The Charger running game has been missing in action since another Ryan Mathews’ injury. His inability to make an impact on the offense when not on the field does not allow it to function to the highest of its capabilities. He is sorely missed; pun intended?
A backfield consisting of Branden Oliver, Donald Brown and Ronnie Brown has not produced a ground attack that has put any fear into opposing defenses. The Chargers currently have the 29th ranked rushing game in the NFL. That clearly is not good enough, especially when it comes to offensive success in January and beyond.
In comes Philip Rivers and his receiving targets to help save the day.
Rivers, despite 3 interceptions in San Francisco, helped ensure that the week 17 contest against the Chiefs was a meaningful game. With 355 yards passing and 4 touchdowns, his ability to find open targets and complete passes carried them to the victory last week on the road. Those numbers, and his gritty performance, earned Rivers the FedEx Air Player of the Week award in the overtime win in Santa Clara.
More of the same will be needed in Kansas City. The problem is that the Chiefs have the second-rated passing defense in the league. Much of that production has to do with a stout front-seven, but the receiving options must find a way to create separation and allow Philip to get the ball out of his hand quickly. There won’t be a lot of time to get rid of the ball with players like Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe and Allen Bailey looking to feast on a depleted Charger offensive line.
Though he is listed as doubtful on the injury report, Keenan Allen is not playing on Sunday. With a fractured clavicle and an ankle injury, he may as well have been listed as out for Sunday’s tilt.
Eddie Royal has been a recipient of a good number of passes from Rivers. He has been called upon in the clutch as was seen versus San Francisco. A game-winning touchdown reception on a screen play against Baltimore provides further evidence of the trust the team has in him.
Some of the biggest receptions of the year, yard-wise, have gone to Malcom Floyd. The acrobatic receiver has a team-high 59-yard reception. He has multiple catches over 40 yards in 2014. His six touchdown snags are third on the team behind Royal with seven and Antonio Gates with twelve.
Ah, yes. Gates.
Prior to the 2014 season, many people had given up on Antonio and stated the need to make Ladarius Green take over as the main tight end in the Charger offense.
Not this guy. Not for a second.
Green has a bright future with the Bolts, but Gates is clearly the better option as of now. And he’s proving it. His 12 touchdown receptions are the second-most in his career. He remains a safety valve for Rivers and the two have the utmost trust in each other. Last week marked the fourth time this season that he hauled in multiple touchdowns in a game. Not too shabby. With several milestones on the line for Rivers and Gates, don’t be surprised if the two look to connect early and often.
An unlikely hero emerged in the absence of wideout Allen last Saturday. Former CFL product, Dontrelle Inman, played a big role in the San Diego passing attack. In his first NFL start, he had 7 catches for 79 yards; including a huge 4th down grab that helped keep the Bolts breathing and giving them the opportunity to continue fighting. He’ll be asked to replicate his week 16 performance and make an impact that lends itself to a Charger win.
After mentioning Ladarius Green above, the best play of his career came against the Chiefs at Arrowhead. He had a 60-yard scoring catch that proved to be huge in helping the Bolts eventually get the W on the road. He has not been a big part of the offense in ’14, but he did start to play a bigger role last year once in the playoffs. He might be the secret weapon this week and he could be used to exploit a linebacker or safety that doesn’t have his kind of speed or size.
One can only hope that the running backs and offensive line find a way to get churning on all cylinders. But if that isn’t the case, Rivers has multiple weapons to sling the ball to in his receivers, tight ends and running backs. It would be nice to see some screen plays incorporated into the playcalling to keep the front-seven honest and on their heels.
Win and you’re in. Lose and it’s all over for the 2014 San Diego Chargers. Now is the time. No more excuses. They now control this next week of what is their playoff destiny. Sunday cannot get here quickly enough.
Thanks a lot for reading.