Once again, it's time for our weekly Q&A session with a blogger who covers the Patriots' upcoming opponent. Up this week is Ross Warner from Justice is Coming, Bloguin's San Diego Chargers blog. Here's what Ross had to say about the Chargers and Pats leading up to Sunday's game.
1. First, I want to start with the expectations put on this team. Most experts think this is the Chargers' year to win the Super Bowl. Is this their time and do you think they are the team to beat in the AFC?
I wouldn't say that most experts are picking the Chargers to reach the Super Bowl. It has been that way in some year's past, but I think at this point those "experts" are just thinking that they've got to get out of their own way and over the hump eventually. Is it their time? It's certainly the fans' time. They've suffered through 3 first-round home field choke jobs and I think the one against the Pats still hurts many fans the most. I don't think the Bolts are the team to beat right now--more people would say you guys are. But I would like to believe that they will be the team to beat when it matters most. That's always been the problem with the Chargers.
2. How concerned are you with the special teams unit, especially with Percy Harvin last week running the kick back. Could this flaw hurt their chances for the Super Bowl?
Much like the Chargers themselves, I have to believe that they can't make the same mistakes over and over again on special teams. Our new ST coach has a good track record from his time in Tampa. But Steve Crosby and the Chargers' special teams of the 2004-2009 years were some of the best groups in the league. Defections and injuries certainly led to the disaster a year ago. However, a change had to be made since the message clearly wasn't getting through. AJ Smith is not one for knee-jerk reactions, but I would have like to have seen the move done last year when it might have done some good.
3. Last year, the Patriots beat the Chargers due to a Kris Brown missed FG in place of Nate Kaeding. This week, Nick Novak most likely takes over. How detrimental is it to Norv Turner not to have Kaeding?
Are you really asking me how I feel about Nate Kaeding? Look, he is a nice guy and he appears to understand how badly he has choked in January. But that isn't getting us a Lombardi Trophy. As you remember, the Kris Brown field goal was only the result of an onsides kick to even give him that shot. Mike Vanderjagt was given one "mulligan" in the playoffs and that kick against the Steelers was a much harder one than any of Kaeding's misses (except for maybe the one that ended the 1/14/07 meltdown against New England). He's missed 4 kicks in 2 playoff losses against the Jets. Enough said. Nick Novack, or anyone else, would be an upgrade in my mind. All of Kaeding's makes in the regular season (I know he's the most accurate during that span, as was Vanderjagt) mean nothing. As I saw one Charger fan post on a message board, "3 points in January would make Nick Novak my new BFF."
4. Phillip Rivers finally has a whole set of weapons with Vincent Jackson back for a full season? What kind of difference does Vincent Jackson have on this team?
Vincent Jackson makes a big difference for this offtense. I think where it is most evident is when it frees up other guys. One of the many cliches that the Chargers allow to be propogated about them is that Rivers can throw to anyone as long as they are tall. Jackson is a legitimate matchup problem for defenses. When they are focused on him, other guys can get free. Jackson didn't have great numbers last week, but Rivers overthrew him on a wide open touchdown. The mid range passing game was the one working last week but it remains to be seen if that was adjusting and adapting on the Bolts' part or just the result of shortcomings in Minnesota's secondary.
5. Running back Mike Tolbert reportedly suffered a bruise to his knee in the win Sunday. If he is out, can San Diego run effectively? What has Tolbert brought to this team with LT and Sproles out?
I love Mike Tolbert. He gives the Chargers an attitude that they so often seem to lack. His knee should be "fine," but his running style obviously lends to him getting hit a lot. However, he's the one doing the hitting often times. But Tolbert cannot be the Chargers' only option in the run game. Ryan Mathews clearly has a ton of explosiveness and manueverability. The Chargers need both guys to be working on both the ground and the air. That is how the production that was once coming from LT and Sproles can be recouped. Jordan Todman, a rookie who looked to be the replacement for Sproles in preseason, was inactive last week.
6. In 2012, is Norv Turner the head coach?
Is Turner the coach? Not if this team flames out yet again. AJ Smith may even find his historically comfy perch at Charger Park getting increasingly hot if that happens. The Chargers have nothing to show for all of their regular season wins and division titles. If this team can't at least get back to the AFC title game, Norval could be jettisoned.
7. Give us a pick. Who do you like Sunday in Foxboro and why?
Who do I like on Sunday? There is no reason to think that the Chargers will take down the Pats, but I have to believe. I was in the stands when they allowed a relatively unknown Tom Brady to lead his team back against the Bolts in 2001 and I was there when the Chargers blew them out in 2005. This is the sort of game the Bolts haven't won in the past, especially in the playoffs. When they came to the Giants Stadium in 2009, I also didn't see much reason to think they would pull that game out. They needed a last-second miracle to do it, but it propelled them throughout the rest of that season until their old ways found their way back in the playoffs. You can see that I am constantly in conflict between what I want the Chargers to do and what they end up doing. I have to believe that Philip Rivers takes some steps towards winning big games again, instead of simply being a guy with great numbers. I think that begins on Sunday.
Bolts 28, Pats 24.