San Diego Chargers: Making a Super Bowl Run Without a Dominant Rushing Attack
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This may be a little premature, but after watching the Seahawks dominate Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews on the opening drive of last week's preseason opener, I'm in panic mode about the San Diego Chargers lack of a running game.
I just cannot see the Chargers winning a Super Bowl with the running back running into his own linemen to start every game. If the team were to have some success in the opening quarter running the ball, they might be able to put away some teams by halftime.
While last season's running game wasn't horrible, it wasn't 2007 LaDainian Tomlinson either. Rarely did the running game come out strong and put a defense on its heels, namely the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders couldn't stop anybody on the ground except for the Chargers last season.
That has to stop. No pun intended.
The Chargers have a few things to improve on in 2011, and among them is being able to dictate what direction the game will go in to the opposing defense. If that doesn't happen, however, there are still ways for the Chargers to wind up in the playoffs and even win the Super Bowl.
The Chargers May Actually Be Very Good on the Ground This Season
Mike Tolbert doing what he always does, scores a touchdown and then dances.
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Head coach Norv Turner knows the importance of a successful running game, and he's pushing Mathews to be better by not handing him the job. Mathews and the Chargers need him to win the job.
Both Mathews and Tolbert bring skills that are difficult to deal with.
Their skills mirror Tomlinson and Michael Turner's, but it was Tomlinson's triple threat of running, receiving, and being able to score from anywhere on the field that kept defensive coordinators in the Starbucks line late at night.
They were drawing up plays to stop Tomlinson that left the receivers wide open. Mathews can make that happen again.
The offensive line has proven for the past four or five years that they can't come out and blow away a defense in the opening quarter. That's fine. It just means that Mathews is going to have to come out and be the explosive force that can make defenses defend the entire field from the start of the game like Tomlinson in his prime.
Defenses need to be worried about Mathews making a big play to start the game. That will make things too easy for Philip Rivers, and the Chargers will easily score over 500 points.
The fourth quarter is Tolbert time. Defenses are not interested in mixing it up with the bowling ball Tolbert after a long game, but the Chargers could use some early game fireworks from Mathews to put opponents in the hole.
The Slot Receiver Contributes Heavily in the Passing Game for Once
Patrick Crayton Soars over the competition. The Dallas Cowboys should not have traded him.
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The Chargers' big play attack of 2008 and 2009 had an obvious short coming—there was no spectacular slot receiver. Buster Davis could have filled that role, but instead he helped to fill the injury report.
In 2010, the Chargers traded for Patrick Crayton of the Dallas Cowboys in what turned out to be a huge blunder by Dallas.
All Crayton did was catch short passes and make fools of defenders, as he easily evaded capture on his way to multiple big "yardage after the catch" romps. His season ended on one such romp when he broke his wrist stretching out for a touchdown. His loss due to this injury may have kept San Diego out of the playoffs, since he was the last veteran receiver left.
Crayton didn't have the pleasure of lining up with the Chargers trio of premier receivers, all who command a double team. There's no telling how many big plays Crayton would have made with Vincent Jackson on the field.
The Chargers also have high hopes for third-round pick Vincent Brown. Any contribution from the third wide receiver should help loosen up the defense and make things easier all around.
The 2010 Chargers Passing Attack Could Be an All-Time Great
Oh lord, move those chains. When Philip Rivers cocks his arm like this, it's usually a first down by a mile.
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The Chargers used to be known as a team with no wide receivers, which was totally inaccurate. Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker made multiple big plays on third down like no other combination from 2004-2006. They just weren't a big play threat.
Now the Chargers have several great receivers with big play ability who can hurt defenses in different ways. Injuries are an issue, but if they get on the field at the same time, the Bolts don't even need a rushing attack to score 40 points a game.
Jackson, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, and Crayton all need to be double covered to be taken out of a game, and with the first three, they may need to be tripled covered.
The Chargers top three receivers are too much for any defense to handle. No team in the league has enough cover guys to stop them. They can all be the guy, depending on the other team's weakness.
Nearly every time Floyd has been the No. 1 receiver, he's dominated the game. In the No. 2 role, it's only a matter of time before he catches a 40-yard bomb, and the defense knows it. Jackson is the best receiver in the NFL, and if you think otherwise, you're wrong. Tight end Antonio Gates is either a first ballot Hall of Famer, or somebody has lost their mind.
Even with those three great players, it still not enough to beat the New York Jets or Pittsburgh Steelers without a great rushing attack. That is, until you add Patrick Crayton to the mix (even then, those teams would be tough to beat).
Name one team that has three great corners and a great cover safety/linebacker that can cover Floyd, Jackson, Gates and Crayton...
Stop wasting your time—there isn't one.
Unfortunately, the great equalizer is a pass rush, leaving teams like the Steelers, Jets, Green Bay Packers, and Baltimore Ravens in the way of the Chargers' Super Bowl dreams. The offensive line would need to play out of its mind to make it happen without a consistent running game.
The Defense Is Able to Put a Stop to Power Rushing Attacks
Steven Jackson goes beast-mode on the San Diego Chargers, neuralizing the Chargers great pass defense.
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Even with all the turnovers, lack of creating turnovers, blocked punts, and kick returns allowed to go for touchdowns, the Chargers would have easily made the playoffs had they been able to stop teams with power running backs.
Their three losses to the Raiders and St. Louis Rams were the direct result of not being able to contain those team's big (huge?) talented running backs. The Bolts' superior pass defense was compromised due to the secondary's attention being redirected to the running back. That allowed quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Sam Bradford to succeed were Peyton Manning failed.
Those quarterbacks are pretty good, but better than Manning? No.
With the development of young guys like Vaughn Martin and Cam Thomas, with the presence of solid veteran Luis Castillo, the team should have a solid rotation around Antonio Garay. Garay proved his point as the answer at defensive tackle by picking up an offensive lineman and throwing him at Peyton Manning for the sack.
The real difference will come from the addition of great vets like Takeo Spikes and Bob Sanders, plus the rookie Corey Liuget. The guys they're replacing were lightweights against the running game, and this trio should add the much needed power to stop guys like Michael Bush of the Raiders.
The Chargers run defense should be much improved, while the pass defense should be as good as or better than last season.
Mike Scifres Is Actually Allowed to Relax and Get a Punt off
The Chargers punt coverage team hands the Oakland Raiders the game.
Until last season, I'd never heard of a punter running for his life on every play. Like you, I held my breath and thanked the lord for every successful punt. Punter Mike Scifres may not have even felt safe on the sideline.
Scifres was obviously shelled shocked, because the number of shanked and just flat out bad punts in 2010 were totally uncharacteristic for the Chargers' normally reliable special teams star. Punters have a very difficult skill to master by trying to directionally and accurately kick a punt. Just like a quarterback, when under pressure even the best turn in sub-par performances.
Scifres was routinely called "a weapon" by former head coach Marty Schottenheimer, and those sentiments have been echoed by the current coach Turner for years. In order to re-weaponize the thunderous foot of the Chargers beloved punter, the Chargers gladly allowed special teams coach Steve Crosby to retire and replaced him with the well-respected Rich Bisaccia, formally of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The thinking is that Bisaccia's new, more vocal approach will re-energize the special teams, but more accurately, getting rid of the few players making all the boneheaded mistakes will make the biggest difference. Gone are repeated bunglers like Antwan Applewhite and Kris Wilson. There will be no less than eight new players guarding against returns for the team this season.
If the Chargers can prevent the (way too common) huge returns that helped sink their playoff dreams last season, they will definitely be in the hunt for a Super Bowl run.