The importance of sustaining drives in a game sometimes makes the difference between winning and losing. The most important aspect of sustaining drives is always contingent on the offense converting on 3rd downs. The Chargers have seen the changes in the way they've approach this issue from the days of smash-mouth football with LaDainian Tomlinson to the present aerial attack of Philip Rivers.
Let's see how the 2010 Chargers will succeed base on some of my analysis on offseason additions and coaching scheme/ philosophy starting with some history lessons to understand how far the Chargers came.
The Chargers of old during the Marty Schottenheimer days believed in sustaining drives consistently by running the ball with smash-mouth efficiency. The positives of such a offensive scheme is it helps keep the opposing offense off the field and giving the defense some rest to play more efficiently.
When you have the right personnel to fit the smash-mouth offense of Schottenheimer, you end up with the 14-2 Chargers squad of 2006 who were fifth in the league in time of possession. The 2006 Chargers squad had 22 of their 23 third and short.
The problem with such a scheme in the sense of sustaining drives is the inability of a team to build chemistry in the passing game. The reason why this issue may come up is that when a team that plays smashmouth football is playing from behind, they are forced to pass the ball when they aren't efficient enough to do so especially if they're playing against a good defense.
Also, the tendency to run the clock out can work against your own team also. Such a scenario happened to that very 14-2 Chargers squad when they loss to the Patriots in the 2006 season playoff game.
The Chargers of present under Norv Turner almost got the team to where it fits his scheme last season. In 2009, the Chargers had the ability to carry a team with no running game and a average defense to a 13-3 record. On the arm of Philip Rivers, the Chargers led the league for the most completed passes for 20 yards or more with 64 completions. Both of the Chargers WR's with Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson gave the Chargers the ability to stretch the field in the passing game.
Both Floyd and Jackson went on to average 17.2 yards per catch. Such a offense led the Chargers to score quickly often with nine games last season in which the Chargers had a two possession lead over teams in the final minutes of the game.
The Chargers offense won all the games last season with nine wins by two possessions or more by the final minutes and four wins by comebacks. The problem with the Chargers last season was the inability to convert on short yardage situations on third down. The Chargers had the ability to stretch the field but not the personnel to play the short game.
Without sustaining drives, it often puts the Chargers defense on the field to attempt to win games. Without the ability to convert on 3rd downs often, it in turn hurt the Chargers in the most important game, which was in the playoffs. The only experience short game weapon the Chargers had was Antonio Gates and the defenses chime in on him during the short downs. Not to mention a aging LT was ineffective in short yardage situations throughout the season except in the red-zone.
Against the Jets, the Chargers had to punt the ball six times in that game. The Chargers averaged 3.25 punts per game last season. Another stat the 35 opportunities the Chargers were at least near the red-zone and had to settle for a FG last season versus the 2006 Chargers that only settled for a FG on 29 opportunities in the red-zone.
So here is why I believe the Chargers will be better this season which will ultimately solve their post season problems. The Chargers now have short game weapons to complement their deep passing game to sustain drives.
During the offseason, the Chargers acquired Josh Reed, Randy McMichael, and Ryan Mathews. With a experienced Antonio Gates, Mike Tolbert, and Jacob Hester on top of the new players added, the Chargers will have more weapons to sustain drives whether it's on long or short yardage in 3rd down situations.
Josh Reed has the experience to play the slot WR which the Chargers didn't have in the past. Randy McMichael has the same skill set as Gates does as he too has the ability to give Philip Rivers another short to mid-range weapon. Also, with newly acquired Ryan Mathews added to the backfield, the Chargers will consistently have a easier chance at getting short yardage a lot more effectively keeping drives alive.
Against the Bears, the Chargers offense was able to move very well. McMichael proved the point I've made in the past about what he will bring to the Chargers with his two receptions for 33 yards. Not to mention what Mathews did in the ground game with nine carries for 50 yards against a respectable veteran defense. Josh Reed had one reception for 19 yards. Tolbert was used in the goal-line short yardage situations.
The most important thing to look at when measuring the Chargers ability to sustain drives is in the form of how many punts they had against the Bears. The Chargers only punted twice. That's it. It's still a preseason game but it's still a indication of what's to come for us all to see.
I believe the Chargers defense will play a role in winning games a lot more this season than years past but the offense will lead this team to victory. With every aspect of the passing game in short to mid-range throws on top of the deep threats the Chargers posses, they'll be one very dangerous team. Add in a rushing attack that could run the clock out on teams once the lead has been established, gives the Chargers something they didn't have last season.
This 2010 Chargers team will be the most complete Chargers team I've ever seen since following them from 1994. With so many weapons, the Chargers will be more tough to stop this season than last season.
The Chargers have a combination of both Charger squads from the past. They have the sustainability of the 2006 Chargers in controlling the clock and the big play passing game of the 2009 Chargers. The 2010 Chargers are the real deal and everyone else that questions it will be in for a rude awakening.