How is everyone? My name is Zak Darman (@RealZakDarman on Twitter) and I live in the great city of San Diego, CA. I am a lifelong Charger fan and I am also a lifelong and a very excited Padres fan! I attend games regularly and went to 5 of the 8 home games this season and really don’t want to see them move to Carson! My first real memory of the Chargers happened in 2004 when the Chargers went 12-4 and really snuck up on everyone and won the division. That really made me become the die hard I am now. Brees and LT that season were unbelievable and it was also the Antonio Gates coming out year. My first ever Charger game was in the 2006 season vs the Raiders. You know, the Vincent Jackson ball spin game. I was also in attendance to see LT break the single season touchdown record to surpass Shawn Alexander.
Favorite Moment as a Chargers Fan: 2007 AFC divisional game vs the 13-3 Indianapolis Colts. Last game in the RCA Dome the 11-5 Chargers came in roaring and pulled an upset in what was, in my opinion, the best Chargers game I have ever watched. Philip Rivers and LT were both out of the game with injuries and the Chargers relied on Billy Volek, Michael Turner and Darren Sproles to pull out the victory. Billy Volek drove down the field on what would be the game winning TD drive and the defense held late as the Chargers went on to win 28-24.
Worst Moment as a Chargers Fan: Well, let’s be honest here, there have been more heartbreaking than heart warming moments. I have a lot from the ’06 Divisional Round disaster, to an end of an era in the releasing of LT. But the one game that really kills me whenever I think about heartbreak is the 2009 game vs the Jets at home. Yes, the Nate Kaeding game. Three missed field goals and a Cromartie pull-up-before-the-tackle later in the game and the Chargers were sent home in what started to be a rebuilding mode after that.
My Favorite Charger Player: Thats a tough one. There are a ton of players I like. To pick just one is hard. But I will go with Philip Rivers. His passion and fiery attitude is what a leader should have, regardless of position. His will to win is the one thing that I think really gets under peoples’ skins because they aren’t used to that from the QB position.
I’m glad to be part of the BoltBlitz staff and I am looking forward to writing articles and hopefully you guys are excited to read them as well!
The 2014 version of the Chargers offense was not what San Diego fans have grown accustomed to watching. Chargers fans are used to dominant running backs and a high flying passing game that few teams can match. That was not the case in 2014. Last season’s offense scored less than 20 points on six different occasions, including a shutout in Miami, and a pathetic week 17 effort against Kansas City that only posted seven point, keeping the Bolts out of the playoffs. There were signs of greatness throughout the season, but no consistency to be found. Why is that? Well, the obvious answer was all of the personnel changes on the offensive line. The Chargers went through centers with the frequency that a doctor goes through rubber gloves. You just never knew who would be blocking for Rivers from week to week, or even play to play. That has to be it! Or does it? Will fixing the offensive line cure what ails the Chargers offense? I’m not so sure.
Not being a huge fan of history when I was in school, I have found in my old age that it truly is important to study the past when trying to predict the future. If you follow proven successful strategies, you tend to succeed. If you make the same mistakes that your predecessors make, you will most likely fail. I believe the Chargers have gotten away from what works. It may not be an intentional change, but there has been a change nonetheless. Let’s take a look back and see why previous Chargers offenses were so successful. There were two eras that stand out in my mind when I think of great Chargers offenses: “Air Coryell” and “Marty Ball”.
Despite the annual snubbing by the Hall of Fame toward Chargers coaching legend, Don Coryell, everyone agrees that when he was the Bolts coach, the offense took off! “Air Coryell” brought the passing game to the forefront and left the three yards and a cloud of dust offense far behind. Scoring points was rarely a problem for Coryell’s teams. But why were they so effective? Two reasons: A great offensive line and outstanding offense weapons at the skill positions.
Looking at the Chargers line from those days it is no wonder why Dan Fouts is in the Hall of Fame. Billy Shields holding down left tackle, Doug Wilkerson and left guard, Don Macek at center, big Ed White at right guard, and Russ Washington was at right tackle week in and week out. You could count on these behemoths to be there for you on a weekly basis protecting the star QB and opening holes for the running backs. They stayed together for many years and got to know what to expect from each other. That kind of talent and cohesiveness is huge for an offensive line. When you have to switch the lineup and put guys in positions they are not used to, it creates great challenges that are often nearly impossible to overcome in a short period of time.
Some would look at the formidable offensive line that Air Coryell possessed and figure that they were the reason that the offense was so great. I agree, to a point. I think without that line, the Chargers offense would have been above average, but not as devastating as they were. Give Dan Fouts time to throw and he will carve you up like a Thanksgiving turkey. What they had that put them over the top was very talented weapons in the skill positions. Let’s take a look at some of the players who benefited from great O line play, a brilliant offensive coach in Don Coryell, and a lot of talent:
Quarterback: Dan Fouts (HOF)
Wide Receiver: Charlie Joiner (HOF), John “JJ” Jefferson, Wes Chandler
Tight End: Kellen Winslow (HOF)
Running Back: Chuck Muncie, Gary Anderson, Lionel “Little Train” James, James Brooks
If you were fortunate enough to watch these guys play, you know that this is not a list of average players who would not have had success without the help of the offensive line. These players were special talents who did benefit from the great line, but also helped the line look better by getting open faster, hitting holes faster and harder, and throwing with quickness and decisiveness. Air Coryell was truly a gifted and complete offense.
Okay, that was a long time ago and the game has continued to evolve. So let’s take a look at a more recent offense: “Marty Ball”
Marty Ball was different than Air Coryell as it was more of an old school approach to moving the ball. Coach Marty Schottenheimer loved to run the football and impose his will on opponents. Having a top-notch offensive line was a very large part of Marty Ball. As Chargers fans have witnessed in the last couple of years, if you can’t open a hole, backs are rarely successful. Schottenheimer’s line could open holes and the backs could certainly hit them. Of course it never hurts to have one of the best running backs of all time on your team.
What did Schottenheimer’s offensive line have in common with Coryell’s? They were big, nasty, and reliable. They were there opening holes every Sunday for many years. Shane Olivea at right tackle, Mike Goff at right guard, Nick Hardwick at Center, Kris Dielman at left guard, and Marcus McNeill at left tackle were a formidable bunch who were not intimidated by defenses. They knew if they did their job, the Chargers would score and score often.
But again, would the Bolts have put up the huge numbers they did with average skill players? I highly doubt it. Here are some of the skill position players that benefitted from the O-Line:
Quarterback: Drew Brees (future HOF), Philip Rivers
Wide Receiver: Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd (younger version), Eric Parker
Tight End: Antonio Gates (younger version – future HOF)
Running Back: LaDainian Tomlinson (future HOF), Lorenzo Neal, Michael Turner
As you can see, both of these exceptional offenses have one thing in common; they were both filled with talent. They did not just have a strong offensive line and average talent that was able to excel due to large holes and great protection. They were able to dominate defenses because they were able to take advantage of their great offensive line by using above average to great talent at the skill positions.
In 2014, the Chargers offense looked great at times and then dropped off to a shell of what people hoping to see. Injuries on the offensive line were a major reason for the decline in effectiveness, but was that the only reason? I don’t think so. To see the whole picture, we need to look at the season and take a very hard look at the roster.
Coach Mike McCoy did not have the luxury of sending out a dominant offensive line like some of his predecessors. Nick Hardwick was his center in week one, but failed to make it back to the lineup the remainder of the season. That was a big blow as the center is responsible for reading the defense and calling out the blocking assignments for the line. That is a skill that takes time to develop. Throughout the remainder of the season, four other players got to take a shot at center due to a plethora of injuries at that position. In fact, the player who ended the season looking like the front runner to be the starter in 2015, Chris Watt, had never played the position before.
Along with Hardwick Et Al., at center, the Chargers had DJ Fluker at right tackle, Johnny Troutman at right guard, Chad Rinehart and left guard, and King Dunlap at left tackle. With the exception of Dunlap, this was a very inexperienced line and injuries plagued them throughout the entire season. But who was there to help them out?
Quarterback: Philip Rivers (Arguably future HOF)
Wide Receiver: Malcom Floyd, Keenan Allen (missed two games), Eddie Royal, Seyi Ajirotutu (special teams players forced to get snaps at WR), Dontrelle Inman (rookie discovered in last couple weeks)
Tight End: Antonio Gates (aging, but still solid, Future HOF)
Running Back: Ryan Mathews (6 games, 74 carries), Donald Brown (13 games, 85 carries), Danny Woodhead (3 games, 15 carries, 5 rec), Branden Oliver (14 games, only 582 yards to lead team in rushing)
Comparing the 2014 Chargers offensive players to Air Coryell and Marty Ball makes it easy to see the problem with the current offense. Not only was the 2014 offensive line hampered by injury, it wasn’t great to start! Once Hardwick went down, there was little hope that the line would be able to work together like the lines of old. Too little experience and too many injuries really limited the offense and what plays they could run. That being said, would the 2014 Chargers offense have been one for the ages if the line had stayed healthy from week one? Honestly, I seriously doubt it.
Along with their inexperienced offensive line, the 2014 Chargers simply did not have the skill players needed to score points like Chargers teams of the past. They are lacking a deep threat at wide receiver. Malcom Floyd had a very nice season and can still get deep at times, but he does not strike fear in defenses like he did when he was younger and lined up opposite of Vincent Jackson, a deep threat in his own right. Keenan Allen is a nice route runner and makes a lot of catches, but only averages 10.2 yards per catch. The Chargers will need to add a true deep threat if they want Allen and Floyd to be dangerous weapons in 2015.
Running back is the most trouble for the Bolts moving forward. Most Chargers fans will argue that if the line could run block, the backs will gain yards. I have argued that myself! Looking back, I see where Ryan Mathews came back from injury and ran quite effectively behind a poor offensive line. He even put up over 100 yards (8.8 ypc) against a highly touted Rams front seven. So it can be done, if the back is good enough to make defenders miss or run through them.
One argument that I have not broached is that the 2014 offense did not compare favorably with the offenses of the past because Offensive Coordinator (OC) Frank Reich does not match up with Don Coryell, or Cam Cameron (OC under Schottenheimer). Perhaps we will tackle that topic another day.
Another argument is that you can’t load your offense up with three or four future Hall of Fame players anymore because of the salary cap. If you spend that kind of money on offense, your defense will suffer and your team will not be balanced enough to win championships. This argument has merit, but I say if you draft well, you will not have to pay the future stars big money for their first four years with the team. If they are worth big money for their second contract, there are many things that can be done to spread out the money over time and not kill your cap space. Other teams do it, why not the Chargers?
So, bringing this back to the original question, will fixing the offensive line fix the Chargers offense in 2015? My answer is no. That being said, I believe it will greatly improve the offense, just not get It to the elite level that we have seen in San Diego in the past. Until a deep threat and a true number one running back can be brought in, I don’t see this offense being any better than above average with occasional flashes of brilliance. Philip Rivers can only do so much at quarterback. The man needs talent around him.
Thanks for reading and please leave your comments below.
(Thanks to the following sites for the pics: thelandryhat.com, outdoor-wholesale-dropship.doba.com, spokeo.com, m.theepoctimes.com, and hillnholler.net)
I’ve spent my last two columns dissecting the Chargers issues, particularly in the Running Back department. I am not now, nor will I ever be a Ryan Mathews fan. His exploits and (mis)adventures on the field are well documented. My final keystrokes in this trilogy will be exploring a solution to this quandry. It goes without saying that Mathews doesn’t have to go home but he can’t stay here. A trade would be ideal but what team would burn a pick on him?
After a while a player gets pigeonholed, categorized. Good. Great. Bad. Average. The book on Mathews is injury prone, fumbler. Two of the worst tags a professional running back can ask for or earn. Mathews has one less fumble than he does touchdowns in his career. Defensive coordinators know this and there’s not a defense out there that isn’t waiting to see him on the field to add more turnovers to their ledger.
Being the solutions oriented columnist I am, I have ideas. Short term fixes to be sure, but a significant improvement from problem number 24. Looking around the league, the cupboard is dangerously bare but if a deal for Trent Richardson can materialize from out of thin air, who is absolutely inexpendable? Let’s look at some names. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know my first pick:
1. Michael ‘The Burner’ Turner: Former San Diego fan favorite, Turner proved to be a valuable asset behind LaDainian Tomlinson from 2004 to 2007. Turner would come on in the fourth quarter and bowl defenders over with brute power after defenses had tired of chasing LT. At 5’10” he ran with deceptive power and breakaway speed. In 2008, he broke off an 83 yard run. In 2009, he had a 73-yard run. In 2010, a run for 74. Ryan Mathews longest run? 39 yards in 2011. Turner has had a longer run in each of his seasons since 2004. Fumbles? Turner only fumbled twice in four seasons in San Diego, 17 times total in nine seasons. Turner puts the ball on the carpet once every 100 times he touches the ball. Mathews has dropped it once every 57 times he touches the ball. Mathews has 13 in four seasons. Turner has done something Mathews has never done and that’s complete a full season. As a matter of fact, Turner has completed 5 of the last 6 seasons without missing a game.
Inexplicably, the Falcons released Turner at the end of last season and he has not received a call to join another team. Turner excelled as a feature back, gaining over 1300 yards in three of his five seasons in Atlanta., averaging at least 10 touchdowns a season. Turner seems to be long in the tooth at 31 years old but he’s only had five seasons as a true starter. Having nothing to do but watch and train from home, Turner would be a great replacement for Mathews until a blue chip running back can be drafted and groomed.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew: MJD plays on the worst team in the league in Jacksonville. He is not injured but the Jaguar offense is so atrocious he has had no effectiveness so far this season. MJD would benefit mightily in an offense with a Pro bowl quarterback like Rivers and an offense that has managed to average almost thirty points a game without the benefit of a solid ground game. MJD is a human bowling ball and defensive players league-wide have recalled (sometimes with dread) how hard it is to tackle him. That’s the type of clout you want to have with defenses.
The Jaguars have already began selling off their assets and with the contract dispute MJD has had with Jaguars ownership, he would be beneficial to both sides. MJD gets to play on a significantly better team while Mathews could be traded to Jacksonville and the Jaguars gain his expiring contract and can keep him on the cheap or cut him after his contract expires next season. A running back like MJD would really open up McCoy’s offense and defenses would have to pick their poison. Stack the box to stop MJD and Rivers will carve up the secondary with play action. Play coverage and MJD will gash the defensive line for five yards a pop. That’s not hyperbole, that’s what MJD has averaged over his career.
3. Arian Foster: I know, it’s very pie in the sky and extremely unlikely. If the Texans continue on their downward spiral, who’s to say Foster won’t be in play come the trade deadline? Clearly, the problem in Houston isn’t Foster, it’s quarterback Matt Schaub. Houston’s signal caller will probably be benched by the Texans bye week if they don’t start winning now. However, every team has a price. Sending Mathews and conditional draft picks would be signed off on by every Charger fan in existence.
It’s not too late to make a serious push for the playoffs. It may look like the Broncos and Chiefs are leaving the Chargers behind, but beating those teams puts the Chargers right back in the hunt. There are a lot of winnable games left on the schedule and it’s not too late to make the AFC West a three-horse race. Let’s hope McCoy and Telesco pull the plug on the Mathews experiment sooner rather than later and fill that slot with a back who can actually produce. What do you think? Fire 24 or am I speaking too soon?
The Greg One
Free agency has officially begun. The Chargers have yet to make any waves in the free agency pool. Listening to General Manager Telesco, he doesn’t plan on signing any of the big name free agents. Telesco’s plan is to build through the draft. The Chargers have many holes to fill and it may take more than seven picks to fill them. Some of those positions will need to be addressed in free agency, which begs the question..
It has been reported, by multiple sources, that former Charger running back Michael Turner has been released by the Atlanta Falcons.
Although it is very clear that Turner’s best days are behind him, Turner is a popular player in San Diego. Many of you are still extremely upset by the fact that he is no longer a Bolt.
I know, for a fact, that fellow BoltBlitz.com writer, Greg Williams, has Michael Turner as his number choice in free agency to be added to the team at the running back spot.
I do like Michael Turner quite a bit. I can’t say that I would be mad if he was to return to the Chargers. However, I do not believe that he is our answer at running back. That would include even in a complimentary role to Mathews.
What is your opinion on Turner coming back to San Diego? Below is a poll asking that very question.
Please vote and have your opinion get out to the BoltFam.
Thanks a lot for reading and voting.