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Diner morning news: family feud in San Diego

GM’s comments rile Merriman, and Vince Young grows up. Michael Lombardi

Print This October 08, 2009, 10:15 AM EST

QUOTE: “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” -- Benjamin Franklin

Did you read this Wednesday?

The Associated Press reports Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman wasn't pleased to read a comment from general manager A.J. Smith that the team's play at times this year has been "soft and bewildered."

The Chargers lost 38-28 at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, falling behind 28-0 and allowing the defending Super Bowl champions to pile up 497 yards of offense. San Diego is 2-2 going into its bye week, and already is two games behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West.

On Wednesday, Smith was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune as saying, "Everything is wrong with it right now. I'm not the least bit happy in a lot of areas. I've seen us be tough and physical to soft and bewildered."

Merriman at first declined to comment, which would have been a first in his five-year career.

"I don't know too much of that. That's an opinion of a person, and it's not needed," Merriman said. "We know that we have to play better. We met for an extra hour and a half as a defense as a whole to discuss what we need to do and things we need to do to get better. And we're going to make adjustments in this locker room as far as players and our attitudes and getting after people a little more. But all that extra (stuff) is not needed at all."

Merriman said it would be easier to absorb such talk if it came from a teammate.

"The only opinions that matter to me are the ones in this locker room. Anything else, it doesn't matter," he said.

The last thing the Chargers need right now is a family feud. Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh used to always tell me, when other teams had internal fighting, “The Civil War was the ugliest war to fight,” and he never wanted anyone else to speak on behalf of the organization except the head coach. In the case of the Chargers, I’m sure A.J. Smith is frustrated, but he must keep his comments to himself and not start a civil war. In today’s fast media news, his words can be interrupted, and his intent can be completely misunderstood. Shawne Merriman knows he’s not playing well, and I’m sure most of the other Chargers defensive players know they’re not playing well. But calling the team out after Week 4 is not the right way to fix the problem — in fact, it only makes it worse.

Injuries have really hurt the Chargers, and they’re not the same front they were three years ago. It’s so clear on tape. Three years ago, a two-yard run was a great run as the Chargers could win most one-on-one matchups in their front seven. Yes, Smith is right. They were much more physical, but is the reason for their lack of physical play their will, or their talent? I would say their talent. One-time backup DE Jacques Cesaire is now a starter, Jamal Williams is older and gone, Igor Olshansky became a shell of himself last year, and now he’s gone. Luis Castillo doesn’t appear to be the same player, and none of their backers, including Merriman, is playing well right now. Add in the fact that safety Eric Weddle misses too many tackles and it’s clear why teams can run the ball on the Chargers.

They have five first- or second-round players on their starting defense, but only two in their front seven, Merriman and Castillo. With all their injuries, they’re a patchwork defensive line, and until they can improve in this area, stopping the run might be difficult. Soft and bewildering are the right terms for their defense right now, but Smith isn’t going to help the situation with his criticism. He can, however, help with his actions. He needs to find some players who can fit a role and enhance the defense. He has 12 days until the trading deadline to do his part.

Vince Young and maturity

Young said Wednesday, speaking on the subject for the first time, that he stands behind Collins, his teammates and the coaches’ decisions on the matter.

“I’m not interested in none of that right now. I’m just focused on my responsibilities. I have no comment on that,” Young said. “[I’m going to] be a supporter and just be a team player, be the eyes for him on the sidelines. That’s basically it. That’s what quarterbacks do is take up for each other.”

I’m very impressed with Vince Young’s conduct and sense of maturity on this issue. This might be a sign that he’s matured and might be ready to take a leadership role at some point. Unlike A.J. Smith, who threw fuel on the fire, Young took the right approach and defended his team along with his teammates. What ails the Titans is not the quarterback; their problems are in every facet of their team. They have “Super Bowl losers” hangover without going to the Super Bowl last season. They act with no sense of urgency or importance and seem to have lost their hunger to pay attention to the details that are essential to winning.

The Titans make too many mistakes on both sides of the ball. Is this a result of coaching or the players’ failure to nail down the details? I think their problems are twofold: One is that they’re not as talented in the secondary as many (including myself) believed, and two, their older players (Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jevon Kearse, Nick Harper and David Thornton) are not playing at their same level. The Titans’ problems are related to being too young and too old — their old players are not playing well, and their young players lack experience. It’s hard to win consistently with that dynamic going on within your team.

The positive for the Titans might be the maturity level of Young.

More on Braylon Edwards

“There's no reason this shouldn't be our time to win,” said Rex Ryan, who called Edwards a “rare talent” and a “matchup nightmare” for opponents.

Is there any doubt that Rex Ryan is in command in New York? His love of Braylon Edwards as a player is the main reason this trade will benefit the Jets. Ryan spoke glowingly of Edwards, about how difficult he was to match up on every time his Ravens faced the Browns when Ryan was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore. This might be the first positive comment Edwards has heard about his talent in some time. The mind games are over and he can just go out and play his game, which I’m sure will include some drops, but it will also include some huge plays. The Jets will make this work because Ryan will make sure it works. They need Edwards to enhance their offense, and Edwards needs the Jets to enhance his career.

Mendenhall takes the ball

If (Willie) Parker is unable to play against the Lions, it will provide another opportunity for Rashard Mendenhall. Making his second career start last Sunday, Mendenhall rushed for 165 yards and two touchdowns. His performance earned Mendenhall AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Based on his level of play, I thought Mendenhall would start after the Bears game. But now, after the Chargers game, I fully expect him to be the man and help restore the Steelers’ run game. Once the team is confident he won’t fumble, he’ll be the starter forever. On Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” highlights, it was really good to see Big Ben Roethlisberger go over to Mendenhall and remind him to hang on to the ball near the end of the game, which was clearly on everyone’s mind.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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