I didn't think it would come to this, but I understand the fear. Two Pro Bowlers might not have much of an impact on the team this year. They might watch the first 10 weeks of the regular season from home, on the couch. Hell, if we're lucky they might watch those games and chat along with us in our Open Threads. I know why this is making people nervous/crazy, and I'm here to tell you it shouldn't.
I'm big on using the past to predict the future. Most stat-geeks are. So after the break, I'm going to use example after example of things that have already happened to talk you off the ledge and show you that the 2010 San Diego Chargers will be just fine without their star WR or LT.
Marques is a player that's similar to Vincent Jackson in a lot of ways. Both players rely heavily on their size and their ability to win jump-balls. Both players are the #1 receivers in high-powered offenses. If you take away his 3 catch 2005 season, they've played in the NFL for roughly the same amount of time.
So why am I bringing up Colston? Because he missed some time last year. 5 games, to be exact. Let's do some number-crunching...
Points Per Game (with Colston): 28.6 (6-5 record)
Points Per Game (without Colston): 29.6 (2-3 record)
Not much of a difference there. If anything, the team did better without Colston because their offense became slightly less predictable and more creative. And wouldn't you know it, the 2008 Saints' offense (1st in PPG, 1st in YPG, 1st in YPP) were every bit as good as the 2009 Saints offense (1st in PPG, 1st in YPG, tied for 1st in YPP) even though they lost their "star WR" for 1/3 of the season.
My personal philosophy as to why Colston's absence had little to no affect on the Saints is simple. I think a great offensive coach (Sean Payton) and a great QB (Drew Brees) can make any offense work. They can get creative, get new players involved, and keep the chains moving. Peyton Manning and his heralded offense loses 2 of his top 3 WRs from the previous season (Marin Harrison, Anthony Gonzalez) and doesn't miss a beat. Tom Brady turns WRs into stars and they leave to become busts (Deion Branch). As long as the plays are being called by Norv Turner and executed by Philip Rivers, I have no fear.
Do you know which two very-mobile QBs seem to be towards the top of the list every year in terms of how many times they've been sacked? Take a guess.
That's right! Donovan McNabb and David Garrard. These guys have a history of never giving up on a play, running around until somebody gets open, and that not only puts an incredible strain on the offensive line but also ends up inflating the sack figures. For this reason alone, it's somewhat difficult to judge Tra Thomas. This is what I'm talking about.
David Garrard (2008): 42 sacks
David Garrard (2009): 42 sacks
Seriously? How can you tell me that Tra Thomas has been a failure? The issue here is that the QB holds onto the ball until he either throws a pass or gets hit. There is no throwing the ball away. There is no trying to lead the receiver downfield. Nobody open? I'll stand here until somebody is! If I were a Jags fan, Garrad would drive me nuts. If I were a LT, I'd probably hate him a little bit.
Donovan McNabb (2008): 23 sacks
Donovan McNabb (2009): 35 sacks
So the Eagles got rid of the "aging" Thomas because he was giving up too many sacks, replacing him with Jason Peters, and ended up getting their QB hit 12 more times. Well done.
I happen to think Tra Thomas is a good LT. I don't know how healthy he can stay, but he always struck me as a smart player with good feet. I'd love to say "with Rivers, it doesn't matter", but it does a little. It would help if the LT is competent. Between Thomas and Brandyn Dombrowski, I think the Chargers will end up with at least a competent LT and that will be fine.
(Don't get all excited, but the grand return of X's & O's may be coming back some time soon to analyze Tra Thomas in detail)
Looking Into the Mirror
Quick fact about the San Diego Chargers offense for you. This team has been in the top 5 in points scored per game since 2004. 2004! That's 6 consecutive seasons of being one of the 5 best-producing offenses in the league. Do you know how many of those seasons Vincent Jackson has been a starting WR? 3. Half of them. And the offense has not necessarily gotten better over the years.
The Bolts have scored over 400 points in each of the last 6 seasons. The year they scored the most, unsurprisingly, was 2006 when LaDainian Tomlinson broke the record for the most TDs scored in a season. Anyone want to guess the two starting WRs on that team? If you guessed Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker, you win. Give yourself a pat on the back. So, you see? A team can survive, and flourish, without a stud WR there to make one or two big plays a game.
Oh, but what about Left Tackle? Surely, with the drop-off from Marcus McNeill to Tra Thomas or Brandyn Dombrowski, the offense will surely die! Well Big Mac has only been a part of 4 of these fantastic offensive seasons. Who the heck manned the spot before him?
Well, big Roman Oben did a fine job as the starter in 2004 before losing the starting job to nearly-forgotten Leander Jordan who held the spot through most of 2005. Drew Brees, who has always had more issues than Rivers because he can't really see over the top of his offensive linemen, did a fantastic job of avoiding pressure and throwing quick passes when necessary. I don't think it's a ridiculous notion to expect Phil to do the same.
So you see, there's absolutely nothing to worry about. This is not only chartered territory, this is chartered territory for this team and this QB. Norv Turner has proven himself to be one of the best Offensive Coordinators in the history of the NFL, so expecting good play-calling from him is not difficult. Philip Rivers has proven himself to be one of the best Quarterbacks in the league, so expecting him to play well is not difficult. The score hasn't changed. This is still a great offense and one that can be made better by the mere presence of Ryan Mathews. The sky is not falling after all.