The San Diego Chargers played their first preseason game Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys. In front of their home crowd the bolts won the contest 17-7. As we all know, the score is immaterial. The important thing is how did the team look? There are a lot of players fighting for a roster spot. Who is giving maximum effort and who is not? How big is the talent differential when the second and third units come in compared to the unit before them? These are the key things to watch in a preseason game. Here are my takeaways from the first game.
Preseason or not, it was great to see that it didn’t take long before the team got their first takeaway. The first team defense recovered a snap that went over the head of Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden. Donald Butler crashed the backfield and eliminated the quarterback from the play, kicking the ball upfield in the process. The ball was then recovered by an offseason acquisition, cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Chargers would force and recover a second fumble in the half. The Chargers only had 18 takeaways all last season. That stat needs to improve if they’re going to be a serious playoff contender.
The running game looked sharp. Last season the running game was out-of-sync all season with the exception of the emergence of Branden Oliver. After Danny Woodhead went down in week three and Mathews resumed his usual spot at the trainer’s table the Chargers running game died. Woodhead looked great in his return from a broken leg, rushing for an eight-yard touchdown on his first carry. Oliver also ran with power and Barry Sanders-like shiftiness, posting 53 yards and a touchdown on ten carries. Melvin Gordon gained 11 yards on six carries. He will gain more carries and confidence now that the first game jitters are out of the way. We all expect Gordon to be in contention for Rookie of the Year at season’s end but let’s temper our expectations. With rookies come growing pains.
The special teams looked better than they have in previous seasons. Undrafted kicker Josh Lambo provided a welcome sight in sending kickoffs through the end zone. Kicker Nick Novak booted a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that looked like it would have been good from another ten yards back. Punter Mike Scifres looked like his old self after finishing last season on injured reserve with a broken collarbone. Scifres’ first punt pinned the Cowboys inside their own five yard line. Reserve cornerback Chris Davis had a couple exciting kick returns and Javontee Herndon looked great finding holes on punt returns. Paired with Jacoby Jones, this may be the best group of returners the Chargers have had in a long while.
The first team defense showed the ability to get a good pass rush against what is considered to be the best offensive line in the league. Second round draft pick Denzel Perryman showed his nose for the ball with five tackles, a pass defensed and got close on a couple of potential sacks. Manti Te’o disrupted plays. Fifth round draft pick Kyle Emanuel had a great showing with three solo tackles including a sack and tackle for loss. It was also good to see nose tackle Ryan Carrethers finally off the injured reserve list and on the field. Carrethers was double-teamed on every snap he played and still managed to get two tackles.
As always, there are things to work on. The run defense, while only allowing 70 yards on the night could have had an even better output were it not for a lot of missed tackles. On the Cowboys lone score, running back Gus Johnson dragged several Chargers defenders into the end zone for the score.
Special teams did a good job in containment but there were also some tackles left on the field that could have put the Cowboys deep into their own territory. Tackling is an ailment that is usual during the first preseason games because there isn’t much tackling going on in training camp. Expect the tackling to improve as these exhibition games pass.
The biggest downside were the injuries. Offensive lineman Johnnie Troutman worked hard to get on the field after a leg injury only to break his arm during the game. Outside linebacker Tourek Williams was having a great game pressuring the quarterback and running down ball carriers until he broke his foot in the third quarter. Williams underwent surgery on Friday and the timetable on his return is unknown at the moment. While the two weren’t starters they are key depth positions.
All in all, it’s the preseason. There will be plenty of game tape with enough mistakes that there will be no shortage of things to work on this week. San Diego should feel confident in the collection of players on their sideline. This is a team fans should feel proud to come out and support. This is a team (if they can stay healthy) that can overtake the Broncos for the AFC West title. If this is their last season in the 619 area code, they will be going out with a bang.
What did you think of the season opener? Post your comments below.
The Greg One