The tedious summer is gone. Fall is here and with it we have made it through the offseason hullabaloo. The NFL Draft, free agency, training camp, OTA’s and most importantly, preseason games and final cuts are OVER! It is time for some live action, these games count FOOTBALL!!
I did get to watch all four of the Chargers preseason games and was mostly impressed with what I saw. GM Tom Telesco has shown a deft touch at finding talent that can make an impact. Donald Brown is going to be a great insurance policy for Ryan Mathews. The few games he had in Indianapolis as the feature back showed he has the ability to carry the load of a number one running back. Brown is a great depth add. He will make his mark before the season is over.
Speaking of Mathews, he had a great 2013 season. For the first time in his pro career he played in all sixteen games. Considering it was his third season before he accomplished the feat doesn’t sway me. Those who have read my columns for any length of time know I am not a fan of 24, but I do applaud his effort last season. Mathews’ hard running spearheaded the Chargers second half surge into the playoffs. This is his contract year and a subpar showing will have him looking for employment elsewhere. For the Chargers sake, I hope he can repeat his success from last season. My dream scenario is Mathews mirrors last season’s production, the Chargers win the Super Bowl in the process and Mathews leaves willingly as he overvalues himself and goes to the highest bidder in the offseason.
I am encouraged by the wide receiver group for the first time in a long time. It’s great to see Malcom Floyd back on the field and looking good in the preseason games. Keenan Allen spent the offseason working on his speed. He looked plenty fast last season but he was working his way back from a knee injury that dropped his draft stock into the third round where the Chargers scooped him up as the steal of the draft. If he’s actually increased his speed running on a now fully healed knee, the Chargers will feature two legitimate vertical threats and a quarterback that is one of the top deep ball passers in the league.
Speaking of deep threats, Dontrelle Inman has been very impressive in the preseason and has gotten raves in camp. Inman has been sure handed, looks good running routes and has also shown the ability to get down the field in a hurry. I’m excited to see Inman on the field with Rivers putting the ball on him in stride. Add Eddie Royal and a stable of fast, uber-athletic tight ends and the field will be littered with great targets for Rivers. There is enough speed on the offense to make Chip Kelly jealous. No one is talking about the Chargers.
I also like the defensive back depth. They are unproven commodities but last year’s fifth round draft pick Steve Williams will be making plays on the field. Williams may have missed his entire rookie year but he now knows the defense and all there is left to do is apply what he knows to the field in real game action. First rounder Jason Verrett will see plenty of playing time. Brandon Flowers was in the Pro Bowl last season, and that was coming off what was statistically his worst season of his NFL career! There are a lot of plays and game impact that can’t be quantified by numbers.
Add to the mix the incumbents Wright, Gilchrist and Marshall (although he’s being converted to safety) and the Chargers now have something they’ve lacked for a long time, a playmaking secondary. My biggest gripe about the defense is they don’t get interceptions. There are quite a few dropped interceptions but the Chargers defensive backs have seemed allergic to interceptions. Usually there’s a defensive lineman who has as many interceptions as anyone in the secondary. Last season the Chargers had a paltry 11 interceptions. Defensive backs had five led by Gilchrist with 2, while defensive linemen had 4. Two picks came from Weddle at the safety position.
My other concern is run defense. Not to put too much stock in the preseason but the Seahawks ran all over the Chargers first team. Conversely, the 49ers couldn’t run against the Chargers defense at all. The best backdrop to use is recent history. Last season San Diego allowed 107 yards per game on the ground. Blame injuries and instability at nose tackle but it needs to be fixed if the Chargers are going to make the playoffs. This season they face great running backs like Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore, Zac Stacy, CJ Spiller and Ray Rice (lest we forget 4th and 29). Stopping these running backs are key to making the playoffs.
As I wrote in a recent column, no one is more excited to see Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich hand Philip Rivers a shiny new toy called the no-huddle offense. This is the same system Peyton Manning used in Indianapolis during the height of his powers. This offense also has aspects of the K-Gun offense run by the Buffalo Bills during their run of four straight Super Bowls in the early 90’s. Reich was Manning’s quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis during his run and Reich was Jim Kelly’s backup quarterback in Buffalo. Now Rivers gets to run an updated version of the same offense.
There are few quarterbacks in the league as cerebral as Rivers. There’s not a page of the playbook he doesn’t know upside down and inside out. There’s not a defense he hasn’t seen, no situation he hasn’t been in. With the defense unable to substitute regularly inbetween plays Rivers will have time to find the weak link in the defense and exploit it. To boot, he has the offensive personnel needed to make it successful. This could be the last wrinkle to the Chargers becoming a Super Bowl winning team in the near future. This team is going to take the league by surprise and by the time they show up on everyone’s radar, it will already be too late.
The Greg One
Story Written by Chris Curran ( @ccurran2744 )
Rivers and Manning will forever be linked and debated. The media bias leans toward Manning. I know it’shard to argue with two Super Bowl wins. I could counter that if the quarterbacks switched teams, Rivers would have two titles as well.
After 2003, Drew Brees was not panning out as a Charger QB. The local team was picking first overall. AJ Smith was not very high on Brees and was in the market for a new starting QB.
There were three QB’s in the 2004 draft that were considered first round talent. There was a quarterback from Mississippi with “Manning” on his back that was pretty good. Roethlisberger from Miami of Ohio University and Rivers from North Carolina State were considerations as well.
Roethlisberger, or “Big Ben,” was big and strong with a tremendous arm. He could move and throw on the run with the best improvisational skills. He played his college ball in the MAC.
Rivers started every game in four years. He brought respectability to a college program that rarely won anything and was a College Bowl MVP five times in four years. He was considered an exceptional leader and held a high football IQ,
Manning had the best mechanics and an NFL pedigree that will never be matched. A solid first round talent, although I do believe if his name was not Manning he would have been the number three among the quarterbacks taken in round one of the 2004 NFL draft.
Archie Manning announced that his youngest boy would not play for the San Diego Chargers. Archie refused to state any reason for this other than to say the Chargers were not a good fit for his son. Maybe he did not like the Spanos Family. Maybe he was not a Schottenheimer fan. Maybe he remembers the beating, he himself, took in New Orleans on a lousy team and was afraid to have history repeat itself. Maybe a combination of all three made him pull his Royal ‘Manning card’ to not have his son play for a franchise stuck in nine years of playoff futility.
In 1983, John Elway let everyone know he did not want to play in Baltimore, the reason being his family had no respect for then coach, Frank Cush. Jack Elway (John’s father) and Cush were not the best of friends. John Elway spoke for himself to the press and Baltimore Colts. I lost complete respect for Eli when he let his father do all his bidding.
In 2004 Ernie Accorsi, General Manager of the New York Giants, held the fourth overall picks.The Giants needed a quarterback. Accorsi, being famous in football circlesfor losing arguably the highest rated quarterback prospect ever. Elway was lost in a post draft trade to Denver made by the owner after selecting him number one overall. That pick was against the Elway family wishes. In 2004 Accorsi had his heart set on Eli Manning. Accorsi relayed this info to Archie early on and later let the press know of his desire to draft Eli Manning.
As the draft approached Charger General Manager, AJ Smith, was about to make his shrewdest and greatest move as an NFL executive.
AJ may have coveted Rivers all along. He did not cave to a pre draft trade proposal by New York. AJ held off until his price was met. He even went so far as to select Eli first overall. I still remember the constipated look on Eli’s face as he reluctantly held up the Charger jersey and cap with Goodell.
The Raiders selected offensive lineman Robert Gallery second overall and Arizona took wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald third overall, the Giants were on the clock and picked Rivers. No one in the Giants war room even had the courtesy to call Rivers about being their selection, reason being that a deal was being consummated with the Chargers. In order to obtain Manning number one overall, the Giants traded Rivers, who was number four overall, a third round pick in the current draft, a first round and fifth round pick in the following year. The Chargers turned those picks into kicker Nate Kaeding, outside linebacker, Shawne Merriman and offensive lineman, Roman Oben.
As for the 3rd QB taken in round one of 2004, Roethlisberger was drafted by Pittsburgh and has been very successful. He has two glaring negatives, these being durability and a questionable character at best.
Due to the Drew Brees hangover, Eli had twenty-one more career starts early in his career. This and the two playoff runs give the edge to Eli. You cannot take away the results. Most other remaining intangibles do go to Rivers. Completion percentage, yards per game, touchdown-interception ratio and quarterback rating are all in Rivers favor. Both quarterbacks have been durable and have yet to miss a start.
So, if the two Super Bowl wins are the benchmark, lets examine them. Does anyone think Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, Trent Dilfer, or Brad Johnson are better than Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly or Warren Moon?
Eli’s Giants had a superior dominant defensive line. An ill-advised pass, and other bone headed decisions by Brett Favre led to crucial turnovers. A down field heave throw up for grabs followed by a fluke catch off a helmet? These plays led to Eli’s first Super Bowl win. A 49er fumbled a punt in the Red Zone and a crucial Wes Welker drop led to Eli’s second Super Bowl win. I understand a win is a win and that is the bottom line. However, there are always other factors that lead to wins and losses outside quarterback play.
So if Eli gets credit for these play-off wins, then is Rivers to blame for Charger playoff losses? Rivers played without his pro bowl tight end, A. Gates, and pro bowl running back, L. Tomlinson. Playing on a completely torn ACL factors in to. Kaeding missed three field goals in each of Rivers’ playoff losses. Not to mention, the cluster of Marty gaffes, (fumbled punt, dropped TD, several personal fouls, going for it on 4th and 11, etc.) in the 24-21 home loss to the New England Patriots.
Like I said, the comparisons may never end, but if I were building a team, I would start with Rivers. How about you?