There are many reasons to be a little unnerved if you are a Chargers fan at this point in the preseason. Despite the team’s now 3-0 record during the league’s warm-up schedule, the Bolts are facing some serious injury worries leading up to the regular season’s first contest. The NFL itself is dealing with some real issues too when it comes to the replacement officials. Trying to determine whether these problems can be overcome is tough to determine at this point, but it is certainly worthy of discussion.
Starting with the broader issue of replacement officials which the NFL desperately needs to resolve. As both a positive PR move and for the better of the league, the real referees need to get back to work as soon as possible. One needs to look no further than the flag-infested game between the Bolts and the Minnesota Vikings on Friday night to know just how poor the officiating has been. 20 penalties in total were assessed with 14 of those hankies being thrown for infractions by the Chargers. More penalties means an uglier, choppier product for the NFL which would really be a step in the wrong direction for the league.
As for the game itself, the Chargers simply saw more of the same, lackluster offensive line play. Whether it was the run blocking or in pass protection, the line failed to open any holes or give either quarterback any time to deliver a pass.
On the rushing side of things, the Bolts have managed an average of just slightly over two yards per attempt during the preseason. Clearly the absence of lead back Ryan Mathews with his clavicle injury has something to do with that tiny number, but is not entirely responsible for the ineptitude. The team has gotten little to no push and been unable to keep opposing players from penetrating the backfield at will to disrupt running lanes and force running backs to make their first move before they even reach the line of scrimmage. This is an uphill battle no matter who is carrying the football.
In keeping their own quarterbacks upright, the line has been equally incompetent surrendering six sacks against the Vikes. Both Charlie Whitehurst and Jarrett Lee looked rattled early and often as they struggled to evade the rush on nearly every dropback. The injury problems certainly don’t help on the line either with left tackle Jared Gaither (back), left guard Tyronne Green (foot), and center Nick Hardwick (concussion) all out of action. There is clearly a long way to go for this offense with very little time to build any type of cohesion as the season moves ever-nearer.
While all of this is troubling to a certain extent, the team did see several upbeat developments in the game. Starting with the kickers as expected in a game of field goals and Nate Kaeding appears to be in the best shape of his career coming off of his torn ACL last year. His leg seems stronger than ever as he hit two field goals from long range of 50 and 54 yards respectively. Accuracy has never been a question in the regular season, but the postseason will tell the tale of just how improved Kaeding actually is in 2012.
Even though the teams combined for 11 sacks, the Chargers did have five of those on defense and really applied the pressure on the Vikes’ signal callers. That forced four Minnesota turnovers which really propelled the Bolts to victory in the end. The ability to force mistakes on defense has been lacking from the Chargers in recent years so if this is any indication, that trend may finally be reversing itself. Another impressive stat for the D was the red zone number as the Vikings made four trips inside the Bolts 20 yard line with only one touchdown and one field goal to show for it. The bend but don’t break attitude can be effective especially if the defense is more pressure oriented this season than it has been in years past.
So while this game was clearly neither club’s best effort and the Chargers aren’t at all happy with the product they put out on the field, there were still some good things to take away from it all. Health is going to be vital at all positions this year as it always is, but it seems the offensive line is the most vulnerable to the injury bug. There is no reason to be content with the Bolts at this juncture as a fan, but there certainly is some basis for a positive vibe moving forward.
Now it’s your chance to weigh-in! What do you think about the replacement officials and is there any resolution in sight? Which worries you most about the offensive line; run blocking or pass protection? Do you think getting healthy is enough to improve the line or are they just outmanned? Is Nate Kaeding the easy choice to be the kicker this year or do you still give Nick Novak a shot? How about that defense, will they be a much improved group this year or not? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!
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