If the San Diego Chargers wanted to see how both sides of the ball would handle the run game this year, they got plenty of game film to look through after Thursday’s 27-7 Preseason opening win against the visiting Dallas Cowboys.
Early on, there was plenty to like and plenty to dislike while a budding star may have been born.
On the game’s first possession, the Cowboys dictated their will against the Chargers defensive line, running on 6 of the game’s first 8 plays and moving the ball to the Chargers 45-yard line. The drive stalled for Dallas due to penalties, but the inability to stop Cowboys 2nd year running back Joseph Randle, who gained 50 yards in the first half, was enough to make San Diego Head Coach Mike McCoy take notice.
"Defensively we gotta do a better job against the run, I think there is some things down there early on during the game, and throughout the game they ran the ball," McCoy said after the game. "But when it came down to 3rd down they did some things and got off the field, when they crossed the 50 not giving the points, the big stand at the end of the game. That’s impressive."
Offensively, the Chargers were dominant rushing the ball in the first half against mostly 1st and 2nd stringers. Take away one bad mistake on San Diego’s first possession and the Chargers probably couldn’t have scripted it better.
The Chargers opened the game with a 13-play 82- yard drive that saw 7 of those plays being touched by RB’s Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. The duo gained 54 of the 82 yards on the drive and were on the Cowboys 1-yard line when the drive came to an abrupt end.
Mathews took a handoff from the 3-yard line and attempted to leap into the end zone, but the ball was jarred loose and Dallas recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchback. Though Mathews had 19 yards rushing on the drive, it was the one he let slip through his hands that stood out. Quarterback Phillip Rivers, nonetheless still took some positives.
"I know Ryan was sick about it and I know he knows they can’t happen," Rivers said. "It would have been nice to finish that thing with a touchdown but it was a heck of a drive."
After that mishap, San Diego seemingly put that memory behind them. The Chargers ran the ball on 20 of their 27 offensive snaps for 111 rushing yards in the first half. New acquisition Donald Brown showed his toughness when he was given the ball. Brown ran for 22 yards on 3 carries routinely bouncing off defenders for extra yards.
But the talk of the game came once Brown’s day was over and Rookie Branden Oliver entered the game.
The undrafted rookie came in the second quarter and by half he had 64 yards on 7 carries including a 27 yard run after turning the left corner, and a 16 yard touchdown that he ran up the middle and finished by barrelling over a Dallas defender to fall into the end zone. Oliver’s breakout performance brought whispers of former Chargers running back Darren Sproles. Both players are small in stature and shifty when in trouble. They also have the #43 as their game day jersey.
And just like Sproles, Oliver made the most of his opportunities.
"Brandon was a player that caught our eye," coach McCoy said about Oliver. "The personnel department did a great job targeting him when we did get him. From the first day here you kinda had that, you could see that this player had the opportunity do some special things, he’s worked extreme hard and he’s made his share of mistakes through camp but kept on listening and what Ollie was preaching to everybody else in the room and made the most of his opportunities."
The Chargers running attack finished with 152 yards on the night on 42 carries, while the defense stiffened up after the first half, allowing 42 yards in the 3rd and 4th quarters. All in all, there was plenty of balls to go around for the running backs.
"All the backs ran it good," Rivers said. "When Donald got in there and he ran it good. It was good. It was a good start. A lot to still improve on. But certainly something we can build on with this start."
They have the game film to prove it.