Given the Chargers abysmal 2-5 record against the Patriots during the Tom Brady era, it was safe to call the Bolts underdogs heading into their week 2 clash at New England. San Diego certainly carried some positive vibes from their week one comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings into the contest with the Pats, but some of their weaknesses were also put on display by the Vikes in the season’s opening bout.
One of the team’s most glaring deficiencies was unquestionably the ground game (or lack thereof) against Minnesota as both Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert struggled to make any real headway via handoffs. The game with the Patriots actually put some of those concerns on hold as at least Mathews was able to have some success carrying the pigskin in week two. 2010’s first round pick for the team had a tremendous all-around game toting the ball a dozen times for 64 yards and a touchdown while also catching seven passes for 62 yards. Those 126 yards on 19 touches were part of what was arguably Mathews’ best outing to date as a professional.
Much of his success was derived from some serious blocking up front by the guys in the trenches as both guard Kris Dielman and center Nick Hardwick had outstanding games moving the line of scrimmage and providing room to run for Mathews. The delay draw play was particularly effective as one of Head Coach Norv Turner’s staples in the Bolts’ wide open offensive attack and that play got the defense off balance on several occasions giving Mathews the upper hand in setting up his blocks and making decisive cuts. Seeing that many positives out of the running game has to give some confidence to both Mathews and his offensive linemen that this team is in fact capable of picking up the tough yards when necessary.
That may have been true in many instances on Sunday, but sadly the goal line was a problem area for the Bolts. Mike Tolbert is the short yardage bruiser with a punishing downhill running style capable of carrying most tacklers into the end zone with him, but a difficult to swallow stuffing on the one foot line in the second quarter really shifted some momentum in the Patriots’ favor.
Tolbert’s tough day didn’t end there as his mistake in the fourth quarter will likely be pointed to as the main turning point in the game. After the Bolts’ defense made a key stop on fourth down near midfield early in the game’s final stanza, Tolbert had a carry that was being stuffed at the line, but instead pitter pattered backward before coughing up the football which would be recovered by New England.
Offensively, those issues led to the stat of the day for the Chargers whose first six possessions all reached Patriots’ territory in the opening half. Unfortunately the Bolts only managed seven points from all of those trips into the Pats’ end of the stadium and were never able to make their lengthy drives pay off. From turnovers to mental mistakes, the Chargers sputtered mightily on the New England half of the field and eventually paid for it on the short end of the scoreboard.
Where the defense really struggled in week two was applying any pressure on Brady in the pocket. It seemed as if every drop back the Pat’s signal caller had a sip of coffee and a croissant before delivering on target passes to whomever he desired. 3-man rushes were torturous to watch as the Bolts would continuously drop eight into coverage and give Brady upwards of seven seconds to survey the field and pick out his favorite target on any given play. Finding a source of pressure on opposing quarterbacks needs to be an emphasis for the coaching staff heading into next week and the remainder of the season unless the defense wants to get picked apart game after game.
On the positive side, the wide receivers for the Chargers were just outstanding in this contest as Malcom Floyd began the day with the hot hands catching everything in sight in typical acrobatic fashion. He would be forced to give up the spotlight to Vincent Jackson however after suffering a groin injury in the second quarter and not returning to the game. Jackson clearly didn’t miss a beat as he hauled in 10 passes on the day for 172 yards and two scores just bailing out Rivers and company time after time in second half action.
As mentioned earlier, the Bolts’ backfield was also extremely productive and helped out big time in the passing game as well. Tolbert may have had his torments running the football, but he caught eight passes for 73 yards on the game while Mathews’ seven grabs made 15 of Rivers’ 29 completions going to running backs.
The statistics said that this game was dead even with the Pats holding a slight edge in total yards at 504 to 470 while the Chargers held the ball for 30:58 to New England’s 29:02. As this team found out just last season however, statistics don’t mean much when the scoreboard says the opponent has more points after sixty minutes spent on the field. While there are plenty of positives to draw on heading into week three against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers need to show the ability to improve quickly or all of the rhetoric in the world means very little in the post-game press conference.
Now let’s get your take. Do you think the running game is improving or was it simply a product of facing a defense with some clear flaws? Did the offensive line look like a stronger, more cohesive unit in week two or do they still have a ways to go before being considered a success? Was the difficulty on the Patriots’ end of the field due to poor play-calling or simply mental errors by the players out on the field? Are Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd the best wideout duo in the NFL when healthy or is there another tandem you would rather have? Do you see 2011 being the same statistical juggernaut team with a mediocre record or will the Bolts figure things out and start to win this year? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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