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.

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