San Diego Chargers: 5 Things We Learned in Victory over Raiders
On Monday Night Football last night, the San Diego Chargers opened their 2012 campaign with a 22-14 win over the Oakland Raiders. Philip Rivers led the Chargers with 231 yards passing and kicker Nate Kaeding led the way in scoring, going 5-for-5 in field-goal attempts.
San Diego hosts the Tennessee Titans next weekend, but before we get to next week, let's look back at what we learned from the Chargers last night in their big victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Potent Passing Attack
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The Chargers passing attack is going to be one of the best in the league this season. Quarterback Philip Rivers has big targets like Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates who can go up and get the football. He has speedy receivers like Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal who can break big plays at any moment in the game. Rivers has quick shifty backs in Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown who he can swing the ball out to on his check-down reads.
The only thing this offense is missing is injured receiver Vincent Brown. When they get him back during the middle of the season, this team will only get more explosive.
Last night the Chargers struggled to produce in the red zone, but it should not be a big problem. Gates let a ball slip through his hands that he would normally catch and Rivers missed another touchdown pass in the second half that he probably should have gotten.
Right now, the Chargers have all the pieces in place to have an explosive offense. They just need to work on their red-zone game a little bit and they should be just fine.
Ryan Mathews Has to Be Healthy
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Ronnie Brown and Curtis Brinkley are two good backs for the Chargers to have, but if they want to be an AFC contender this year, then Ryan Mathews has to stay healthy. Mathews broke his collarbone on his first preseason carry against Green Bay, and was unable to play last night for San Diego.
The Chargers running attack was stagnant without their young star running back. San Diego only managed 32 yards on the ground, and if teams know that they do not need to respect your running game, then they can quickly shut down your passing game.
Mathews will likely get some touches next week against the Titans, but I think the Chargers should let him get completely healthy over the next two weeks, and have him ready to go for their Week 4 showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Defense, Defense, Defense
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If rookie linebacker Melvin Ingram had not roughed the passer late in the fourth quarter last night, San Diego would have held Oakland to only six points for the game. Even with that late touchdown Oakland scored, the San Diego defense was still outstanding.
Linebacker Donald Butler and safety Atari Bigby each had eight tackles to lead the defense. Linebacker Shaun Phillips brought an outstanding pass rush off the right edge and recorded two sacks on Carson Palmer. Cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, who started the game in soft coverage, began to lock down on Oakland's receivers as the game progressed.
Last season the Chargers allowed their opponents to convert on third down nearly 50 percent of the time—the worst percentage in NFL history. Last night the Raiders were 5-for-15 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down. Obviously they were much improved, but it will be a storyline that we continue to follow all season.
Melvin Ingram Was the Right Pick
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Rookie linebacker Melvin Ingram did not take very long to make his first big NFL play. On the first drive of the game, Ingram forced Oakland receiver Rod Streater to fumble the football and it immediately swung the momentum to San Diego's favor.
Like I mentioned earlier, Ingram made a stupid mistake at the end by roughing Carson Palmer on a late hit, but cameras showed veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips talking to the rookie about it on the sideline. At least the mistake happened in this game now, and hopefully does not come up down the road when the Chargers are making a key defensive stand.
With his ability to rush the passer off the edge in the 3-4 defense and his ability to jar the football loose, Ingram could be one heck of a pass rusher for the Chargers for years to come.
Special Teams Were Very Good
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Let's not even talk about the San Diego special teams from last season, because frankly, it is just too frustrating to mention. Last night, though, special teams were brilliant.
Nate Kaeding, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, went 5-for-5 on field goals last night, after missing all of last season with an ACL injury he suffered on the kickoff of the season opener.
Punter Mike Scifres averaged 54.3 yards a punt last night and only one was returned, resulting in a 15-yard gain. The Chargers only allowed one kickoff return in the game and it only resulted in a 6-yard gain, while the other six kickoffs all went for touchbacks.
The return game was great for San Diego as well. Kick returner Richard Goodman averaged 25.3 yards on three returns. Punt returner Eddie Royal showed a flash of brilliance when he returned a punt 46 yards, but unfortunately it was called back for an illegal block. Royal also had two other returns for a combined 18 yards.
Lastly, the Chargers punt blocking did an outstanding job. Oakland botched two snaps on punts, which allowed San Diego to tackle the punter and set up outstanding field position. Dante Rosario also broke through and blocked a punt.
Overall, things went really well on special teams for San Diego last night.