After watching each game, there are more positives than negatives for our beloved Chargers. No one has noticed the Chargers and perhaps that is the best thing of all. Every season for the last five seasons, the Chargers have been the ‘sexy’ pick to make the Super Bowl. Now, the Chargers are the last team mentioned and only a tiny handful of respected pundits have chosen the Chargers to make the big game in February. Here are the good and the bad as I see it:
1. The offense is not on track. The Chargers are the only team in NFL history to post seven consecutive seasons in which they have scored 400 points every season. This season they are slightly off pace after scoring 24,21,20 and 26 points in the first four games for a 22.8 points per game average. Philip Rivers averages more points per start (27) over his career than any quarterback in NFL history. It is true 23 points a game will win a majority of the time if combined with a solid defense so while the 23 points is considered slow for this offense a lot of teams would kill to average that many points. Once the offense does get in sync, this will mark the eight season the Chargers put 400 points on the board.
2. Injuries. We were all excited to finally see Jackson, Gates, Floyd and Mathews all on the field at the same time. Unfortunately their names started showing up on the MASH list starting in week two. Mathews, to his credit has played all four games and been huge in the Chargers success. Floyd and Jackson have also played each game with their maladies but neither have made it through all four games and both are questionable for this week’s tilt at Denver. The offense has struggled without the consistency of having them on the field. Also disappointing was the one game and gone Bob Sanders, placed on IR with a knee injury. A defense can never have enough impact players and we were all looking to a return of the Pro Bowl Bob Sanders, what we got was a return of the injury-prone Bob Sanders. Kudos still to Chargers management for giving it a shot. Losing Jammer, Castillo and Cesaire also hurts a lot but if there is a silver lining its that it is early in the season and the Chargers could have them all back for the stretch run to the playoffs.
3. The rookies have been slow to show up. Bryan Walters looked great in preseason but has disappeared in the regular season. Corey Liuget has been missing the last couple of games after a promising start. A lot of it has to do with their short training camp and having to learn so much so soon. This first four weeks has been an on-the-job training camp for them. Marcus Gilchrist has been inserted into the slot vacated by Jammer. Richard Goodman has been lackluster as a returner. The rookies are going to need to step up their games and help weather the storm while starters heal.
1. Special teams is getting the job done! HALLELUJAH!! Since the opening day, opening kickoff return the special teams gave to Percy Harvin, no one has returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown. Special team has not allowed a punt or extra point to be blocked. There have been very few exceedingly long kick or punt returns. Last season, the Chargers special teams couldn’t go two games without allowing big game changing plays for the opposition. The opening day kickoff return was just the slap of reality needed to keep new special teams coach Rich Bisacchia all over his troops, making sure a repeat of last season doesn’t happen again.
2. The real Ryan Mathews is emerging. Anyone who saw the season-ending game against Denver last season where Mathews romped over the Broncos to the tune of three touchdowns got a glimpse of what he could do when healthy. Now Mathews is looking sharp and breaking big runs each game. Mathews can take the ball up the middle for good yardage as well as take it off tackle and beat the defender to the corner. Mathews has also shown great hands out of the backfield and has become a valuable safety valve for Rivers. More importantly, Mathews name was off the injured list and is nowhere to be seen this week. Looks like our new franchise running back is finally rounding into shape, which means a fresher Mike Tolbert. Tolbert has been worth his weight in gold (or goal line touchdowns) and the less wear put on him the better.
3. The defense has been solid. newcomers Travis Laboy and Takeo Spikes have proven their worth from game one. Both are always around the ball and putting pressure on the quarterback. Even Eric Weddle is getting interceptions! Last year, Weddle was razzed for dropping interceptions, now he has two in the first four weeks, both in the fourth quarter to help seal the game. Weddle’s play is validating the big contract he received in the offseason and quieting all who bashed Chargers brass for paying him so handsomely. Aside from the 35 points they gave up to New England, the Chargers have not given up more than 17 points to any of their other opponents.
4. Vincent Jackson is back! Jackson has looked great when he has been on the field. KEEPING him on the field has been the problem. Jackson has not lost a step and looks faster than ever. He has led the Chargers in yards two of the four weeks and the chemistry with Rivers is as strong as its ever been. Judging by the way he’s shredded defenses (especially New England, 10 catches for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns), Jackson has shown he needs to be locked in as a Charger for life.
THE VERDICT AT THE QUARTER POINT
So far so good. The Chargers are struggling offensively but have still held their own and lead the AFC West with a 3-1 record, their fastest start since Marty Schottenheimer’s last year. Philip Rivers has been trying to do too much as evidenced by the two picks in each of the first three games but he is finally starting to settle in even as the turnstile of receivers continues to revolve. A win against Denver sunday will put San Diego comfortable in the drivers seat provided the Raiders lose to Houston this weekend. The Chargers have a bye week after Denver and the starting fleet of wideouts as well as Antonio Gates should be injury-free and ready to roll when they meet the overrated Jets in week seven. The offense will get on track and start putting 30’s on the scoreboard with regularity. The Chargers toughest games are at home (Green Bay, Baltimore, Buffalo) while their toughest road games are Chicago, Detroit and maybe Oakland. With two games against sickly Denver and one more against Kansas City that should be three more wins before figuring in the rest of the schedule. Today the Chargers get a solid B. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and if they don’t turn the ball over so many times against New England they were good enough to beat the Patriots and be undefeated right now. The slow start jinx is finally over, now its up to the Chargers to play up to their capability and get a high seed for the playoffs.