The first game of the preseason came and went and gave us plenty to digest in our first week. We learned some important lessons and know the Chargers still have plenty to work on in practice this week.
The starters looked good. Despite constant negative reviews of play by media, the Chargers were actually winning 7-3 when the starters came out. The Chargers starters didn’t allow a single Titans touchdown while they were in.
An area of concern is the significant drop off in talent after the starters. Cornerback Jason Verrett and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram kept DeMarco Murray quiet after an initial 15-yard run by the vet, stopping him on a screen and run play to help force the three-and-out. But once the starters were pulled, Murray–with the Titans’ first-team offensive line still on the field–took one to the house for 71 yards.
Philip Rivers stated before the game that the limited snaps by the starters in this game would be the most over-analyzed all year, and he wasn’t wrong.
Defense came out first and were shaky in their first series, allowing a 15-yard run by DeMarco Murray on the outside, then a 30-yard pass right in the open space between Jason Verrett and Dwight Lowery (those first two plays were auctioned off to fans, too). After those two plays, something clicked. Melvin Ingram and Verrett didn’t give Murray much more space when they were in, constantly stopping the runner short on this drive. Then what should’ve been an interception got past Jahleel Addae, but he was quick to stop the receiver short of the first down, forcing a field-goal attempt.
Despite the criticism, Addae did his job. He may not have gotten the interception, but he stopped his man short of the first. The second drive the Chargers starters played was a three-and-out with no points scored, and that was the end of their night. Overall, allowing only three points should be something fans are proud of.
The excitement truly came around when the starting offense trotted on to the field. Anyone who’s watched Chargers football for the last decade knew that play No. 1 was going to be a run. Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead combined to get the team’s initial first down, all on the ground. It’s a positive sign for a team that could barely generate positive runs last year.
Another thing the Chargers grew used to was penalties. The Chargers were staring at third-and-long after being pushed back, and it was time to see a real test. As Philip Rivers dropped back, he only needed seconds before he could find Keenan Allen 20 yards downfield for a clutch first down, keeping the drive alive.
The play of the game came next, as Rivers saw the rush coming and got rid of the ball quickly and into the hands of a hungry and determined Gordon. With the help of a block from Dontrelle Inman, Gordon powered his way down the field and even through a Titans’ defender as he recorded his first NFL Touchdown, which put the Chargers on top, 7-3. After this, the starters, having done their job, were pulled immediately. The Chargers starters came to play and had the lead while they were still on the field.
Aug 13, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) carries the ball away from San Diego Chargers defensive back Darrell Stuckey (25) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports
After the starters, a few players stood out. Rookie Hunter Henry and free-agent acquisition James Jones tied for the most receptions with three each. Dexter Mccoil had a red-zone pass break-up and was constantly around the ball all night. Rookie punter Drew Kaser was able to display his talents as he booted one of his five punts for 62 yards.
Running backs Branden Oliver and Kenneth Farrow displayed good decision-making and running all night, getting first downs on the ground and constantly falling forward. Defensive lineman Damion Square made his presence felt with a sack, pressure on the QB and a tackle for loss. The area of concern is, can we stay healthy? The starters proved their run defense has improved, which is great; but when your second-stringers come in and get dusted for a 71-yard touchdown run along with allowing 288 total rushing yards, there is definitely work that needs to be done. We need to be able to trust that the next man up can get the job done when it counts.
Keeping an eye on the second-string players’ ability to stop the run this week against Arizona will be very important. Even though it’s preseason, it was nice to see our starters get off to a good start.
Coming into a big week against Arizona, one thing the Chargers are looking for now is consistency. Can our starters win again?