By Gary Montgomery
Two weeks into the 2006 NFL season and the Chargers are 2-0 after shutting out the Raiders in week one and holding the Titans to a single touchdown on Sunday. The defense is in midseason form and new quarterback Phillip Rivers has not committed a single turnover. Sundays 40-7 drubbing of the lowly Titans before 64,344 Bolts fans was again led by the defense.
After sacking Raiders quarterbacks 9 times, the Chargers' defense couldn't get any against The Titans. But it wasn't for lack of effort. The Titan offense was completely stymied all day.
The Titans managed to gain only 19-yards of total offense in the first half. Titans starting Quarterback, Terry Collins who spent the last two seasons in a Raider uniform didn't find Chargers' defender any more hospitable because of his new allegiance. Collins was pressured, hurried and nearly sacked all afternoon. He completed only 6 of 19 passes attempted for a total of 57 yards and was intercepted twice. Collins finished the day with a 1.3 quarterback rating.
The Chargers defense was no more cordial to Titan QB in waiting Vince Young than it was to Collins. Young's first appearance late in the second quarter garnered no better results. Young threw three passes with no completions. Late in the fourth quarter Young was able to deny the Chargers defense its second consecutive shutout by throwing an 18-yard pass to Drew Bennett with 3:09 left and a lot of Charger backups in the game.
"We have a different mentality than last year. We want to go out and be a dominating secondary. We want to try and silence some of the critics. We've been criticized a lot. We want to go out and show everybody around the league that this is not a scrub secondary. We have some players back there and we are going to go out there and get it done," said Charger Cornerback Quentin Jammer.
Jammer's remarks are squarely in defense of the Chargers defensive performance during last two seasons. After building promising seasons primarily on the strength of a solid run defense and multi-talented offense the defensive secondary faltered and became the target of attack for offensive coordinators. The Chargers led the League last season in run defense, but were ranked 28th against the pass.
So far, the Chargers' defense has been stellar, however, before fans go out and buy those big blue foam fingers with Super Bowl XLI on them let's consider a few important facts.
Both wins are against teams with a combined 0-4 record to start the season. Both teams are struggling and trying to find a new quarterback to lead the team. Both teams are mired in personnel issues that although not offered as an excuse, have to be a major distraction.
The Chargers schedule gets much more difficult in the coming weeks. After returning from next week's bye, the team will travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens. The following week, defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers show up in San Diego. Positive outcomes from those two games against tough AFC North Division opponents should provide a sufficient barometer for the Chargers to know whether the defense is for real or are they just beating weaklings while they are down.
"We got a really good defense. Our secondary is starting to compliment our front seven. Our front seven is arguably the best in the NFL and eventually we want that to be said about us in the secondary. We just have a lot to do, we are getting better and the guys are communicating," said Free Safety Marlon McCree.
McCree, an off-season acquisition from Carolina was added to the Charger defense to strengthen a secondary that quite frankly, got bombed last year. So far McCree is proving to be one of the reasons for the Chargers fast start.
With the defense playing so well it was an easy day for the offense. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries and then gave way to backup Michael "the Burner" Turner who rushed for 138 yards on 13 carries. "The last thing you want to do is have an injury in a game with a pretty good (lead) differential," said Coach Marty Schottenheimer when asked about Tomlinson's early departure. "When you have a guy like Michael Turner, it makes the decision a lot easier." Before leaving the game, Tomlinson's 71-yards gave him a career total of 10,024 yards from scrimmage, making him the 63rd player in NFL history to surpass that mark.
Phillip Rivers continued to impress, throwing for 235-yards and no interceptions. Rivers threw the ball 35 times and completed 25 for a 99.1 quarterback rating. A balanced performance by most standards, but Coach Marty Schottenheimer was more critical.
"We got a lot of work to do. We left a lot of points out there. He (Rivers) didn't turn the ball over and that's always good. I think we are a very solid football team, but we are no where close to where we can be…and we'll get there."