All Ball Sports: Chargers in charge, but not prep football teams

Palos Verdes quarterback Turner Helton controlled the clock during the Mustangs homecoming game Friday night. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor         

 SoFi Stadium is Herbie’s House now.

At least it is when the Rams and their rabid fans aren’t in residence. 

Do you want to know a secret?

The Chargers are the best pro football team in LA.

And for those who need it spelled out for them: yes, they’re better than the Rams.

At least right now they are. 

They proved that conclusively Sunday afternoon in the most exciting game so far of the still-young NFL season, a 47-42 victory over a very good Cleveland Browns team that came into SoFi with a 3-1 record.

It was a wild shootout that pushed the Chargers record to 4-1, and made all kinds of league history. There were an amazing nine lead changes in the game – including three in the fourth quarter alone. The two teams combined to score 41 points in the crazy-but-true last quarter. 

That incredible victory comes two weeks after the Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, who made it all the way to the Super Bowl last year before losing to Tom Brady, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Don’t expect the mainstream media to pick up on what’s happening here in LA. Not for a few more weeks yet. They’re still in love with the Rams team that was supposed to show up this season, not the Rams team that is actually playing now.

Granted, the Rams have the same 4-1 record as the Chargers after their ugly 26-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night.

But the most memorable play in that game was a Seahawks punt that was blocked by the Rams and left the ball spinning around on its nose like an out-of-control top. Typically, on blocked punts the defensive team – in this case the Rams – will pounce on the loose ball and frequently run it in for a touchdown, or at least recover it to get their team possession deep in the other team’s territory.

This time?

This time the Seattle punter beat all the on-rushing Rams to the crazily spinning ball, scooped it up, took two running steps and actually let loose with another punt, one that traveled 68 yards and pinned the Rams deep in their own territory.

Naturally the Rams, and Coach Sean McVay howled that the second kick was illegal. The referees stopped the game for more than five minutes as they consulted the rule book and sought guidance from their all-seeing overlords at league headquarters.

Finally, the word came down from on high: as long as the punter hadn’t crossed the line of scrimmage, he was allowed to pick it up and kick it again. The rare, crazy play, while not fatal to the Rams, was symbolic of the entire night. Neither team could muster any consistency on offense, the game was filled with more turnovers than a vegan bakery, and both quarterbacks – Matthew Stafford for the Rams and the great Russell Wilson for the Seahawks – injured a finger on their throwing hand during the course of the game.

Stafford, who started out missing open receivers just as he had in the prior week’s ugly 37-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, was misfiring at an alarming rate while setting off alarm bells among those Rams fans who hadn’t yet realized that Stafford is an extremely streaky passer.

But he got the finger taped up and somehow he turned his sub-par performance around. In the second half he suddenly looked like the Stafford Rams fans were sold on after the trade with Detroit, the Stafford of the Rams’ first three games: poised, accurate and smart. 

Wilson, however, turned out to have fractured his finger and will miss four to eight weeks.

That left Geno Smith, a former New York Jets first round bust who hadn’t thrown a pass during the meaningful part of a game for three years, to play QB for the Seahawks.  Smith came in and immediately marched his team on a 95-yard touchdown drive that exposed all the weaknesses in a Rams defense that is nowhere near as good as the defense that last year’s team put on the field.

That defense was constructed by Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley, the baby-faced 38-year-old defensive whiz kid who just happens to be the new Chargers Head Coach this year.

The Rams still have two defensive superstars in lineman Aaron Donald, a 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who routinely shuts down the other team’s best receiver. 

The problem is that you still have to put 11 defenders on the field, and those two stars can only do so much. The third and fourth best defenders on last year’s team – linebacker Michael Brockers and defensive back John Johnson – walked in free agency after the Rams couldn’t or wouldn’t pay them market value.

That short-sighted decision is proving to be a real problem, as the Rams try to surround Ramsey with a bunch of rookies and second-year players in the defensive backfield. So far, they have given up a ton of yardage and show no signs of maturing into pass defenders who can be relied upon to lock down receivers at crucial times.

Also contributing to the defensive decline: edge rusher Leonard Floyd, who was such a destructive force last season, has regressed and lost his aggressiveness after signing a big contract in the off-season.

While the Rams are dealing with unexpected problems, the Chargers are having unexpected success. Unexpected to everyone but them – and All Ball, who was sold on Herbie before the end of his first game last season. Right away it was plain to see that he has everything you want in a modern quarterback – great size, awesome athleticism, a cannon arm, marvelous mobility, preternatural poise and that intangible sense of don’t-worry-I-got-this that inspires his teammates to play up to his level because they don’t want to disappoint him. It’s the same quality that LeBron James brings to the basketball court and Mookie Betts brings to the baseball diamond.

Oh sure, everyone knew this kid Justin Herbert had a great rookie season, setting virtually every rookie quarterback record in the league’s history books. But could he keep it up under a new coach and a new system? Wasn’t he due for a sophomore slump?

Nope.

Just the opposite.

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Herbert just keeps getting better and better. Sunday against the Browns was his best game yet. He led his team back from a 27-13 deficit early in the third quarter, overcame two missed point after kicks by Tristan Vizcaino, a kicker the Chargers need to fire tomorrow, ran for a TD, passed for four more, and converted three fourth-and-long downs that were critical in scoring the winning TD.

Of course, he had plenty of help. Running back Austin Ekeler scored three TDs in the fourth quarter to help make up for his earlier fumble on a punt return, receivers Mike Williams – 8 catches for 165 yards and 2 TD’s — and Keenan Allen both made clutch catches at critical times.  Defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive back Derwin James – 17 tackles — were all over the field, making critical stops despite the Browns piling up more than 500 total yards.

Indeed, the Browns made league history all by themselves: they became the first team ever to lose a game after scoring more than 40 points with zero turnovers and totaling more than 500 yards. Since the league started keeping records in 1950, teams with those stats were 463-0.

Now it’s 463-1.

The bottom line was the Chargers don’t win this game without Herbert outplaying Browns gunslinger Baker Mayfield, who was pretty awesome himself, with more than 300 yards passing.                  

Chargers Coach Staley had the quote of the year last week when he called Herbie a “gangster quarterback” after the inspiring win over the Chiefs. This week he used more conventional language, but his meaning was the same.

“To win a game like this, that turns into a track meet, you have to have a superstar quarterback to win,” he said. “And that’s what he is – a superstar. He was fantastic in this game.”

The NFL is a league that reveals its truths incrementally, on a week-by-week basis. It’s easy – and common – to overreact after an upset win or an unexpected loss. No one – certainly not all the talking heads on ESPN who blather on endlessly eight days a week — really knows who is better than whom until the playoffs come along at the end of the 17-game season. That’s when the Super Bowl contenders are separated from the Super Bowl pretenders.

But for now, and until then, start spreading the news: the Chargers are the best pro football team in the City of Angels.

  

Dodgers on the Brink

Over the last decade, baseball has been ruled by numbers and analytics. Pitch to this guy, don’t pitch to that guy. Pinch hit here and pinch run there. Just listen to the numbers and they will tell you what to do, or at least what the percentages say to do. Michael Lewis wrote a best seller about it called “Money Ball.” The book was made into a hit movie, proving that Hollywood can make a film about virtually anything and everything as long as it stars Brad Pitt.

After the Dodgers discouraging, disheartening and disastrous 1-0 loss to the Giants in game 3 of the National League Divisional Series Monday night in front of a frozen, wind-whipped full house at Dodgers Stadium, the numbers and analytics are stacked against the Dodgers.

The analytics say that when two teams are tied at 1-1, as the Dodgers and Giants were, the team that loses game 3 of a best-of-five series has only a 25 percent chance of winning the series. 

After watching the Dodgers chase bad pitches all night, trying to hit a home run on every pitch, and striking out more often than Donald Trump at a Democratic Women singles mixer, it feels like they have about a 5 percent chance to win.

Throw out the Dodgers 9-2 victory in the second game of the NLDS, and they have scored a grand total of three runs in the other three postseason games they have played so far. Indeed, they were shut out in game one of the NLDS 4-0 and again by 1-0 in game three.

Futility, thy name is Dodgers batters. 

Now they have to win game 4 at Dodgers Stadium Tuesday night, travel to San Francisco Wednesday, and beat the Giants again at Oracle Park Thursday night.

Not impossible, but certainly unlikely.

Monday night’s game was played in gale force winds with temperatures in the low 50s. If you looked closely you could see the Dodgers hitters wince in frozen pain the few times they actually made contact.

And Thursday night’s game in the Bay area, if there is one, figures to be played in even worse conditions.

It’s a point that has been made many times over many years, but it’s worth repeating as we head into what appears to be the Dodgers last stand: the beautiful game of sunny mid-summer days with hitters lashing the ball all over the park and spectators having a grand old time as they drink beer and eat peanuts and Dodger Dogs has been distorted beyond recognition by greed.

Pure, unadulterated greed. Greed for TV money that allows TV and its sponsors to dictate that these most important games be played at night in weather conditions more suitable for the Winter Olympics than baseball at its purest.

There really is only one good thing to report as the season hurtles to a close: Dodgers utility man Chris Taylor hit a walk-off home run for the ages in last Wednesday’s wild card game with the Cardinals that at least got the Dodgers into the real playoffs and prevented their 106-win season from ending after a single postseason game. Taylor gave the boys in blue a 3-1 win and joined Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Kirk Gibson as the only Dodgers players to hit postseason walk-off homers. 

The image of a revved-up Taylor rounding first base with his index finger pointing skyward followed by a triple hand clap before he passed third base and leapt onto home plate in a joyous dogpile is already part of Dodger’s lore, and is likely to replace Gibson’s so-called “lawn mower celebration” after hitting the pinch-hit homer that won game one of the 1988 World Series.  

Whether or not the Dodgers go on to defend their World Series title, Dodgers fans will always have Taylor’s walk-off home run to remember and savor in the darkest days of winter.

Mira Costa Matthew Kraskouskas gets brought down by Palos Verdes’ Ryan Wilson. photo by Ray Vidal

Mira Costa, Redondo football both fall

Both the Mira Costa and Redondo football teams have had brutal openings to their seasons playing non-league teams. So naturally their fans hoped that the start of Bay League play would provide a chance to turn their seasons around.

No such luck.

Costa fell to 2-5 and 0-2 in the Bay League after getting pounded by Palos Verdes 33-0 Friday night in front of a home crowd at Waller Stadium. PV came into the game with a 1-4 record, which continued their downward spiral after Culver City won the Bay League title for the first time last year to end an amazing 10-year run of league championships for PV.

PV quarterback Turner Helton led the way Friday night, throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to Luke Gayton and scoring twice himself on short runs.

Helton set the tone on the first drive of the game, marching his team 60 yards down the field while using up most of the first quarter to get the Sea Kings a 7-0 lead. In the second quarter he orchestrated a similar drive, moving his team 80 yards down the field and taking up most of the second quarter for a 14-0 lead. 

Beyond Helton’s passing and running heroics, the other story was PV’s stifling defense, which held the high-octane Mustang offense without a score for the first time in recent memory. Indeed, despite its losing record Costa had already scored 182 points in its first six games. 

But the Mustangs had the ball for only five and a half minutes of the entire first half, lost a fumble at the PV 1-yard line, and threw two interceptions that handed all the momentum to PV.

The Mustangs will travel to Santa Monica Friday night.

Meanwhile Redondo fell to 1-6 on the season and 0-2 in the league after Culver City destroyed the Sea Hawks 42-13 Friday night. A once dominant Redondo program is staggering towards what could be a historically bad season. They have to travel up the hill to face a resurgent PV team Friday afternoon. A Sea Hawks win there would be the biggest upset of the season. 

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor  ER        

 

Comments:

comments so far. Comments posted to EasyReaderNews.com may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.

Be an Easy Reader Free Press supporter!

Yes, we know Easy Reader and EasyReaderNews.com are free. But they are not free to produce. The advertiser model that traditionally supported newspapers is fading away. This is our way of transitioning to a future where newspapers are supported by their readers. Which is as it should be. We hope you’ll support us. — Kevin Cody, Publisher