Special teams were again responsible for determining the outcome of the Chargers season opener against the Oakland Raiders. This time though, the result was a positive one for the Bolts as the Raiders punt team gift-wrapped a victory in the form of three bad snaps. No matter how the win came to fruition, the Bolts are 1-0 and there are plenty of other reasons why.
In a game that finished with a final score of 22-14, it’s tough to tell on the surface just how each club arrived at their final point total. For the Chargers, several nice drives ultimately ended in field goals as the team chalked up just one touchdown and Nate Kaeding split the uprights on five other occasions. After a premature ending to last year for Kaeding, this outing has to boost his confidence right away as he nailed three short-range kicks (19, 23, 28 yards) and two medium ones (41, 45 yards).
Clearly the defense was a point of emphasis in the offseason and at least for one week, the extra attention paid to that side of the ball paid off. The Bolts were flying to the football, running guys down in pursuit, and making all of the effort plays that were missing a season ago. Additions like first round draft pick Melvin Ingram and safety Atari Bigby shined brightest in the first game. Ingram forced a fumble while Bigby was around the ball all night with a near interception showing great instincts in addition to his heavy-hitting prowess.
It was thought that Bigby may be no more than just a role player with the Bolts, but his performance on Monday night showed that he can do so much more. Health has always been the biggest issue with him and if he can stay on the field, the Chargers have a great safety tandem with him and Eric Weddle.
Another defender who impressed was one expected to leap into the national spotlight this year in Donald Butler. He was terrific all night long accruing eight tackles and one sack while his presence and football IQ forced many potential big gains from the Raiders into moderate or non-existent ones. Butler is the most important player on the field for the Chargers defense and if he can continue to stuff the hole in the run game, play smart in the passing game, and read plays before they transpire, the Bolts are in for a big year from the third-year man out of Washington.
On offense, Philip Rivers wasn’t flashy, but he was super-effective and his level of precision is what kept the game out of reach for the Raiders. This wasn’t a blow you away type of game for Rivers and the Bolts offense, but he converted when it was a must, played smart, and took what the defense gave him all night long. After a 20 interception campaign in 2011, that patience from Rivers was a welcome sight for Chargers fans looking to see the team rebound from last year’s struggles.
After the game, Rivers spoke about his judiciousness with the pigskin saying: "I've always tried to take care of the football and be smart but you have to be able to manage the situation. The situation today was our defense was playing good, our special teams is getting the ball. If you go back since I've been playing here and we don't turn the ball over, it's 90-something percent we win. That was the key for the offense tonight." Hopefully that will be the way the Bolts win games this season and Rivers doesn’t have to press like he did in 2011.
Not to finish on a down note, but the running game was absolutely putrid. It’s hard to believe that Ryan Mathews makes that much of a difference for the Bolts on the ground, but hopefully that was the reason for their terrible performance. Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley, and Le’Ron McClain all struggled to get anything going. The best rushing performer was Eddie Royal who took two reverses for a total of 12 yards. When the rusher started behind Rivers, the combined total was 17 rush attempt for just 22 yards.
These was zero daylight for these guys to run through and the line just got no push snap after snap. When Mathews returns, sure his creativity will allow him to make something out of nothing occasionally, but not every single play. Revamping the blocking scheme and having less predictability out of Norv Turner from a play-calling standpoint is a must moving forward to balance this offense out.
A win is a win and the Bolts are certainly happy to begin with a road victory over a key divisional opponent, but this is a long way from a finished product. If the defense continues to look stout and the offense maintains its managed approach to the game, the wins will pile up in a hurry.
Now it’s your turn to be heard! Do you think the year off served Nate Kaeding well and do you see his confidence as a big asset heading deeper into the season? How about that defense!? Who impressed you most on the defensive side of the ball? Do you like the more controlled version of Philip Rivers or the gunslinger AFL model? Are you concerned about the lack of running game in the opening week or do you believe that Ryan Mathews alleviates those issues when he returns? Please fill up the comments section with your thoughts on all of this and more!
Follow Anthony on Twitter: @AnthonyMBlake
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