The 5 Biggest Early Season Storylines for the San Diego Chargers
Sitting comfortably at 2-0, the San Diego Chargers have managed to prevent the dreaded slow start to the season that typically plagues them in the first few games of the year. Even without the help of key players, the Chargers fought their way past the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans.
After just two weeks of play, the Chargers have some storylines developing—both negative and positive. Ryan Mathews' situation is an obvious one, but there's more behind this team than one guy the media continues to focus on.
San Diego Hurting Without Ryan Mathews
In watching Ryan Mathews pace the sidelines these past two weeks, it's easy to see the young man is itching to get on the field. San Diego may have picked up two wins without his services in the backfield, but it's no secret that the ground game is struggling to make up for his loss.
The trio of Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle has accounted for just 137 yards over the course of two games. Mathews alone has the ability to reach that goal in one game.
In Week 3, the Chargers will play host to the Atlanta Falcons, and Mathews is scheduled to make his return as well as his regular-season debut. Depending upon how healthy he is, Mathews could give San Diego the boost they need on offense. Philip Rivers has been phenomenal carrying the load, but the Chargers could benefit from a more balanced attack.
Defense Coming Together
After just two games in the new season, the San Diego defense is finally starting to come together. Last week against Tennessee, the Chargers defense had no trouble shutting down the Titans offense through the air and on the ground. Tennessee accumulated a total of 174 yards passing and just 38 yards running the ball.
If you watched the game last Sunday, you witnessed the rebirth of San Diego's pass rush. Time and time again, Jake Locker was forced out of the pocket by a heavy pass rush on third down, forcing him to rush his throws. In fact, Tennessee was only 1-for-9 on third down.
Just to give you a sense of how quickly Tennessee's offense surrendered to the San Diego defense, take a look at the difference in time of possession—Tennessee (16:21), San Diego (43:39). Almost every drive resulted in a 3-and-out for the Titans.
A lot of credit should go to defensive coordinator John Pagano, who has his defense constantly changing looks with different rotations. His group of young players have been steeping up and making plays.
Early Visit from the Injury Bug
Apparently, the injury bug decided to show up a little earlier than usual this year. Five Chargers did not play in Week 2—Ryan Mathews (clavicle), Antonio Gates (ribs), Antonio Garay (ankle), Jared Gaither (back), Shareece Wright (foot).
Because of the buzz surrounding Mathews' injury, it was easy to forget about the other big injuries on this team.
Antonio Gates' rib injury in Week 1 didn't seem serious, yet it prevented him from taking the field against the Titans. I'd like to think he'll be ready to go next week, but rib injuries are a tricky issue in the NFL. Just look at Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick. His history of rib injuries have caused him to miss multiple games in the past.
Both Antonio Garay and Jared Gaither haven't even started the season because of their respective injuries suffered in training camp. Garay was slated to play a vital role on San Diego's defensive line this season, and Gaither is supposed to be the guy protecting Philip Rivers' blind side.
Thankfully, the younger guys have been able to step in and do an admirable job. Shareece Wright was the reserve defensive back who had a big game against Dallas in the preseason, but a foot injury caused him to miss Week 2 as well, thus delaying his progress in the secondary.
You could look at these injures one of two ways. If you're an optimistic thinker, you'll be glad these injuries occurred early so that these guys can last in the long run. On the other hand, what does this say about the durability of these guys? It's only Week 3, and the Chargers have already been without their starting left tackle, starting running back, starting tight end and starting defensive lineman.
What's Wrong with Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal?
It's a little odd that Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal haven't seen more passes come their way in the first two games, but it's still early in the season. Meachem has caught just two passes, while Royal has caught four.
As the slot receiver, Royal has gotten most of his opportunities on short passes, but he hasn't really been able to make plays after the catch. As for his work returning punts, it's more of the same. On three returns, he has a total of 19 yards.
Likewise, Meachem has been targeted six times through two games, but Rivers has only been able to connect with him twice. The lack of production from these two is somewhat troubling considering how they performed with their former teams, but it may be a chemistry problem between Rivers and his new receivers.
Dante Rosario Stepping Up
Dante Rosario has done it all in two weeks with his new team. The former Carolina Panther has come up big on special teams and in the passing game the last two weeks.
In Week 1, Rosario blocked a Shane Lechler punt, which helped build momentum for the Chargers as they stole the game from the Raiders. Then, in Week 2, Rosario caught three touchdown passes in Gates' absence.
Initially, Rosario had no clue if he would even make the team because of the depth at tight end, but what an impression he's made so far. You have to wonder if he'll become a regular part of the offense even when Gates returns from injury.
Could Gates and Rosario become the next tight end duo similar to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England? It's worth a shot, right?