BFTB has been high on Ladarius Green for some time now, and with his recent explosion in the San Diego Chargers offense, everyone will soon know how special this young player is. The problem, however, is with his mentor and superior, Antonio Gates. The future Hall of Famer has slowed down significantly in recent weeks.
Just how much? Ponder on these stats:
- Through the first four games, Gates accumulated 25 receptions for 364 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- Through the next four games his stats were 23 receptions for 186 yards and no touchdowns.
- Through the last four games his stats were 16 receptions for 176 yards and 1 touchdown.
Now, we aren't blind. Teams still have tremendous respect for him, since they routinely, and sometimes constantly double team him or place a superior defender on him to limit his impact in the game, opening the way for other receivers to flourish, so he clearly isn't useless. But his open field speed and athleticism is no longer enough to regularly beat defensive backs, even if he still punishes linebackers with his still capable physical talent.
Ladarius Green, however, looks like the same or similar athletic freak that Gates was in his prime, but faster. In the last 3 games, he's had 9 receptions for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns, which is more than he had in his first 6 games this season combined. No doubt he's become a real weapon on offense.
With that, we introduce the following question:
Is it time to limit Antonio Gates' playing time?
First up, our Fearless Leader
In reality, it's time for a mysterious injury. Or, I guess if I was being conservative, it's one week away from being time for a mysterious injury.
Mysterious injuries are great. Randomly, when it's time to see what the new kid has got, the team doctors say Gates is injured and needs to be put on IR with something that can't be unproven (muscle injury). The benefit is that Gates isn't playing in meaningless games and there are no stories being written about Gates getting old and losing playing time, just stories about how this is a great opportunity for Ladarius Green.
That would give Gates some extra rest (I'm still pretty sure he'll be back next season), keep him away from getting hurt in a meaningless game, keep him from being embarrassed and would let everyone get a good look at Green as a starting TE. I'd much rather that than simply putting Gates on the sideline. That scenario has catastrophe written all over it.
I like this idea, except for the fact that it would leave only Green and John Phillips as the tight ends. John Phillips is terrible. I don't want him taking Gates' snaps. For that reason, I think Gates and Green will be deployed constantly, like they were against Cincinnati.
A few things: Gates is roughly the same player in 2013 as he was in 2012 statistically. According to conventional stats his production isn't too different - more yards, but less red-zone looks on nearly identical YPC - and according to PFF he is basically the same slightly-below-average player. I don't think there's an apparent downturn this season, but rather a clear dropoff after 2011.
Also, is it time to reduce Gates's playing time or is it time to increase Ladarius's? They may seem dependent on one another, but I would much rather see Vincent Brown lose snaps (rather than Antonio) if we're trying to field the best team possible. But if we're trying to keep our best players from having a catastrophic late-season injury that could affect 2014, then bench Green, NOT Antonio; Green is the best TE on our roster at this point.
This one gets my vote. Sadly, Vincent Brown has flopped. I'd like to see anyone in his place, really. But let's not bench Green, he needs more game action to develop.
I agree with Marver, an increase in Green's playing time has to come from somewhere, but it doesn't need to come from the #1 TE's playing time. I've said a few times, and will continue to say, I'd love to see more 22 personnel groups. This accentuates the talent on this team right now by putting the top 5 skill players on the field in Mathews, Woodhead, Gates, Green, and Allen. The possibilities are endless, and whichever route the defense chooses to defend that personnel package, there is a formation to counter it.
If the defense brings out the Nickel package, bring the TE's in, motion Woodhead to the flat (draws a LB/S out of the middle) and run it up the gut. If the defense brings in heavier or base personnel to stop the run, spread out Woodhead, Gates, and Green, and enjoy the matchups. Obviously its not that simple...but it really is.
To get back to the question at hand, while Gates may not be in his prime, he's still one of the top 5 skill players on this offense, and he has a place. He still gets the attention of DC's and many times this season has received bracket coverage, which opens up his teammates. Unless he has nagging injuries and would do well to rest for next season, I'd hate for the team to force him into hanging up his cleats for the rest of this season.
I just thought about the 22 package and it was awesome! Literally spent an hour daydreaming about it wrecking opposing defenses ... if only they listened to us.
I'm also of the opinion that Gates doesn't have to see his snaps reduced in order to accommodate Green. However, it doesn't mean that Gates needs to remain the primary read on as many plays, especially if he's been struggling with his matchup that week. I think Rivers is used to having Gates as his safety blanket, with Gates winning all of his one on one matchups when presented an opportunity. But that hasn't been the case this year, and (anecdotally) it seems as though Rivers gets too locked into Gates at times.
I think that the best personnel group likely has both Green and Gates. In my opinion, it would be more valuable for Green to play alongside Gates while he can, as opposed to resting/benching a healthy Gates.
Can't argue with any of that.
One thing I admired about the Walsh / DeBartolo run 49ers of the 80's and early 90's was their recognition of the declining skills of an aging player and willingness to cut ties with him. Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, even Joe Montana were shown the door late in their careers and those guys finished up their careers with an average season or three with teams other than the 49ers. Here is Bolt-land, things are done a little different.
Players like Sproles, Rodney Harrison, or Drayton Florence are allowed to walk with plenty of good football left in them and go on to have great seasons for other teams. There is no danger of that happening with Gates at this point. I somewhat agree with the observation that Green is the best TE on the team; he is the best playmaking TE on the roster, but I am not sure if his blocking is where Gates is at this point, and Gates has not been considered an elite blocking TE. I also agree with the thought that Gates remains one of the best 5 skill position players on the roster, which is why he has the mystery injury THIS WEEK. The only thing wins do for this team at this point is worsen the draft position next May. This team needs to win just one more game this year; the next to last game of the season.
So Bob's in favor of reducing Gates as well. I must say I'm surprised. Also surprised that Nick has given us a short response this time.
What's the objective? Is it to win games or win Super Bowls? If it's the latter, give Gates the rest of the year off. McCoy said last week he and Rivers could complete passes "with a blindfold." That's great and all, but it doesn't help the team win. With playoff contention out of the realm of realistic possibility, there's no need for Gates to play. Instead, the team should work on getting Green and Rivers to blindfold level.
I like the idea of Green and Rivers building together, but still not on board with shutting down Gates. Still need him. He's still better than half the NFL's tight ends.
But what do you think, BFTB? Should Antonio Gates keep playing? Whose opinion do you agree with most? Leave your comments below.