If blue-and-gold Kool-Aid were available, many NFL analysts would’ve chugged several pints by now. These folks love themselves some Chargers. Pick your media outlet. This week it was CBS. Tony Romo’s crew and Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher championed the Chargers — even when not asked about them.
Romo, the lead analyst on game telecasts, chimed in when play-by-by colleague Jim Nantz slapped “sleeper team for the league” on the Bolts.
“We really think they’re gonna be special,” said Romo, the former longtime Dallas Cowboys quarterback. “I mean, this team is for real.”
Rooted in defense, Cowher praised edge defender Khalil Mack, a new addition, and waxed about Derwin James, saying the safety’s versatility will pay large dividends.
“The Chargers, they’re the real deal,” said Cowher, whose Pittsburgh Steelers team beat Seattle in Super Bowl 40. “They’re a very, very formidable team.”
It’s not the first summer in which many NFL experts extolled the Chargers.
On many of those other occasions, Team Spanos responded by making fools of the gushing pundits.
Teams should win their division once every four years, based on the number of clubs per division. The last time the Chargers won the AFC West race was 2009, when Norv Turner’s third Bolts squad went 13-3. Those Chargers, paining a crowd of some 70,000 fans in Mission Valley, promptly exited the playoffs by losing as a nine-point favorite against the New York Jets.
Fizzling last year at season’s end, the Chargers lost to the Raiders in overtime with a playoff berth on the line.
My theory on why this year could be different: Justin Herbert may be too good for the Chargers to Chargers themselves. The third-year quarterback has grasped NFL complexity much faster than most young quarterbacks and will work under coordinator Joe Lombardi for the second year in a row. Herbert, rifle-armed and above average in sprint speed for the position, boasts better physical tools than any of the top-tier Bolts quarterbacks who preceded him, such as Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. He’s already logged 32 starts; Rivers had no starts entering his third season.
Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms, a longtime CBS analyst, praised two less-heralded offseason additions to the Chargers: defensive linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, who each weigh more than 300 pounds. He implied their heft will give the whole defense a lift.
“The one thing about the Chargers that has bothered me for years is, they’re not big enough on the defensive side,” Simms said. “They get pushed around sometimes. So, they did a great job of trying to get bigger and more stout on the defensive front. Which is going to be a big factor.”
Troy Aikman and play-by-play man Joe Buck have relocated to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” team. They’ll begin Sept. 12 in Seattle. Speaking of relocations, Russell Wilson will face the Seahawks — who drafted him in 2012 — in the nine-time Pro Bowler’s first game since leaving the franchise as a free agent and signing with the Denver Broncos.
“Whenever Russell Wilson takes the field,” said Buck, “it will be our job to not talk.”
Aikman, forecasting Wilson’s style under head coach Nathaniel Hackett, hit the status-quo button.
“Russell is a play-action guy,” said the Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback. “We all know that he likes to get the ball down the field. He throws the ball outside the numbers. There’s not a lot of intermediate throws in the middle.
“He has got a really good receiving corps in Denver,” Aikman said of the 33-year-old, whose rare chemistry with shifty Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett won’t soon be replicated. “He has some good skill players around him. But, what we’re going to see of Russell is a lot of the same that we’ve seen over the last 10 years. I just don’t see that looking different because he has been, as I said, with other coordinators that are similar in style and scheme to what Hackett has, and it hasn’t really impacted his play or what it looks like.”
Aikman singled out for Denver’s fastest player, receiver KJ Hamler, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3 last season and impressed him in a recent preseason game. “He looked fantastic, I mean fantastic,” he said.
Colts Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy wants to see how Buffalo’s offense performs Thursday night, against the Los Angeles Rams, in a 5:20 p.m. game that opens the NFL season.
It’s the unit’s first test since coordinator Brian Daboll left to become head coach of the New York Giants. Former Bills quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey will handle the play calling, a new role for him.
“I like where Buffalo is,” Dungy said in NBC’s media call Thursday. “A lot of it is going to fall on Ken Dorsey. He’s taking over for a great offensive coach. He’s got to put his stamp on things and keep developing Josh Allen, but find a way to run the ball and be balanced in those big games.”
Addressing a Bills defense that will face Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp in the Kroenke Dome, where L.A. won the Super Bowl seven months ago, Dungy pointed toward the pass rush.
“I like the pick-up of Von Miller,” he said. “Because, when you’re ahead in the fourth quarter of big games, having a guy that can make that critical play, close the door, like he did in the Super Bowl — that’s big.”
For the Bills, it’s also a chance to move on from the infamous defensive meltdown in the final seconds of their AFC Championship game loss at Kansas City.
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