Loss Of Matthews Leaves Things Uncertain For Chargers Offense

Coming off a heart breaking 8-8 season in 2011, Chargers fans have been eager to see what the team has in store for the 2012 season.  With a hungry Phillip Rivers ready to regain his elite quarterback status and a mixed bag of young and old players looking to finally bring a Lombardi trophy to the city, the Chargers looked poised to find their way back into the playoffs.

These hopes took a major hit in the first preseason game of the year, however, when Ryan Mathews went down with a broken clavicle.  This puts the Chargers at a severe disadvantage in the weeks coming up without him, as he is their primary running back.  With back-ups such as Jackie Battle and Donald Butler not looking tremendous in the  preseason, many fear that the Chargers may need to go to the air more than they should, which could lead to some bad play calls.

Phillip Rivers is already coming off of a disappointing year that saw him throw a staggering 20 interceptions with only 27 touchdowns for the season.  While he looks determined to get back to his old form, being put into a position where he has little to no running game could be very dangerous for him. He has been known to act rashly when put under pressure, and he will surely be put into the position where he has to throw a great deal more than if he had Mathews behind him, ready to eat up yardage.

When considering NFL picks in the upcoming weeks, you may want to shy away from the Chargers.  They hardly have a reputation for winning a great deal of the games in the past few seasons, and considering their top back is out, their offense may not have the weapons it needs to win their upcoming match-ups.

Chargers Look for Quick Start vs. Raiders

The San Diego Chargers have given Coach Turner one more season to get this team to live up to expectations. A loss on opening weekend to the hated Raiders would not help the cause.

The Bolts, after two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, kick-off this season Monday night when they visit the Black Hole to play AFC West rival Oakland (10:15 pm Eastern, ESPN).

To review, San Diego started 4-1 last year, and considering the way the Chargers had closed seasons in recent years they looked like shoo-ins for the playoffs. But somehow this team lost six games in a row to fall to 4-7. Like clockwork, San Diego finished well, winning four of its last five, to tie Denver and Oakland atop the AFC West at 8-8. But the Chargers lost out on the tie-breakers.

On the other side of this matchup Oakland is working under yet another new head coach this season. Last year the Raiders got to 7-4, then lost four of their last five to end up in the same boat as San Diego. After that they canned Coach Jackson and brought in Coach Allen from Denver.

These two teams split their two games last year, the Raiders winning in San Diego 24-17 and the Chargers ruining the Raiders’ playoff hopes with a 38-26 victory on the last day of the season in Oakland.

In the first meeting between these teams last year the Raiders dominated, outrushing San Diego 191-75 and winning outright as seven-point dogs on the NFL odds.

But in the second meeting the Chargers won the ground war 153-103, scored on a 105-yard kick-off return and got the outright victory as 2.5-point dogs.

On a couple of key personnel notes for Monday’s game San Diego RB Ryan Mathews is very questionable as he deals with the aftermath of a broken collarbone suffered in the first quarter of the first pre-season game against Green Bay. And with LT Jared Gaither out rookie Mike Harris will be making his first NFL start Monday, protecting QB Philip Rivers’ blind side.

As far as the betting on Monday’s game goes several online sportsbooks were listing the Chargers as one- or -two-point favorites as recently as last week, but as of Friday afternoon it was the Raiders who were favored by a point at most NFL odds boards.

Ryan Matthews Doubtful for Monday Night

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Photo by: Ric Tapia/Icon SMI

Matthews was able to work out on Wednesday, but was still not allowed to practice during the contact portions of the day. Matthews had surgery earlier this camp to repair a broken clavicle. Norv Turner was quoted by North County Times stating “He’s doing everything possible to get back.” But, he does not think Matthews will be prepared for game one. If Matthews is not ready Ronnie Brown will be the starter Monday Night, which is not going to excite the Chargers faithful.

Jared Gaither will definitely not be starting Monday Night with his continuing back spasms being a problem. This has been a disappointing pick up for San Diego thus far, and they will be forced to start undrafted rookie Mike Harris at left tackle. This especially hurts Norv Turner’s offense, which is predicated on rushing and a deep passing game. Rivers is going to have his hands full Monday Night against the Oakland defense.

Chargers Visit Raiders on Monday Night Football

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Photo by: Ric Tapia/Icon SMI

For the second time in four years, the Chargers will start their regular season in Oakland, facing the Raiders and playing in the late game on Monday Night Football. In previous seasons throughout the Norv Turner era, they’ve started very slowly and with the head coach and general manager on the proverbial hot seat, a fast start is necessary.

The San Diego Chargers are a one-point favorite on the NFL odds as most people still believe in this team even though they are merely 17-15 over the last two seasons. The talent appears to be in place but they’ve consistently underachieved.

Even though the Chargers have won 13 of their last 20 trips to Oakland, the Raiders have been a thorn in the Chargers side recently as they’ve won three of the last four meetings overall. The games have been won on the line of scrimmage as the Chargers offensive line has declined in recent seasons while the Raiders front four has improved. That offensive line will be a chief concern all season long and it already appears to be an issue.

The Chargers starting left tackle Jared Gaither (back) isn’t practicing right now and there is no timetable for his return. On top of that, center Nick Hardwick missed the team’s final preseason game while recovering from a concussion and although he has returned to practice, concussions can be dicey. The Chargers will also be without starting running back Ryan Mathews for the opener.

As for the Raiders defensive line, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are a handful on the interior, so the Chargers will have to hope their units hold up.

In previous years, the Chargers would have been expected to beat the Raiders but now it’s a coin flip. There’s no question that the Chargers are still significantly more talented than Oakland but San Diego just hasn’t played to their potential in the Turner era. However, maybe being humbled a little bit and not having the spotlight on them to win the AFC West will wake them up. We’ll find out right off the bat in Week 1.

Hester Among Cut Day Casualties

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Photo by: Ric Tapia/NFL.com

Jacob Hester, a special teams captain for San Diego last season will now be looking to bring his services elsewhere. Hester had been featured at fullback as well, finishing the season with 90 yards rushing and 12 receptions including a touchdown. The Chargers felt it was time to move on and revamp a special teams unit that was one of the most inconsistent in the NFL.

Among the other high profile cuts was last year’s starting kicker Nick Novak, defensive end Jacques Cesaire, and offensive tackle Mario Henderson.

Ryan Matthews is still healing from his broken clavicle injury, and is expected to miss the season opener as of right now. If Matthews does not make the start, Ronnie Brown will be the Chargers go to man at running back. Brown had several good seasons with the Miami Dolphins, but has been below average since then. With the Philadelphia Eagles last season Brown only gained 136 yards on 42 carries. San Diego would better serve themselves starting the big, bruiser Jackie Battle, and use Brown as a change of pace and third down back. However, it is well documented that Norv Turner is not most orthodox head coach. Hopefully, the Chargers can get fully healthy before facing the Oakland Raiders next Monday Night.

Chargers Health Becoming an Issue

There is one thing you do not want to see in pre-season other than bad play, and that is injuries. With  left tackle Jared Gaither, left guard Tyronne Green and center Nick Hardwick injured, Norv Turner made the smart decision by not playing Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates on Friday. Generally the starters play a full half in the third pre-season game, but there is no reason to submit your quarterback to Jared Allen in a meaningless game.

San Diego’s defense played well against a scrub filled Vikings offense, who did not play their star running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson is practicing but does not want to expose his knee to hits just yet. With plenty of injuries already, it was not a good site when Melvin Ingram, rookie linebacker, was assisted off the field. Ingram came away with just a thigh bruise and will reportedly be ready for the opener along with running back Ryan Matthews.

Expect no one of importance playing in the Chargers’ final pre-season game. For the psyche of the team alone it could be damaging to witness another player getting injured. I do not think it is going out on a limb that this is finally the make or break season for Norv Turner. He has been on the hot seat for what seems like forever. The one thing that gives you confidence is that although the Broncos added Peyton Manning, the Chargers seem to have the most talented team in the AFC West. It will be up to Norv to make the pieces come together and excel as unit.