Football is back and the Chargers had their first taste of action against one of the better teams in the NFL. Although it was a preseason game and the score doesn't matter, there are still valuable things that can be learned.
Particularly useful to coaches is to see what players rise to the occasion on game day. Fans will also want to see improvement in areas of perceived weakness. While the games don't matter, they do matter to the 90 guys or so guys that are competing for a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad. The games matter to the veteran that can't stay healthy and the guy competing for a starting job.
Don't get it twisted. the preseason is valuable, it just seems far too long when fans are forced to pay regular-season prices.
A few players helped themselves on Thursday night and a few players hurt themselves, literally.
The Chargers might have gotten this pick right. Rookie linebacker Melvin Ingram looked explosive and active on defense.
On one play, Ingram made two. First, he got around left tackle Herb Taylor and put a hit on Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers' throw was easily picked by Antoine Cason, but Ingram wasn't done. Ingram came back into the play and put a brutal backside block on Packers running back James Starks.
Respected NFL scout Russell Lande was impressed.
Early on #Chargers OLB M. Ingram looks VG - Quick, active and surprisingly instinctive for a rookie.— Russell Lande (@RUSSLANDE) August 10, 2012
So far, so good for the Chargers on defense.
Ryan Mathews broke his clavicle on his one and only rush on Thursday.
One rush, five yards and a broken clavicle. Ryan Mathews could not have had a worse night if he had run backwards. The Chargers were counting on Mathews to have a big year and now he's expected to miss four to six weeks.
Ryan Mathews suffered broken clavicle. Out 4 to 6 weeks.— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) August 10, 2012
Four weeks would put him back by the start of the season, six weeks would likely have him missing the first game, but returning soon after.
It's most likely going to take closer to six weeks. Jason Campbell broke his clavicle last season and missed 10 games and still wasn't close to returning. Campbell is a quarterback, protected like an endangered species. Mathews is a running back that takes hits for a living.
It will be interesting to see if Mathews can return quickly and be effective. Until then it's Ronnie Brown, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley that will carry the load for the Chargers.
Don't rule out the Chargers bringing in another veteran. Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson are still unsigned.
There has been a lot of talk about Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal this offseason in San Diego. Malcom Floyd's experience and production and status as a starter make him the next favorite, but the Chargers have a fourth receiver who is also pretty good.
Vincent Brown caught four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown on Thursday night. He looked like he was in a class above Green Bay's defensive backs.
Eddie Royal might want to return sooner rather than later or he could return to find that Brown has seized the job as the Chargers slot receiver.
What's more likely though, is the Chargers want Brown outside. Brown is clearly better than his position on the depth chart and he's improving. Wouldn't be surprising if Brown pushes for a starting job at some point.
Russell Lande had this observation:
The Chargers running backs ran for 70 yards on 26 carries on Thursday night. That's a terrible 2.7 yards per carry. Pressure on Philip Rivers was one of the reasons he was intercepted by Tramon Williams. If Rivers had another second to read the defense, he might have seen Williams cheating.
The second and third team did a decent job in pass protection, but from top to bottom there should be some concern in San Diego about the viability of the men protecting Philip Rivers.
It's almost amazing that the Chargers may have made the same mistake two years in a row. It's a different line without Jared Gaither and there is very little depth. There's nothing the Chargers can do about it now and they will just have to hope Gaither can get healthy and the rest of the line can improve.
There is still time, but the panic button has been taken out of storage.
Small sample. Very small sample, but Philip Rivers threw an interception Thursday night. Those are the same interceptions that plagued him last season, before the Chargers signed Jared Gaither.
Gaither was noticeably absent and Rivers threw an interception. Could it be that Rivers is one of the multitude of quarterbacks that has trouble when he's under pressure? Could be, or the entire thing could have been a fluke.
Until we see a Rivers that looks like the Rivers of a few years ago, the question will remain. Wasn't all bad for Rivers, he only had one other incompletion and tossed a touchdown. Certainly something to keep watching.
One official sack for Larry English and a couple other pressures. The much maligned first-round draft choice of the Chargers that hasn't been able to stay healthy had his best night of football in a long time.
If the Chargers can get something, anything from Larry English their defense will be better for it.
With Melvin Ingram looking good and the other additions the Chargers made on the defensive side of the ball, the defense in San Diego could return to prominence in 2012.
Will English be able to repeat his strong performance and stay healthy? That's the question. So far, so good.
The Chargers may need to lean on Antonio Gates more in 2012 than they have in years, particularly in the red zone. On Thursday night Gates had two catches and one went for a touchdown.
With Mathews out for a while and Vincent Jackson gone, Philip Rivers will look to his buddy Gates when he needs a play to make a play in the end zone. That's exactly what he did Thursday night.
Gates displayed very nice agility and speed for a big, aging tight end on Thursday and might once again become a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown tight end.
Nick Novak is in a camp competition with Nate Kaeding for the kicking job in San Diego. It's probably not much of a competition.
Novak clanked a 35-yard field goal off the right upright on Thursday night. If it had been a 50-yards attempt of greater, then you would usually give the kicker a break, but anything less than 40 needs to be automatic.
Novak didn't get it done and although he might have lost the job regardless, he's also auditioning for other teams, and missing field goals in low-pressure games is not something that is going to get you a lot of tryouts.