2.Goal Line offense must improve dramatically from the 46.8% Touchdown percentage, 4 Rushing TD’s of 2012: To be fair to Rivers and his 26 TD’s of 2012, while not elite is an acceptable production for 2013, the reality is that 4 rushing TD’s and a 46.8% TD percentage, will not get it done. They will not sniff the playoffs if those numbers don’t resemble something close to a 55% TD percentage and 16 rushing TD’s.
As a Chargers fan, we saw Ladainian Tomlinson rush for 29 TD’s in 2006, so I will admit we are a little spoiled and unreasonable in our expectations. The generalized consensus in the NFL is that if you can get your passing game working you should be able to move between the 20′s rather easily, but the true need of the running game is to turn drives into TD’s in the red zone. The improved play of Ryan Mathews this preseason and D.J. Fluker ability to plow multiple human beings should definitely help in this area. We have seen signs throughout the preseason that the coaching of Joe Delassandris has raised the level of play in terms of run blocking so there is clearly a reason for optimism.
Signs of Concern: Ryan Mathews had the grand total of 1 rushing TDs last year, and the rest of the roster doesn’t seem to have anything close to a proven red zone runner. Mathews with his history of fumbles will be given the opportunity to change the perception he carries as an inferior red zone back.
3.Vincent Brown & Keenan Allen must produce: If Rivers must put up numbers, there has to Receivers to account for the production spike. If Malcolm Floyd is healthy, there seems to be a reasonable baseline of what to expect of his production, somewhere between 700-900 yards. For this offense to return to the productivity of previous seasons, they must find what Vincent Jackson was in this offense, fair or unfair the Chargers have to get from Brown & Allen, what Jackson represented to this offense.
We have heard for quite a while about how talented and how much he flashes during practices regarding Vincent Brown, he’s healthy, he’s a starter, the time is now to turn potential into production. Vincent Brown did have one game his rookie season against the Raiders where we got to see the talent on display. As they say the talent is there, but it has to translate to the field.
As for Keenan Allen, he entered the 2012 as the top receiver on many boards for the 2013 draft, his 2012 was somewhat disappointing, which included a drop in production, a PCL injury and a drop to the 3rd round in 2013 draft. But if he can regain his level of play of 2011, there is no reason he cannot be a star in the NFL. For his rookie season, Allen should play 3-4 WR role, but every WR ahead of him has a history of injury, so clearly he will get playing time, and an opportunity to shine.
Signs of Concern: Both have histories of injuries, and the most recent game against the Bears when they faced the Bears Pro Bowl starting corners, they struggled to get open and make plays. They wont face many teams that have that level of talent in the secondary, but it was a less than inspiring performance on the big stage. Its probably a matter of time that both will produce, the problem is that Chargers need their learning curve to be unfairly short.
4.Offensive Line play must return to at least a middle of the pack level: playing ahead of a QB like Philip Rivers implies that you must be successful as a pass blocking unit. He will not make plays outside the design of the offense, the pocket must hold up until the ball is released. My expectation that with the third preseason game on Saturday, the first with major game planing included, we should see a more spread offense focus, with a lot of 3 step passes, to reduce the requirements on the O-Line. To combine that with a major presence from the Tight End’s to create mismatches & extra bodies for the pass blocking requirements.
As we saw in the last preseason game, it looks pretty clear that King Dunlap is a better player than Max Starks at this point in their careers. Starks may have a better pedigree, but Dunlap is a much better pass blocker. Time to fully commit to the new King in the court.
The right side has looked at times dominant in the run game, but clearly they will need help schematically on passing downs. The backs and TE’s must help, Clary/Fluker is still very much a work in progress, that must be protected through scheme and play design.
The talent level of this group is probably not even at middle of the pack, so they must be well coordinated, and helped by a scheme that makes their lives easier.
Signs of Concern: The most recent game was a clear sign they are not a finished product, and the coaches mush design and call their games to fit the limitations of this group.
5.Ryan Mathews must at least equal his production of 2011: If there has been a star amongst the first teamers in preseason, it has been Ryan Mathews. But to any who has followed Mathews in the past, talent is not the guy’s problem.
The signing of new O-Line coach Joe Delissandris might be just the jolt that Mathews needed to succeed, while O-Line is hardly supremely talented, it has been noticeably upgraded from the disaster the group was in 2012. And we have seen clear signs from the first 2 preseason games, this team will run the football well.
If Mathews gets somewhere between 250-300 carries he should equal and even exceed the 1,097 yards he had in 2011, with the proviso that the 1st team O-Line maintains the level of play we have seen through the preseason.
Signs of Concern: We have seen it for 3 years, Mathews fumbles at an alarming rate, he tend to miss from 1-5 games a season, and he has failed to earn the trust of his coaches for short yardage, goal line & passing downs. No fumbles or injuries so far this preseason, keeping my fingers crossed for the rest of the season. Its simple if he produces, he will earn more carries & plays from the coaching staff.