Sunday, November 23, 2014

Can the San Diego Chargers Stand Up to the St. Louis Rams, the NFL's New Thugs on the Block?

The importance of the San Diego Chargers game today against the surging St. Louis Rams can not be overstated. A win will put the Bolts right back in the conversation as a legit AFC contender -- especially if Miami can beat Denver. A Charger loss, however, will pretty much remove San Diego from serious playoff contention. 

To beat the Rams, who dominated the Denver Broncos last week, San Diego's offensive line needs to get its act together and play with a lot more nasty. The guys up front need to hit the field with a chip on their shoulder. They need to play as if they have something to prove. And they do. 

Anything less, and the Rams will steamroll through this Charger line and put quarterback Philip Rivers on his back.

If football is about match-ups and momentum, this game looks like a win for the Rams, who have a punishing and increasingly confident defensive front. Meanwhile, the Chargers' O line has played poorly the last four games. They can't run block, they can't pass protect. They put fear into no one. Can they rebound? It's now or never.

This game could get seriously ugly. Rams coach Jeff Fisher is a goon, according to numerous accounts. Sports journalists as well as football players I know and respect say Fisher was a dirty coach long before Bountygate happened in New Orleans. 

When he was coaching the defense for Buddy Ryan's Philadelphia Eagles, Fisher reportedly had a bounty on opposing players. Don't act so shocked. Under-the-table payments to players who injure opposing players was more common than the NFL public relations types would have you believe. It still likely goes on.

Fisher reportedly carried on this dirty tradition when he was named head coach of the Tennessee Titans, where, according to Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman and CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf, Fisher's teams "played through the whistle -- and then some."

And guess who runs Fisher's defense now that he's landed in St Louis? You guessed it, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended for a year for paying his New Orleans Saints players to physically harm opponents. 

A real class act, Williams should've been booted out of the NFL for life. He had a bounty on Peyton Manning when Manning played for the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints, according to former Colts coach Tony Dungy. Of course, Fisher defended Williams when the Bountygate scandal broke and criticized the league for suspending him.

Before Williams was paying his Saints players to hurt opponents, he worked for Fisher with the Oilers and then the Titans. No surprise that from 2001-2010, the Titans led the league in most personal foul penalties with 163, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The second-highest teams on the list for most personal fouls were the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants, both with 137.

Now Williams and Fisher are reunited in St. Louis, and you saw the result last week against Denver. It looked pretty clear to me that the Rams were headhunting against the Broncos. If you watched that game and don't agree, you must be a Rams fan and/or you need new glasses. 

I suspect the Rams will be be similarly geeked for this game and will be looking to take Rivers out. He's already playing hurt, but to what degree the pathologically secretive Charger coach Mike McCoy won't say.

The Rams knocked Arizona QB Carson Palmer out for the season two weeks ago. They also sacked 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick eight times, Seattle's Russell Wilson three times, and Peyton Manning twice last week.

The Chargers offensive line has to play its angriest and best game of the year against the Rams, or Rivers really will have a broken rib. But if San Diego's offensive line steps up, holds up, and creates a few openings for Charger running back Ryan Mathews, who is as tough a back when healthy as anyone in the league, I like the Chargers chances to beat St. Louis in a close one. 

What some perhaps don't know is that while the Rams' front seven is menacing, their secondary is weak. And the Chargers obviously have the better quarterback.

There will be plenty of heated individual battles along the line of scrimmage in this football game. There will be blood. My only hope is that the good guys win the war.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why Is San Diego Chargers Coach Mike McCoy So Ticked Off?

Mike McCoy flashing his best press conference smile -

There is a dark trend developing at San Diego Chargers headquarters. Mike McCoy, the team's second-year head coach, is becoming demonstrably more hostile toward the journalists that cover his team. And in so doing, he is shooting himself and his image in the foot. 

It's got to stop. Now.

McCoy has become positively Bill Belichick-like in his disdain for the local press. It's been like this all season. But this week it has degenerated into a a genuine thing after a relatively harmless comment made by Chargers future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates after Sunday's game that Charger quarterback Philip Rivers had a "severe rib injury." 

This news came as a big surprise to the media and to Charger fans. Clearly Philip does not have a serious rib injury. Gates was just supporting his teammate and friend. Rivers, one of the toughest quarterbacks to ever play this game, apparently has had some discomfort, but McCoy had not listed him as injured. Until after Gates made the comment.

McCoy is treating the Gates comment like Watergate II. He's battened down the hatches on this so-called leak. He's become even more evasive and tight-lipped. Preposterously so. He's damn near mute now.

And the local sports scribes have had enough of this nonsense. 

I guarantee you, if the Chargers don't win a crucial home game this Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the media will really turn against McCoy, and probably rightly so.

The former offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, McCoy, is by all accounts a truly decent man. He's a guy who consistently emphasizes the importance of family. I still like him as a person and a football coach. But my patience is thinning. For whatever reason, Mike just can't handle the process of talking to the media. He can't stand the fourth estate. 

And that sentiment is becoming increasingly mutual.

My old friend Nick Canepa, the acclaimed sports columnist for the San Diego U-T, said it best. "McCoy is SoCoy," Nick wrote. "He’s like an old spokesman for TASS — furtive, calculating, cautious, the deliverer of … well, not always misinformation, but of little or no information. You know, coy. And for what? Because he’s one of those football coaches who looks under his oatmeal in the morning to make sure it’s not bugged." 

McCoy isn't just paranoid, he's also a bit of a snob. He seems to think he's smarter than the people who cover him. He's not. In his presser this week, he laughably labeled the Chargers ugly 13-6 win over the Raiders on Sunday an “outstanding team performance.” 

Please, Mike. Who are you trying to kid here?

While the defense had its moments against Oakland, the offense was awful. The offensive line, specifically, played poorly. It has for the last four games. Does McCoy think we aren't paying attention?

This coach has every reason to be happy. He's making about $4 million a year and living and working in San Diego, the best city in the world. And his 6-4 Chargers are still in it. 

McCoy's squad is just one game behind the first-place Denver Broncos in the AFC West and just a half-game behind the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite suffering a boatload of injuries to key players this season, the Chargers still have a shot at the division championship. 

But instead of giddy, we get surly. McCoy is downright nasty at times.

Is it a lack of maturity? After all, McCoy, 42, is the youngest head coach in the league. When the cameras go on and the microphones are placed in front of his face, he becomes Mr Hyde. This is a trait that can very quickly lead you to ruin as a head coach. 

McCoy has a great football mind and, importantly, still has the locker room in his corner. Charger players clearly still believe in his ability to lead. And by all accounts he is a compassionate man who agonizes over the player cuts he has to make.

So where is that guy at his press conferences? They're cringe-worthy. And it didn't just start this week. It's been going on all year. Even when the Chargers were sitting pretty at 3-1 and in first place, when I watched McCoy address the media he appeared perturbed every time he was asked even the most basic, harmless question by a professional journalist.

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco needs to tell McCoy to lighten up. He may be the only person to whom McCoy will listen.

I'm sure that talking to cranky, cynical sportswriters isn't always a joy. But it's an integral part of the job description for a head coach. And it's the best and often the only way to communicate directly with the fans, who are ultimately responsible for paying McCoy's generous salary. 

It doesn't serve anyone's purpose if you are belligerent and hostile.

If there has been a specific incident that has soured McCoy on the local or national media, that may be a different story. But I'm not aware of any such incident. I don't know of any situation in which McCoy was burned by a reporter or egregiously misquoted or unfairly criticized.

If McCoy thinks the San Diego media are rough, he should thank his freaking stars he's not in New York, Philly, Boston, etc. The media jackals in those markets would be eating him alive by now.

Telesco, also a relative youngster in his second year, has talked often about how open this new Charger regime is to the public. How it embraces a family atmosphere. That's reflected by the fact that more assistant coaches are now sometimes talking to reporters now than they did in the A.J. Smith regime.

But those assistant coaches are far more effusive than McCoy, who is stepping into Belichick territory here. And he hasn't earned the right to do this. Win a few Super Bowls, then you can get away with being a jackass. 

Belichick, the undeniably successful coach of the New England Patriots, is one of the worst humans in sports. A dismal guy. I shudder to think McCoy is headed in that direction.

We all know that sportswriters can at times be a pushy and sometimes even obnoxious bunch. But the vast majority of reporters I know who cover the Chargers - both print and broadcast -- are professional and fair. They've given McCoy no reason to be so hard.

So here's my advice, Mike: Just chill out! You got the job. And you know how to coach. Last year you should have been in more conversations for the NFL Coach of the Year. Is that it? Is that why you seem angry all the time when the camera and recorders are on?

Just try smiling now and then. It doesn't hurt. Talk to the media. Joke with them. Answer a question honestly. I know you don't like to talk about team injuries. But now and then you can, and should, and must.

You're a pretty nice guy when the cameras turn off, virtually everyone says so. Just remind yourself that members of the media are men and women with families, just like you. They have an important job to do, just like you. And whatever vibe you give off at a press conference is how the public sees you, too.

Above all else, coaching is about leadership and the ability to handle pressure and adversity. If you can't stand the heat, Mike, you're in the wrong job.