We hear it all the time: "It's just the preseason!" But for the San Diego Chargers offense and specifically quarterback Philip Rivers, there needs to be some success during these four preseason games.
Three years ago many people thought Rivers was going to be the next elite quarterback in the NFL. It was a completely justified thought. Between 2008 and 2010, Rivers threw 92 touchdowns and just 33 interceptions.
Those are elite-type numbers.
But over the last two seasons, we've seen a different player in Rivers. Whether it's the loss of wide receiver Vincent Jackson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency or the lack of the consistent running game that he's had in the past, something has definitely changed.
As you can see in the graph above, Rivers has turned the ball over 55 times in the last two years. That can't happen if your team expects to win football games.
While quarterbacks will always receive the brunt of the blame, there are always other factors that play into these problems as well.
Namely, for the Chargers, the offensive line.
If your offensive line isn't protecting the quarterback, it's going to make it that much more difficult for your offense to score points.
As you can see in the graph to the right, Aaron Rodgers was the quarterback sacked the most in the NFL last season. This shows that it's not impossible for your offense to be viewed in a positive light if you aren't keeping your quarterback from getting sacked.
But it's like playing with fire, and you'll eventually get burnt at some point. Whether it's through an injury or turnover, there are going to be consequences if your quarterback is consistently getting hit.
The Chargers have added some new pieces to their offensive line this offseason, but after San Diego's 33-28 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears, the offensive line still has a ways to go.
D.J. Fluker was the No. 11 overall pick by the Chargers in the 2013 draft, and he's starting at right tackle right now. The former right tackle for the Chargers, Jeromey Clary, has moved to right guard. They picked up veterans King Dunlap and Max Starks in free agency to battle it out for the starting left-tackle job. They also signed free-agent guard Chad Rinehart from the Buffalo Bills.
It would make sense that a new group of players along the offensive line would require some time together before it started to play well as a unit.
Based on what we saw in the game against the Bears, San Diego's linemen still have a long way to go.
In this play below, you'll see Fluker getting beat to the inside and giving up the sack.
You can see that his feet aren't in the best position to create leverage and hold up against the charging defensive lineman. As shown in the graph above, it's not like Rivers isn't used to getting sacked. But if he wants to get back to where he was a few years ago, it's going to start with the offensive line giving him some better protection.
On the very next play, Rivers threw an interception down the field to Bears free safety Chris Conte. The play is diagrammed below.
The offensive line did a great job on this play of giving Rivers a pocket to step into so he could deliver the pass. The Bears rushed six and challenged Rivers to find an open man down the field.
There was some contact on the play as the defensive back went for the ball and got tangled up with the receiver. In any case, it's a turnover and something that has been holding the Chargers back for the last two seasons.
The Chargers turned the ball over four times in their preseason game against the Bears. Rivers had two himself, the interception that was diagrammed above and a fumble on the very next possession.
The fumble occurred when left tackle Max Starks was beat around the edge by the Bears' Shea McClellin. After McClellin beat Starks around the edge, he was able to hit and sack Rivers from his blind side and cause the fumble.
Not all of these things are Rivers' fault, but that can't be said for everything that's happened the past couple of years in San Diego. And anyway you look at it, the Chargers were looking for some momentum through the preseason and into the regular season, and we're seeing much more of the same from their offense.
They have some new faces but so far the same results.