Like an old Clint Eastwood movie, the preseason game between the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks could have been titled, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Little if anything could have been called inspired football for the Chargers, except perhaps for the opening and closing drives of the game.
Philip Rivers picked up where he left off last season and reaffirmed his status as an elite NFL quarterback. In his brief and only appearance in the game, Rivers completed five of six passes including a 48-yard bomb to franchise receiver Vincent Jackson. He led the Chargers on a 10 play, 89-yard drive that was capped with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Mike Tolbert.
Seeing Rivers going long to Jackson at the beginning of the season once again was thrilling and bodes well for the Chargers chances going forward, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Whether it’s a deep sideline pass to a wide receiver, over the middle to a tight end, or in the flat to a scampering running back, San Diego’s aerial attack will be daunting to the opposition once again as Rivers simply has too many weapons to choose from to go along with his vision and accuracy.
It goes without saying that the biggest question on the minds of every Chargers fan had to be how would the special teams, the “Achilles heal” of last year, perform. Of course, considering how utterly terrible the Chargers were on special teams last year; it would be virtually impossible to play as bad or worse than last season anyway.
So, more than hope, we Charger’s fans expect—no, demand—a better performance from special teams this year. If this game was any indication, then we can expect exactly that.
Seattle did not come close to putting even the slightest bit of pressure on any of the six punts San Diego made. Conversely, the Chargers were able to hold both Seattle punt returns and kickoff returns to a satisfactory level. To top off what must be considered a better than average special teams performance, first year return man Bryan Walters returned a Seahawk kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown near the end of the third quarter —an exhilarating feat considering the new NFL rule of kicking off from the 35-yard line instead of the 30.
As good as Rivers and the passing game looked early on, the running game was the exact opposite. Anemic, pathetic or just plain bad would be good descriptors of the Chargers' woes while carrying the ball. San Diego starters, Tolbert and Ryan Mathews managed four carries for a total of one yard before they gave way to the second and third stringers.
The highlight of the running game had to be sixth-round rookie Jordan Todman, who carried the ball six times for 30 yards. His rushes and total yards along with a five-yard average and a 12-yard rush were all the most by any Charger running back. Overall, the Chargers carried the ball 18 times for a measly 51 yards and a 2.8 average. Contrast that with Seattle’s 43 carries for 130 yards with two touchdowns and it’s easy to understand how San Diego lost this game in the end, 24 –17.
It must be said that the abysmal rushing numbers do not rest solely on the shoulders of the running backs. Repeatedly and throughout the game, the offensive line failed to create any holes for the running backs to take advantage of. More often than not, the Seahawks' front line was in the Chargers' backfield, disrupting running plays before they even started. On the few occasions that there was a little daylight, Seattle’s linebackers were there, unfettered, to jam the play for very short gains of a yard or two.
Ugly and predictable play-calling from the sidelines led to four consecutive three-and-out drives for the Chargers to start the second half. Every one of those drives started with a run up the middle with the Chargers in the lead. The fifth drive was even worse as rookie third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien was sacked on the opening play and fumbled the ball on his own 22-yard line. While this drive didn’t start with a running play, it was still predictable as the Chargers were no longer leading and time was running short.
The sixth time must have been the charm for Tolzien as he started to find his rhythm on the Chargers' final possession of the game. The rookie drove the Chargers 65 yards to the Seattle five-yard line going four for five in the process. With a fourth and three from the Seattle five, this armchair quarterback/writer was calling for a draw as both the Chargers and Seattle were in the spread formation. But instead, the ninth straight pass play called from the sidelines helped lead to the third consecutive incomplete pass in the red zone and the Chargers turned the ball over on downs.
While this preseason game may have been meaningless, it still has to be said that it is better to come out on top than to lose at home if for no other reason than the morale lift winning provides. Instead, Norv Turner and the Chargers will have to swallow the morale loss that comes with losing late in a game at home against what should have been inferior talent.
Some things we learned about the Chargers from this game was that Seattle’s second and third-string players are far better or farther along in their development than San Diego’s.
If Phillip Rivers goes down due to injury during the season, so will the Chargers' playoff chances.
It seems that the Chargers have a weak running game—again.
The linebacking corps is mostly untested and could prove to be a liability over the course of the season. Only time will tell.