AJ Smith on their punt coverage unit: “We’re still addressing that and will continue to do that until we get it done right”

November 11, 2010 – 9:30 am by timgunter

A slow start for the 4-5 San Diego Chargers is nothing new, but losing the way they have is.  Through the first nine games of the season, the Chargers’ special teams have underperformed, and according to their GM AJ Smith, they have cost them at least three wins.  Nothing is more demoralizing to a team than when your opponent is blocking kicks for scores or returning them for touchdowns.  They have already allowed five blocked punts, with four resulting in immediate scores and another scoring a touchdown one play later.  Not to mention the fact they’ve already allowed two kickoffs and a punt returned for touchdowns!  According to my research, the other 31 teams in the NFL have a combined total of five.  Smith doesn’t believe they’re having schematic issues and refuses to fire special teams coach, Steve Crosby.  He has insisted on firing players instead, so he has diligently worked on trying to find players that can thrive on special teams and actually block and cover punts/kicks.  Although their special teams have completely sucked so far, their offense has stepped up and contributed.

Despite having to overcome significant injuries to the offensive personnel, Philip Rivers is having an incredible season and is leading the league in passing yards, yards per attempt and touchdown passes.  What is even more impressive is that Rivers’ 2,944 yards passing this season, puts him on pace to set a NFL-record 5,234 yards.  Given the weakness of the AFC West and by winning the last two games, the Chargers’ streak of four division titles in a row, and five out of the last six, remains very much intact.

AJ Smith joined XX Sports Radio in San Diego to talk about how he would evaluate the Chargers 4-5 season thus far, how accurate it is to say, the Chargers have lost three games exclusively because of their special teams, and whether the special teams’ problems have been a coaching problem or player problem.

How he would evaluate the Chargers 4-5 season thus far:

“Well I wish we had some more numbers and when I look back at it because of our special teams’ woes and dissecting it I wish we would have had three more victories on top of the four that we already have, which really would have made us feel a whole lot better, and it really is all about the numbers.  The more you have, the more comfortable it is for you to know that you have margin for error to ultimately get to the postseason.  So it is a little bit tight right now.  We did have our struggles, but I’m really proud of the coaches and players to battle through the last couple of weeks and get a couple of wins.  It sure is a lot nicer to fix things and try to get better each day when you’ve got some W’s.  So we look at it now, well we got four, and what is ahead of us.  I see a couple of teams at five, so we feel like we are in the middle of this thing and hopefully we can get healthy which has been a problem but that is OK.  We don’t use it as an excuse.  We all battle this thing from time to time, to come out of the end of this bye rested up and really just make a run at this thing and see if we can do something down the stretch for our fans, as well as ourselves, and get cranked up here and get going.”

How accurate it is to say, the Chargers have lost three games exclusively because of their special teams:

“Well, just my estimation, when in hindsight when you look back this is what you do, I just feel that if we didn’t have those terrible situations, which is only hypothetical a little bit, maybe we could have had ourselves three more victories in three of those games? And that is just me looking back at it after the fact when it is going by the board, and then the numbers of course would have changed.  But we don’t have them and you are what your record says you are as Coach Parcells made famous many years ago.  So the San Diego Chargers are four and that is all we got.  We know that we are in a division battle here and we know that there are two other teams that have five.  So that clearly tells us that you’re not in first place, but it clearly also tells us as a team, which is helping us, because of the two victories in a row, it puts us right there.  So now we have got to do something about it and come out of this bye and get after this thing and straighten out and work to get better, and special teams still have some problems in punt coverage…we know that we did in the coverage units and we shook that up pretty good over a period of time so people lost their lobs.  I think we straightened that out, as far as statistically, stopped the bleeding.  Punt coverage, too many mental errors.  We’re still addressing that and will continue to do that until we get it done right and then we’ll just move forward.”

Whether the special teams’ problems have been a coaching problem or player problem:

“Well I don’t think it was the coaching part of it.  If it was the coaching part of it then it would be scheming and that sort of nature, but when we break it down we’ve had some mental errors.  So the question is, why are we having mental errors?  And if they continue to happen then of course you get new players or if it spreads around and starts to be a lot of different players, so I do think it is a player problem and we need to address that on the punt coverage.  Now we had the same situation on the other coverage and we made some changes and we’ve got a unit coming together.  When we get other players back too who have done it and are familiar with it.  We think that continuity in anything is going to help you, but we haven’t had it.  So it has been piecemeal and a few other things, but we’ve also had some veterans along the way uncharacteristically cause some of these problems…but we’re hanging in there as a team and that is the thing that I love about our football team that they are a close-knit group.  I do think they hang together, we’re very proud of the fact that when things go bad our people do not let go of the rope around here, but they haven’t in the past , we haven’t now, you don’t have the offense and defense ganging up and pointing fingers at the special teams and everything starts falling apart.  I think that is really part of the reason why we have hung together as a team and why we’ve survived some of these terrible starts and situations.  We got the same thing going now.  We’re hanging together.  We grabbed two victories.  We’re on a bye.  We’re all looking forward for the rest and then the mental part of it is, we’re going to try to come out of the backend of this thing and really make a run for it for everybody.  The fans included.”

Whether he is getting what he expected from Ryan Matthews at this point of the season:

“Well I wish he was healthy, and I wish he didn’t fumble the ball, which everybody talks about but that just comes with the territory when you put the ball on the ground.  But yeah he is extremely talented.  I think that was pretty obvious to us when he became a Charger, even in minicamp and in the games that he has played.  But we would love for him to be just healthy the whole time but I knew when he had the ankle, early, that that could be a problem through the season and it looks like we are kind of just working our way through that right now.  And he is working his way through it.”

AJ Smith on XX Sports Radio in SD with Darren Smith

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