn't think the Chargers have become predictable, but says teams have done a better job of keying on the run, including stuffing the box with eight defenders.
``I think sometimes people just catch us,'' he said. ``That's going to happen sometimes, but I think it has happened more times than we would like it to happen. We're going to see if we can change some things around. Little things, not anything major.''
The Chargers think they're close. What they really need is for Tomlinson to break a big one, like the electrifying 85-yard touchdown run he had in a 20-9 home win over Kansas City in December.
``We're going to get it going,'' Rivers said. ``I think when you look at 150-yard days, usually there's a long run in there. I think those will come. We're really close to busting some of those.''
Tomlinson will be running against a Chiefs defense that includes linebacker Donnie Edwards, who spent the previous five seasons with San Diego.
Edwards, who grew up in the San Diego area, apparently angered general manager A.J. Smith with repeated demands for a contract extension. He was shown the door at the end of last season despite leading San Diego in tackles for five straight seasons, including a career-high 170 last year.
``I don't know what's going on over there,'' Edwards said. ``But I know L.T. as a person and a player. He's one hell of a person, No. 1. But he's one hell of a player as well.
``He's bottled up right now. I don't want this to be the game that he breaks out.''
Edwards never missed a game in five seasons in San Diego. His replacement at inside linebacker, Matt Wilhelm, will miss his second straight with a calf injury.
``We went 14-2 last year, but dynamics change,'' Edwards said. ``That's what happens every year. Things always change. I really don't know.''
It's interesting that the Chargers, who are having trouble tackling, face Edwards and the Chiefs now. Edwards was criticized last year by some who said many of his tackles were too far downfield. Schottenheimer dismissed that notion as ridiculous, saying that if Edwards wasn't making those tackles, then somebody would have to be making them 20-30 yards father downfield.
Now the Chargers are facing a tackling crisis under new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell.
``That's something that you learn in pee-wee football, and that's why we don't take to the ground during the week because we know how to tackle - we should know how to tackle,'' star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said. ``That's something that we all got on each other about after the game. That's something we will correct.
``It's basic, and it's something you've got to make an emphasis on, and we've done that now. We went back and looked at film and have seen things we had to do, and tackling was No. 1.''