The San Diego Chargers are set to play the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night, and while this is only a preseason game, it is also an extremely important contest for the Chargers.
After the Chargers' preseason game with the Seattle Seahawks, we learned a few things about the Chargers that we didn't already know: Darryl Gamble is an animal, the new veterans the Chargers brought in are going to be key in 2011, and the special teams unit no longer sucks.
However, not everything has been figured out with the Chargers. Questions about the team are still out there, and hopefully some things not addressed in the Seattle game will be addressed in the Bolts' upcoming contest with the Cowboys.
Here are five things we'd like to learn about the Chargers after Sunday night's game.
The San Diego Chargers lacked discipline in 2010, with catches being dropped left and right and silly penalties damning the Chargers' playoff hopes.
We didn't see a whole lot of discipline in the Seattle Seahawks' game, where the Chargers' defensive line looked unbelievably jumpy. Penalties resulted, giving the 'Hawks free yards.
The team's linebacker corps were missing some assignments too, and were (sometimes) a little slow to plug gaps the defensive line created.
These may be preseason game jitters—or the result of a long, drawn-out lockout—but it still needs to be addressed.
The San Diego Chargers have had a bit of trouble finding a replacement for future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson since he left after the 2009 season.
Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are obviously the backs fighting for reps, and they'll likely both be utilized, but which will get more touches?
Mathews is injury-prone and though we've seen flashes of brilliance, his vision is relatively elementary. Mike Tolbert is big and an absolute bruiser, but when he gets in the open field it's unlikely he's going to make defenders miss or beat them to the outside in a foot-race.
The two backs may be complimentary to one another, but one is going to perform better than the other. With the Chargers' running game still in question, the Bolts need to figure out which RB gets the ball.
The San Diego Chargers obviously had a ton of issues with special teams last year, to the point where they failed to clinch a playoff berth because of it.
After that fiasco, special teams coach Steve Crosby was not re-signed and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' special teams coach Rich Biasaccia was brought in to fix the ailing unit.
We saw last game that the special teams weren't a problem, but it's not like the unit is great—rather, they were average, which won't hurt the Chargers, but it'd be nice if this unit could help the team.
Against one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL, how will the Chargers affect field position and take control of the game?
Philip Rivers doesn't necessarily need great receivers to be great—he proved that last year when he made Malcolm Floyd his primary target (outside of Antonio Gates) while Vincent Jackson sat out the majority of games.
This year, both Floyd and Jackson will be starting, but who else will Rivers throw to now that last year's slot wide-out and third-down passing option, Legedu Naane, is in Carolina with the Panthers?
There are a few names that pop out. First, Buster Davis comes to mind; though he's been a total bust, he's still talented. However, he's horribly limited on routes and can be extremely frustrating.
Outside of the two primary options, the slot receiver is the last wide-out option left. Who will get that spot?
The San Diego Chargers' toughness is always in question, and it's a hard question to answer. How do you quantify toughness?
(You don't. That's kind of the point.)
Since the Chargers started winning games consistently (read: since 2004), the team never established itself as a legitimate playoff contender because they lacked the toughness needed to compete and go deep in the playoffs. Sure, beating Peyton Manning is cool, but it doesn't take an insane amount of vigor to beat the Indianapolis Colts.
Regardless, we don't see a lot of hard-hitting from the Chargers' end on defense, and we don't see enough smash-mouth ball-carrying on offense. Adding Takeo Spikes and Bob Sanders to the team's defensive unit should help, but if you look at the teams that have been to the Super Bowl recently, that might not be enough.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are most likely waiting, with the New York Jets and New England Patriots not far behind. The first three teams are forces to be reckoned with, and the Chargers aren't exactly intimidating.
That's not to say that the Bolts won't develop their own form of bravado; rather, the team will just need to prove to fans and other teams alike that they can, indeed, be tough.