Chargers bring deceptive 2-3 mark to St. Louis

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rams face a San Diego team that has been bedeviled by special teams play

ST. LOUIS -- The numbers just don't add up for the San Diego Chargers five games into the season.

The St. Louis Rams see a powerhouse when they study game tape of the Chargers, who are first in the NFL in total offense, second in scoring and total defense but have a 2-3 record.

"This team is the No. 1 offense and it's not by accident," Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. "I look at their record and I say 'How are these guys 2-3?'"

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is impressed by the talent, speed and schemes on both sides of the ball.

"They're scary to watch on film," Spagnuolo said. "I'm sure they'll be scary to watch live."

Trouble is, it's scary for the Chargers to review, too.

Poor special teams play and ill-timed turnovers have made the four-time defending AFC West champions beatable. San Diego had two punts blocked and lost three fumbles deep in Oakland territory in a loss to the Raiders last week, and in three road losses has allowed four special teams touchdowns. The Chargers already are on their fifth long snapper.

So much for that high-flying offense and stingy defense.

"We'd trade being at the top in those, obviously, for a couple more wins," said quarterback Philip Rivers, who already has a pair of 400-yard passing games. "We're playing pretty good for the most part, we're just making some key mistakes."

They're 2-3 for the fourth straight season under coach Norv Turner, so maybe it's just a team that needs a few weeks to build up a head of steam.

"We're not a struggling 'trying to find ourselves' 2-3," Turner said. "The bulk of these games, we're playing really well. So it's not one of those things where we're trying to figure out how to get a first down or defensively to get a stop."

They'll try to right the ship against an opponent that's also 2-3 but without the pedigree.

The Rams already have doubled their victory total from last season, and with a few favorable bounces even could have been 4-0. No. 1 pick Sam Bradford looked like a poised veteran, Steven Jackson rambled ever closer in his quest to become the franchise's career leading rusher and the defense allowed no more than 16 points.

"I'll tell you, I was always a fan of his when he was at Oklahoma," Rivers said of Bradford. "I would expect him to keep improving and be a great player."

They reverted to sad-sack status in a 38-point blowout loss at Detroit last week. No way they're looking at the Chargers' 0-3 road record as an advantage.

Jackson's 114-yard rushing day left him needing 141 yards to pass Eric Dickerson as the team's all-time rushing leader. Jackson said he's 100 percent healed from a groin strain that limited his mobility for two weeks. But special teams allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, wide receiver Danny Amendola lost a fumble at the Detroit 6-yard line early, the defense crumpled while surrendering touchdowns on three straight possessions and Bradford threw two interceptions -- one of them by No. 2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh and the other returned for a touchdown.

Bradford failed to produce a touchdown for the first time in his brief career. The front four needed help on the pass rush for the first time in his brief career.

Cornerback Ron Bartell dropped a sure interception.

"It was just a bad game," Bartell said. "It happens. Every team has a bad game. About everything that could happen, happened."

The Rams were thin at wide receiver before losing Mark Clayton for the year with a torn patella tendon in his right knee. Clayton and Bradford both are Oklahoma products and quickly developed a chemistry.

"I'm sure he'll miss Mark, just like we all will," Spagnuolo said. "But he'll just have to get up to speed with some of the other guys."

Playing at home might help the Rams regain their footing. They've been slowly winning back a fan base that tuned out during a 6-42 three-season free fall, beating the Redskins and Seahawks in the Edward Jones Dome with attendance that while short of capacity has met NFL requirements for sellouts.

"You do have a comfort level at home," Bartell said. "It'll be good to get back in the dome in front of the fans, and hopefully they'll get loud enough to get rid of some trouble on the field."

The Chargers will get offensive tackle Marcus McNeill back this week, fortifying an offense that hasn't needed much.

"It'll be nice," Rivers said. "He's able to give a boost, not only his play, but he has a different mentality."

Just getting the ball out on punts would be a big start for the Chargers. They also need a bigger bottom line from an offense that has two headliners. Rivers has 1,759 yards passing, the fifth-best total in NFL history after five games, and Antonio Gates has scored in nine consecutive games, an NFL record for tight ends.

Rivers said the Chargers can't assume that the victories will come because slow starts haven't hurt the franchise in the past.

"Just because we've been able to fight out of this start in the past doesn't mean it's just going to happen," Rivers said. "We've got to get those things corrected."

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