Friday, October 21, 2005

San Diego Puts A Charge in Opponents

The other day Eagles coach Andy Reid stood up and told us that the San Diego Chargers were a "Super Bowl-caliber team."
Each week, NFL coaches go overboard in praising opponents and Reid probably tipped the hyperbole scale a little too much, but the point is that the Chargers are a quality team despite their 3-3 record. They may not be Super Bowl caliber, but they are good enough to beat a Super Bowl team, specifically the Eagles.
San Diego’s three losses are to Dallas opening day, 28-24; at Denver, 20-17 and home against Pittsburgh, 24-22. The Dallas game they played without a major weapon tight end Antonio Gates. The Eagles had great trouble containing Dallas tight end Jason Whitten (7 receptions 80 yards), so he should have a major role.
In addition, the Chargers have won at New England, snapping the Pats’ 21-game home win streak. They also crushed the visiting New York Giants, 45-23 and last week beat Oakland, 27-14. That’s a Raiders team that gave the Eagles all they could handle before losing 23-20 at Lincoln Financial Field.
San Diego has a suspect secondary, but the front seven is strong and the linebackers, led by ball-hawking linebacker Donnie Edwards. With a defense that is allowing 245.3 passing yards per game, the Eagles will likely lick their collective chops and throw all day. Then again, they seem to do that every week anyway.
And we haven’t even mentioned running back LaDainian Tomlinson, arguably the biggest offensive weapon in the NFL or quarterback Drew Brees, who has thrown eight touchdown passes, four interceptions and has a healthy 95 passer rating.
Yet the key in this game should be the special teams, which have been anything but special for the Eagles. The Chargers have one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL in rookie Darren Sproles from Kansas State who is averaging 29.3 yards per kickoff return and 7.0 yards on punts. Sproles stands just 5-foot-6 and weighs a generously listed 181 pounds, but he can motor and the Eagles will have their hands full.
While stopping Tomlinson is the No. 1 priority, it’s suggested that putting the clamps on Sproles becomes priority 1-A.
Sproles has only carried the ball four times this season, which means he is well rested for his work on special teams. NFL talent evaluators doubt he can be an every down back in the league at his size, but he can surely be an every game special teams performer. And a future Pro Bowl returner as well.
How the Eagles contain Sproles should determine whether they are able to wipe away the sour taste of the Dallas defeat, or continue to question the direction they are headed.