Who are the San Diego Chargers?: Week 4

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Heading into the 4th game of the season, the San Diego Chargers are still searching for an identity on both sides of the ball.

After 3 weeks and a 2-1 record, the San Diego Chargers have no idea who they are. Well, they know that they're a team with a very good Special Teams unit from top to bottom, but on defense and offense they're still trying to figure out their identity. At some point this season, hopefully, they'll figure it out and I intend to keep track of how that is going each week.

Offense

Contrary to what this offense has been in years past, and going against what many people felt was Philip Rivers' greatest strength, this no longer appears to be a "long ball" passing attack. Through 3 games, Rivers' yards-per-attempt (6.7) and yards-per-completion (10.0) numbers are way down. In fact, they're the lowest of his career, despite his completion percentage (67%) being the highest of his career.

The loss of Vincent Jackson can explain the previous paragraph. Meachem's first catch against the Raiders remains the passing offense's only 40+ yard play, and the team ranks 20th in 20+ yard plays from the passing game as well. This can also, very easily, be blamed on an offensive line that is shaky at best and dangerous at worst. Even if the receivers were able to beat the defenders down field, Philip doesn't usually have enough time to wait for them to do so.

This isn't some grand change in philosophies from Norv Turner. He wants to throw the ball down the field. He wants big plays. He wants to pull defenses close with a strong running game and then attack where the Safeties aren't. Oh, right...the running game.

The running game hasn't been much better, but that's mostly due to Ryan Mathews missing the first 2 games of the season. The Chargers are 17th in rushing yards through 3 weeks, but against the Falcons they had more yards on the ground (119) than they had in the previous two games combined (83). As long as Mathews can get a handle on the fumbling issues that reared their ugly head against Atlanta, the running game should figure itself out and help the passing game as well.

I honestly think the key to everything...and trust me, I hate saying this...is Jared Gaither. Make no mistake about it, work ethic aside, Gaither has Pro Bowl talent at Left Tackle and showed it in the final 5 games of the 2011 season. After practicing yesterday, there's hope that he'll be back this Sunday or, at the latest, next Sunday. His presence would mean wonders for the running game, which currently struggles to run to the left side behind Mike Harris, and the passing game, because he actually has the ability to handle top-flight pass-rushers one-on-one.

The offensive identity will come along with health of Jared Gaither and Ryan Mathews. Now we just have to hope that both of those guys can stay healthy once they get healthy.

Defense

Here's the thing. All off season and preseason, we were told about the pass-rush. Look at all of these OLBs that have at least flashed starting potential at one point:

Barnes led the team in sacks last year, with respectable numbers, and he's either 4th or 5 on the depth chart now. Not to mention, Kendall Reyes and Cam Thomas make for 2 pass-rushers from the 3 D-line spots, which is something the Chargers haven't had since Luis Castillo was on his rookie contract. How could this pass-rush not be dominant?

Well, uhhh, through 3 weeks the team has just 5 sacks. They rank as the 22nd best pass-rushing team in the league. Johnson, Ingram and English are all waiting on their first sacks of the season and we're about the hit the quarter pole. So, a dominant pass-rush isn't the identity of the defense, and that really stinks because the Cornerbacks really aren't good enough to be worth a damn without at least an average pass-rush.

What the defense has been is dominant against the run. They've faced a healthy Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson and Michael Turner, and yet they're 4th in the league in rushing yards allowed and 9th in the league in rushing yards allowed per carry. Jarret Johnson, Aubrayo Franklin and Corey Liuget were apparently all it took to solidify the front seven against the run, and guys like Donald Butler, Takeo Spikes, Eric Weddle and Atari Bigby are doing their best to get to the ball-carrier before those three guys already have him down. It's been impressive.

So, is that the identity? A team that can stop the run, but can't stop the pass or rush the passer? We all saw how well that worked against a team that can throw the ball in Week 3. The Chiefs might not be that, so that could work for another week, but John Pagano will have to figure out how to get more out of his OLBs before facing Drew Brees and Peyton Manning in the next two games.
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