San Diego Chargers: O-Line to Lead Charge to an Electrifying 2012 Offense
You know, many argued and believed that it was Philip Rivers' play during the last five games and his endorsement of HC Norv Turner that led Turner to be retained along with GM A.J. Smith. I don't believe that one bit. One can argue that Philip Rivers' endorsement played a role in it, but it was really the last five games, a 4-1 record, that helped Turner and the front office keep their jobs. Sure Philip Rivers' level of play was high, but I'd argue that Turner owes a lot to the offensive line for him coming back.
In the following slides, you'll see why I believe the Chargers already have a head start on the 2012 season with the re-signing of Jared Gaither and Nick Hardwick, bringing back the two players that were part of the unit that led the Chargers to their 4-1 finish in 2012.
While many called and predicted for the Chargers to draft an offensive linemen, I was against the idea as I knew what the Chargers were going into the 2012 with—an elite unit along the line. Now we're here. Nearly a month and a half past the draft, and boy was I happy that the Chargers didn't draft a linemen in the first three rounds. Then again, I believe the Chargers front office saw what I saw in what they already had.
Back to the point of my article, the Chargers' returning offensive line is one of the most complete units in the entire league. If the Chargers are going to be dominant next season, the biggest reason behind that would be the offensive line, a line that had gelled together towards the end of last season all the while building the foundation for this upcoming year.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I had writing it.
First, Your Starting Offensive Line for the 2012 Season
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The Chargers' starting offensive line heading into the 2012 season will feature Jared Gaither at left tackle, Tyronne Green at left guard, Nick Hardwick at center, Louis Vasquez at right guard, and Jeromey Clary at right tackle.
Why do I believe that these five players are going to be the reason for the Chargers' success this upcoming season? They are the same five players that were the starting line for the Chargers' 4-1 record during their last five games.
The Chargers had an often injured Marcus McNeill out for majority of the season, and there was the concussion that Kris Dielman went through. Somehow with a little luck, the Chargers ended up with Jared Gaither, who played last season with a chip on his shoulder. Then Tyronne Green played while Kris Dielman was out and showed that he was capable of being a starter.
As of right now, the Chargers do have an open competition between Tyronne Green, Brandyn Dombrowski and Rex Hadnot for the left guard position. Thing is, it's Green's job to lose, and judging by the off-season he's had in preparing himself, I don't see him losing the starting nod, especially after a good showing as the starting left guard the last couple of games.
As a unit, here is why the Chargers offensive line will lead the offense into being one of the most electrifying offenses in the league.
Rushing Attack Was Amplified with New Line
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I'm going to split up these statistics for you to see for yourself how different the Chargers played with the offensive line they had. I'm going to split up the schedule into three sections.
First, I'll show the first five games in which the Chargers had a 4-1 record. Secondly, I'll show the next six games in which the Chargers loss all of them for a 0-6 record. Finally, I'll show the last five games in which the Chargers went 4-1 behind an outstanding line.
In the first five games, the Chargers averaged 121 rushing yards per game for an average of 4.2 yards per carry. The Chargers went 4-1, largely because of their ability to run the football. They didn't do all that poorly, but were average, in my opinion ,as they faced only one of the top ten run defenses during that stretch against the Dolphins. Two of the run defenses were average with the Patriots and Vikings. The Chargers did play against two teams with horrible run defenses: the Broncos and Chiefs.
The Chargers had six rushing TD's over this stretch of time period.
In the next six games, the Chargers averaged only 99.2 rushing yards per game for an average of 4.1 yards per carry. The Chargers went 0-6 during this span. Seeing the huge dip in the ability to run with the football, especially with the injuries that hit the Chargers early on, really made a difference here.
From week 13 'till the end of the season, the Chargers' offensive line helped the rushing attack put out 130.6 yards per game for an average of 4.8 yards carry. That's nearly five yards a carry! The Chargers may have put up yards against very mediocre run defenses like the Bills, Lions and Raiders, but that didn't stop the Chargers from racking up 142 rushing yards against the ninth-ranked Jaguars' run defense and 145 rushing yards against the second-ranked Ravens' run defense.
The Chargers put out seven TD's over the span of these five games.
It's easy to see the difference that the Chargers' current offensive line made in the run department when they came together as a unit during the last give games of the season. It should also be noted that Ryan Mathews led the game in rushing in four out of the last five games. The game he didn't lead the stats in rushing was against the Raiders, a game he didn't even suit up for.
Philip Rivers Was His Old Self When Finally Protected
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I'm going to take the same approach I did with the rushing attack and apply it to Philip Rivers in the passing game with this offensive line. I'll split up the stats by thirds with the first five games, the next six games, and then the last five games of the season.
From week one to week five, even though the Chargers were 4-1, Philip Rivers still struggled. This was largely due to an offensive line that wasn't consistently giving him the time he needed for the deep routes to develop. During the first five games, Rivers passed for an average of 307.2 yards per game. Rivers' average QB rating was 88.4 which was absolutely horrible considering what he's done in his career.
During this span, Rivers passed for six TD's and seven INT's while getting sacked a ridiculous 13 times.
When the Chargers went 0-6 for the 2/3 of the schedule, Philip Rivers averaged 279.2 yards per game. Rivers' average QB rating during this span of six games was 75.0, which was an even worse performance than he had during the first five games of the season. During that 0-6 span,
Rivers passed for 10 TD's and 10 INT's while getting sacked an atrocious 15 times.
So here we are, looking at what the 2012 Chargers offensive line did last season for Philip Rivers during the last five games of the season.
As you can see from the first 11 weeks; the Chargers gave up 28 sacks. It isn't surprising to see Philip Rivers' numbers so horrible when he's getting pressured and none of the deep routes can develop in the Chargers' Vertical Offense.
In the last five weeks of the season, the Chargers' offensive line gave up only two sacks, and those two sacks came against the Bills. Not only did the Chargers only gave up two sacks, they gave up zero sacks to the high motor pass rushers of the Lions and the Ravens.
How did only giving up two sacks in the last five games help Philip Rivers?
Philip Rivers passed for an average of 282.6 yards per game during the last five weeks while tossing 11 TD's and only three INT's. After putting out 16 TD's and 17 INT's while getting sacked 28 times, it's easy to see why Rivers had an outstanding showing after only getting sacked twice in five games.
With new weapons in the Chargers passing attack next season, Philip Rivers will have more than enough time to throw the ball, especially with the new speed threats of Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem.
Biggest Difference Chargers' Offensive Line Makes in 2012
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The biggest difference that the offensive line makes is their effect on preventing turnovers in the passing game with an elite QB at the helm and sustaining a lead with an effective running game.
You can easily see when the offensive line was in disarray with injuries and lack of communication—they failed the Vertical Offense. The Vertical Offense is based on forcing opposing defenses to respect the deep play, all while having the ability to have power runs against a seven man front.
This means that all the pressure is on the offensive line to do their jobs. There are offenses out there that help the linemen like the Spread Offense and West Coast Offense. Both of these offenses are based on quick throws and opportunities given to offensive weapons to beat one-on-one coverage in similar retrospect. That isn't the case with the Vertical Offense.
Philip Rivers will cut down his turnovers immediately purely based on how well he played when given an offensive line that can give the offense the opportunity to develop routes down field. While Rivers and the passing attack rack up points, the Chargers' offensive line will do just fine sustaining leads with their incredible accountability on run plays to open up lanes for the very talented RB they have, Ryan Mathews.
With the ability to help milk the clock, the Chargers offensive line will help keep the defense fresh to combat any effort by the opposing team to make a comeback.
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I hope you can see why I believe the Chargers' offensive line is one of the best lines in the league. With Jared Gaither at left tackle, Tyronne Green at left guard, Nick Hardwick at center, Louis Vasquez at right guard, and Jeromey Clary at right tackle, the returning offensive line of 2011 from week 13 through week 17 already has a head start on everyone else.
As individuals, these linemen might not have big names like Nick Mangold or Jake Long, but every analyst knows that the offensive line isn't about judgement on individual play but their play together as a unit. I believe the Chargers have that unit and have proven their play as a group.
Would it surprise me if the Chargers have the top five rushing and passing attack in the NFL next season? Absolutely not.
Since the Chargers' offense is oriented around the foundation of a good offensive line, I believe this unit proved their play amplifies the talent of the players around them. Look to Philip Rivers to have a ridiculous year. Expect Ryan Mathews to drop some jaws out there. This is the most electrifying offense I think we'll see yet, so grab the popcorn Charger fans, I think it'll be one hell of a season.