I am a firm believer in the phrase “the pre season doesn’t count, but it does matter”. The priorities are talent evaluation and preservation of key starter health while acclimatizing to game speed competition. In this article we will take a cursory glance at preseason trends (won’t overvalue statistics or won/loss records) while reflecting on the 2011 encounters (game#9, a 24-17 Raider victory and the woeful game #16, a 38-26 Charger victory). Latitude should be allotted due to significant roster transition in both camps. Here is a brief recap of the Charger draft class, its apparent they were aware of their defensive liabilities.
1st round (pick 18) Melvin Ingram (DE/LB), 6’2”, 245, South Carolina. Senior season 10 sacks/48 tackles (15 TFL), 2 Int, 2TD. He is potentially an elite edge rusher.
2nd round (pick 17/49 overall) Kendall Reyes (DT), 6’4, 299, UConn. A solid interior lineman that can add to his frame.
3rd round (pick 10/73 overall) Brandon Taylor (S), 5’11”, 210 LSU. “In the box” safety with some cover skills. This kind of players’ value is rising due to increased utilization of “hybrid” TE’s which is the wave of the future.
4th round (pick 15/110 overall) Ladarius Green (TE), 6’6’, 240. Lousiana-Lafayette. Developmental TE of the ilk just referenced.
5th round (pick 14/149 overall) Johnnie Troutman (OG), Penn State 6’4”, 325.On “reserve-non football injury list”-had pectoral surgery in April.
No 6th round pick
7th round (pick 19/226 overall) David Molk (C), 6’0”, 300 Michigan. Remington award winner an absolute steal at this position. In the perfect situation; grooming behind a talented (but oft injured) starter (Nick Hardwick).
7th round (pick 43/250 overall) Edwin Baker (RB), 5’8”, 200 Michigan State. Is a serviceable yet unspectacular back, leading pre season rusher currently on practice squad.
All of the draft picks were retained by the team.
The Chargers are still a team predicated on the passing game with an average of 36 passing attempts per game. They will work the TE’s underneath with Malcolm Floyd being the primary vertical target. We all know Rivers will check down to backs (envision nightmares of LaDainian Tomlinson). Last season averaged 25.4 points, 131 yards rushing and 276.6 yards passing per game. This preseason is devalued; Rivers did not play in game #3.
OFFENSIVE LINE: SAN DIEGO
LT Michael Harris, LG Tyronne Green, C Nick Hardwick, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Jeromey Clary.
Jared Gaither was scheduled to be the LT tackle; but has been sidelined by a phantom back injury and has yet to practice (cue Allen Iverson). In one of the more perplexing off-season moves the Chargers gave the “work ethic challenged” LT a 4year/26 million (8M signing bonus/13.5 M guaranteed) contract. His current back problem follows a 2010 season claimed by back problems. This condition dissuaded the Raiders from signing him and the Chiefs from retaining him. He has been replaced by Undrafted Free agent Michael Harris already dubbed “the turnstile” by the San Diego Union Tribune. Personally, I am distraught we don’t have Brandon Dombroski to kick around anymore.
Hardwick aside, this is a rather non descript grouping with multiple vulnerabilities. While the Raider offensive line (and blocking scheme) is a work in progress; it exceeds the Charger unit. The Chargers are a team dependent on pass protection and this is a moribund assortment.
TIGHT END: SAN DIEGO
Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael, Dante Rosario, Ladarius Green.
This is the most talented offensive group by a wide margin. Gates and McMichael combined for 94 catches/1, 049 yards and 7 TD (and Gates was injured). By comparison, Raider TE’s combined for 31 catches/384 yards and 3 TD’s. The addition of Rosario (Free agent from Denver) and Green fortify an already strong position.
ADVANTAGE= (WIDE) CHARGERS
WIDE RECEIVERS-San Diego
Malcolm Floyd, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Richard Goodman, Michael Spurlock.
Despite the departure of Vincent Jackson (FA-Tampa Bay) and injury of Vincent Brown (I.R.-recall option); this remains a talented grouping. The addition of Meachem (FA_Saints) and Royal (FA-Broncos) deepens the talent pool. We recall the thumping Floyd put on Nnamdi 2 years ago, and Royal is a capable receiver (see DeAngelo Hall). Meachem has drop issues, but is a viable vertical threat.
Raider WR’s are a young and upcoming group but current health issues impact the determination.
RUNNING BACKS: SAN DIEGO
Ryan Mathews, Ronnie Brown, Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley, LeRon McClain.
In spite of the absence of Mathews, Jacob Hester (released) and Mike Tolbert (FA Carolina-his versatility will be missed) this is still a solid group. Battle and McClain can be punishing and Brinkley effective (16 carries/52 yards in last meeting). While none possess the breakaway abilities of the Raider backs, in an offense predicated on the pass they are more than adequate.
ADVANTAGE: RAIDERS (If McFadden healthy)
QUARTERBACK: SAN DIEGO
Phillip Rivers and Charlie Whitehurst
Rivers is an offensive force (62.9 completion %/4,624 yards passing, 27 TD/20 INT) who will destroy defenses unless pressured. ESPN stats reports 8 of Rivers INT were facing rushes of 5 or more. Pressuring Rivers is the linchpin of this contest. Without Mathews and facing a revamped defensive backfield, rest assured they will be tested early and often. Expect to recognize the identified “weak link” early (as Brees did to DVD in 2011 pre season), my intuition tells me it will be Shawntae Spencer.
Carson Palmer gets a Mulligan due to the situation he was thrust into, the flux of receivers (health issues), the absence of McFadden and his limited tenure. He has shown his arm is sound, which was my sole concern. If his decision making does not improve (has a training camp under his belt); the Mulligan will be promptly rescinded.
The Chargers are a 3-4 base defense and drafted accordingly. Cornerback remains a position of vulnerability if the front 7 can be managed. The defense generated 32 sacks while allowing 53 plays of 20+ yards (Raiders yielded 58). Big plays can be made (as shown in the first meeting last year).
DEFENSIVE LINE: SAN DIEGO
Cory Liuget, Antonio Garay, Aubrayo Franklin, Vaughn Martin, Cam Thomas.
This is an experienced group that will test the ability/effectiveness of the ZBS (Zone Blocking system) lineman. Movement (at least “influence”) must be attained in order to run effectively. Implementation of the ZBS scheme is not instantaneous, unless the execution improves over pre season levels this could be problematic.
ADVANTAGE: (SLIGHT EDGE) CHARGERS
LINEBACKERS: SAN DIEGO
Shaun Phillips, Takeo Spikes, Donald Butler, Jarret Johnson, Antwan Barnes, Larry English.
This is the heartbeat (and most talented) segment of this defensive unit. Extremely active and athletic, ZBS blockers must get to second level and cut backside pursuit disallowing their free flow.
Rolando McClain has shown improvement, but must begin to play up to his draft status without delay. I must admit, I have been pleasantly surprised with activity level shown by both Wheeler and Burris.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: SAN DIEGO
Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason, Eric Weddle, Atari Bibgy, Marcus Gilchrist
Easily the weakest defensive link, Jammer is a penalty magnet and has been replaced by Gilchrist numerous times. All the CB’s are vulnerable to double moves . Weddle is an impact, Pro Bowl FS (talk to Johnnie Lee Higgins) that must be accounted for. Considering the transition in the Raider defensive back field this is a difficult call
ADVANTAGE: (SLIGHT) RAIDERS
SPECIAL TEAMS: SAN DIEGO
(PK) Nate Kaeding (P) Mike Scifres, Mike Windt (LS).
Kaeding is a veteran kicker returning from injury (torn left ACL) missing the 2011 season.
Scifres has a gross average of 47.5/net average of 39.7 and 17 inside the 20 yard line. None have been blocked or returned for TD.
The Raiders kicking tandem of Lechler (gross average 50.8/net average of 40.9/27 inside the 20 yard line/none blocked and 2 returned for TD) and Janikowski (31-35 with 3 misses 50 or greater/1 miss 40-49 yards and no misses from less than 40) are on the apex of the kicking food chain.
Eddie Royal averaged 15.7 yard per return for Denver
Richard Goodman averaged 27.5 yards per return (including a 105 yard return versus the Raiders).
The Raider return men (excluding a healthy Ford) are ineffective with Phillip Adams apparently inheriting the duties currently.
ADVANTAGE: EVEN (KICKERS OFFSET RETURNERS)
HEAD COACHING: SAN DIEGO
Turner has been at the helm for multiple notoriously slow starts, but has multiple division titles and is an established (although uninspiring) head coach. Despite his obvious shortcomings, his experience weighs heavily versus the youthful Allen.
The outcome of this game hinges on the level of pressure applied on Rivers and the ability of the Raider offense to score touchdowns (versus field goals) when in scoring range. If these items can be accomplished victory will be within reach.