I have to be honest… every game we go into lately, I am preparing for the worst, as our starting players seem to be dropping like flies. On top of this, we have been labeled as having one of the worst depth situations in the league. Against a terrible salary cap situation (left behind by AJ Smith), Tom Telesco was forced to rely heavily on his scouting department to bring in the best Undrafted Free Agents available, and had to find some low dollar gems through Free Agency. During preseason, we watched helplessly as three different teams pretty much man-handled our depth. It wasn’t pretty, but as Arnie would say.. “Let’s put it into context”. We were playing the Bears, Seahawks, and 49ers.. all of whom will probably finish the year within the top ten.. or possibly even top 5 defenses.
Then the regular season came around. Manti Te’o, was sidelined, and we watched Bront Bird get schooled, and Reggie Walker fill in decently.. but, he is no Te’O or Butler (who was also sidelined at the same time as Te’O for a game). The Texans ran right at Bird, and he was a huge factor in that 2nd half meltdown. The Eagles also made chopped liver out of our linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties. Gilchrist & Addae couldn’t stop the bleeding at strong safety. Cox, Wright, Patrick, and Marshall also struggled…. but we squeaked out a win against the Eagles. Addae will only get better over time. Gilchrist isn’t technically a depth player, but he is new, and the plan is to start Taylor, eventually.
The Tennessee game made us all want to hang ourselves, as Jake Locker was moving up & down the field like Joe Montana in the final minutes. He put up a bunch of rushing yards, as nobody seemed to be able to contain him in the backfield, once he was flushed out. The Charger faithful only had a handful of explanations. The biggest reason was poor depth, which seemed to be rearing its ugly head.
Entering the season, the mantra was “we can be competitive, as long as our starters remain healthy. The drop off in talent after that is substantial”. Perhaps the comment I have seen mentioned the most is “Dwight Freeney HAS to stay healthy”. Well, that hasn’t worked out on either account. Not to mention, our biggest horror story from last year was the offensive line, where we had three starters sidelined against Dallas. THREE starting o-line players.. that’s insanely bad luck!
Yet, despite the abject despondency that most fans felt going into the Cowboys game… we won. AND, we won convincingly. In fact, if it wasn’t for a pick six on a play where pressure finally got to Rivers… and his arm was hit… Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Demarco Murray were stymied to just 14 points! Meanwhile, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and Danny Woodhead managed 3 TD’s, and looked amazing! How amazing? “Fed-Ex Air nominee of the week” kind of amazing!
So, that opens up a pretty valid conversation. Is the depth as bad as we think it is? Of course, this could have been a “lucky game” for the Chargers. You might argue that perhaps Dallas was on the road, and not firing on all cylinders. Personally, I don’t believe in luck, and we held off one of the NFL’s premier pass rushing teams… WITH THREE BACK-UP O-LINE PLAYERS! If you would have told me that going into the game I would have said that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility… but pretty unlikely. Apparently, “next man up” isn’t just something people say to make themselves feel better about losing key players.
The back-up o-line deserves a HUGE amount of credit for that win! They kept our best player (mostly) upright, and allowed him to make good decisions with the ball. Can they do it every week? We’ll find out, but we should get our starters back as soon as this week. Dunlap should be returning soon. So should Clary. Not sure about Rinehart yet.
Then, let’s take a look at our defense. The big story was Manti Te’O returning. That was the only thing that some fans were hopeful about going into the game. Reggie Walker was used a lot, which was not a popular move among fans. But, we DID hold the Boys to 14 points, so we can’t get too upset. Reggie Walker played well, and Te’O will get his snaps as time goes on. However, the biggest was the play of our secondary. They looked shaky at times (as usual), but they were the ones who put the dagger in the heart of the Dallas offense. Dez Bryant made an amazing catch for a TD that NFL Network has been replaying ad nauseam, instead of showing the Charger highlights (what’s new?). But, I have to give Richard Marshall credit.. who is perhaps our most fan-hated CB… for giving maximum effort. He had his hand in there, and played Bryant well. Romo just put the ball where only Dez could get it, and he made a great catch.
The most impressive part of the game came from newly acquired Crezdon Butler (Who?)!!! His “heads up” play popping the ball out, when Dallas was about to go in for a TD, was nothing short of AMAZING! Then, who recovered it? Richard Marshall. Gilchrist defended a pass right before that, and Weddle had a nice defended pass on Witten earlier in the game. Our pass rush is still a work in progress, and we will not have Freeney for the rest of the year.. which sucks. But, we still managed to get Tony Romo off of his mark in the second half, even after Dwight went down. We are going to see even more depth players now, as Thomas Keiser & Tourek Williams are now going to be leading the charge, as OLB’s. English has become a starter, for God’s sake! A pleasant surprise, is that Double J has also ramped up his pass rushing skills. This is as “depth” as it gets, folks!
Next up, we are heading on the road to play a banged up Raiders team, who have arguably even worse depth & injury issues than we do. Then we play a tough Indianapolis team, but we get them at home. Then we face the lowly Jags before we go into the much needed bye week. If we can return healthy, we play a struggling Redskins team, who barely scratched out a win against Oakland! Could we possibly go into the bye week 5-2? Even 4-3 wouldn’t be horrible. But, after that we enter the “meat & potatoes” of our schedule. If we could go into that stretch 6-2, before facing the Broncos, Dolphins, Chiefs, and Bengals.. that would give us a lot more room to breathe. Our depth MUST hold strong!!!
So, Charger Fam-Bam…. What do you think? Is our depth improving, or did we just get lucky? Is the defense starting to gel a little bit, or are we still in deep trouble? Can we still continue to manufacture wins, until we get starting players like Ingram, Rinehart, Taylor, and Te’O back & up to speed? What are your thoughts about how the offensive & defensive back-ups played against Dallas? Did TT do a good job choosing the depth players he has been using, and acquiring.. based on what he had to work with? Please sound off below.
Keep Bolting Toward Excellence