Norv Turner isn’t a bad coach. No seriously. And that is one of the reasons why the San Diego Chargers decided to give him one more chance to get this team playing up to its potential but like every coach Turner’s fate is tied closely to the performance of his quarterback; Philip Rivers.
And trust me; Turner is very happy to have Rivers as his quarterback. Rivers has a great arm and is actually pretty accurate most of the time but he has what I call the “Tony Romo disease” which seems to flare up when the Chargers find themselves in tight situations.
But right now Turner doesn’t have much choice but to put games into the hands of his enigmatic quarterback. In the past, Turner’s offenses have thrived off of a strong running game setting up a lethal passing attack. He had that when he was the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys and had Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith at running back.
He also had that one great season as coach of the Washington Redskins when running back Stephen Davis rushed for 1,405 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Redskins only went 10-6 during the regular season but they did advance to the Division round of the playoffs before falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And although Turner’s offense has not dropped out of the top five during his five-year tenure in San Diego, his offense was most successful during his first three seasons when he had the super-talented LaDainian Tomlinson coming out of the backfield. Or do you think it’s just a coincidence that the Chargers haven’t been to the playoffs since Tomlinson left?
No Turner’s teams are better when there is a productive running back present who forces teams to stack the line of scrimmage. This creates opportunities in the passing game either with play-action or by taking an extra defender out of pass coverage.
And what made backs like Smith, Tomlinson and Davis even more dangerous was how good these guys were in short yardage situations. Whether it was bullying their way for yards or finding a seam to exploit, these guys were very good at converting first downs in short yardage situations. And no place on the field is that more important than in the red zone.
The Chargers decided not to resign Tomlinson after the 2009 season because of his declining production. That was the first season that Tomlinson rushed for less than 1,000 yards in his career. The thing that most people didn’t pay attention to though was that Tomlinson was still an effective goal line runner scoring 12 rushing touchdowns despite only 730 total rushing yards that year.
Tomlinson was also a great pass catcher on third downs. His ability to convert on critical downs and in the red zone gave Rivers a reliable asset he could count on during tight stretches of games. As talented as Rivers is he isn’t reliable enough to carry an offense by himself.
But that is what Turner has asked Rivers to do the past two seasons and you see the results. Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert have been decent running the ball over the past two seasons but neither is the all-around threat that Tomlinson was. Both are situational backs which forces the Chargers to change personnel from play to play.
And that gives defensive coordinators the opportunity to also make adjustments. It’s tough to run the ball in this league nowadays but the thing that made Turner’s run-based offenses so hard to defend was the unpredictability of his offenses. That goes out the door when they are forced to utilize situational backs.
That may also be why Turner has changed the run-pass ratio from 51/49 back in 2007 to a wildly unbalanced 42/57 ratio last year. The Chargers are forced to pass more so Rivers ended up having a career high in pass attempts last season. He would also have the first 20-interception campaign of his career.
So Turner may have to either change his offense this year or look for more production out of former first round running back Mathews. Then again he always has the option to let Rivers try and carry the offense again but we see how that worked out for him last year.
Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at RHall_TPFB@Yahoo.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.