Sitting Rivers is very smart move by Norv Turner and the Chargers, but it is also an acknowledgement that the team has very real issues along the offensive line. Against a Vikings team that led the league in sacks in 2011, the Chargers could ill-afford to put Rivers in harm’s way with more than half of the starting offensive line out with injuries.
Left tackle Jared Gaither is still out of action and left guard Tyronne Green (foot) and center Nick Hardwick (concussion) are also going to miss the game. That’s the entire left side of San Diego’s offensive line, leaving Louis Vasquez and Jeromey Clary as the only two starters who will play against the Vikings.
The Chargers’ biggest problem is at left tackle, where Gaither has been out for weeks, and no one—not even the Chargers—know when he will be able to return.
Undrafted rookie left tackle Mike Harris acted like a pair of revolving doors last week and needs to drastically improve or Rivers will have the same issue with interceptions that he had last season. This week, Harris will face sack-specialist Jared Allen who came a half-sack away from the NFL record last season.
Losing Hardwick creates another challenge for the Chargers.
The offensive center is responsible for making the line calls and ensuring the proper protection is afforded to the quarterback. Rookie David Molk will get the start, and although the rookie is capable of doing a solid job, he’s likely to make the typical rookie mistakes.
The smallest drop-off is at left guard, where the Chargers will go from Green to Rex Hadnot. Hadnot started every game for the Cardinals at right guard last year and was in a camp competition with Green to become the starter, but Green was still the starter for a reason, with an undrafted rookie to his left and a rookie seventh-round draft pick to his right.
Vasquez will be the Chargers’ best offensive lineman against the Vikings and it would be wise for Charlie Whitehurst to take up residence behind his right guard. Chargers fans don’t realize it, but that’s extremely concerning because Vasquez himself was a bit of a question mark coming into the preseason after an injury caused a significant drop in his level of play last season.
Right tackle Clary was considered the weakest link on the offensive line. ProFootballFocus graded Clary as one of the worst offensive tackles in football last year. The only right tackle who was worse, was Barry Richardson in Kanas City, and Richardson was replaced this offseason.
This is becoming a dire situation for the Chargers. Without the services of Ryan Mathews, opponents aren’t likely to respect the run and will challenge San Diego’s offensive line early and often even if Hardwick, Green and Gaither are able to return and start in the regular season.
Keeping Rivers healthy is the most vital key for the Chargers in 2012, but bad luck with injuries and poor planning by general manager A.J. Smith have the Chargers in a jam. The Chargers can only hope for quick healing, because an offensive line without Hardwick and Gaither is an offensive line that will get Rivers hurt sooner or later.