Write a post about Philip Rivers needing to have a good year, receive scorn. I knew that was going to happen. What I want to know is why the reactions to Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have been so different this offseason.
Just about every time Gates has been brought up, the common thought is that he's on the decline and needs to be replaced some time soon. So, why is Antonio viewed as a player on the decline when Rivers is given excuses about the offensive line?
The Offensive Line
The offensive line's poor play should have just as much effect on Antonio Gates as it does on Philip Rivers, shouldn't it? Less time for the QB to throw means a few things for the team's Tight End:
- Opposing defenses can use Safeties to double-team Gates without concern about leaving the back-end of the defense wide open, because Cornerbacks can stay with Wide Receivers for a couple of seconds and that's all the time Rivers is going to get.
- The double-teaming also eliminated Gates' favorite play: "Find the soft spot in the zone defense, then turn around and wait for Rivers to see that you're open." It also eliminated any chance of him being the "check-down" receiver.
- Antonio's not the world's fastest Tight End, but he runs smooth routes, makes good choices and has great ball skills. Unfortunately, the lack of speed means that his patented post pattern down the middle of the field didn't have enough time to actually develop/work in 2012.
- When Rivers did throw his way, he was usually on the run and the passes were less accurate. This eliminated some of the YAC that Gates would normally pick up and eliminated his chances of actually catching some of those passes.
Those that have given up on Gates returning to form often cite his health, specifically the health of his feet, as the main reason to have no hope.
Antonio Gates played in 15 games last year. 15! Out of 16! He missed the 2nd game of the season and didn't miss another game after that. The year before he missed games 3, 4 and 5 and played the rest of the season. He misses about as much time as Heath Miller, who was a Pro Bowler and Steelers' team MVP in 2012.
Is he a little slower? I don't know. Gates always looked pretty slow to me. Is he less effective? Well, that's hard to tell because his QB has also been less effective. Kind of hard to be a successful receiver without a offensive line or a decent QB. Just ask Randy Moss about his time in Oakland.
Antonio Gates is 32 years old. He will turn 33 years in about two weeks. He has been playing organized football (at a college level or higher) for 10 years.
Tony Gonzalez is 36 years old. He has been playing organized football (at a college level or higher) for 19 years. He has made the Pro Bowl in each of his last 3 seasons.
Moving Down the Depth Chart
This is what has elongated Tony G's career in Atlanta. He went from being the #1 option in Kansas City's offense to now being the 3rd or 4th option for the Falcons. It's limited the amount of hits he's taken, eliminated double-teams on him and generally opened up the field for him to take what the defense is giving him. This is what Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt need to do with Gates.
All signs point to this passing attack to be much different than it was under Norv Turner. Norv believed in 2 WRs and 2 RBs on many of his passing plays, trying to simplify the look so that defenses could not guess what was coming. It would appear that McCoy and Whisenhunt intend to spread things out more, with 3, 4 and 5 receiver sets. The team is loaded with talented WRs, which means they can slide Gates from the team's #1 option to the team's 3rd or 4th option. That'll allow him to stay healthy and increase his productivity on balls thrown his way.
Don't Doubt Gates
I wasn't doubting Philip Rivers when I wrote about his need for a good year in 2013. I don't doubt that Antonio Gates will have a big year either, and he needs one just as badly as El Capitan. Just because one of those two guys has had an injury that he's had to play through the last few seasons doesn't mean he's any more likely to be on a steep decline.