The Good, the Bad and the Uncertain

The San Diego Chargers won 24-3 on Friday night and some things were decided while other things have left fans wondering what the season will bring and if it will come back to haunt us. Among the concerns are kickoffs, while the work of the second team defensive ends has fans anticipating constant pressure on the quarterback.

What Worked?

The work of the defensive ends. Otis Leverette and Omari Hand, two guys fighting each other for a chance to play have been red hot. Leverette led the defense in tackles with seven and his long arms are an asset in run defense. He is also getting pressure upfield and forcing the hand of the quarterbacks. Omari Hand has also been collapsing the pocket on Friday and he was the cause of a Ken Dorsey interception that was returned 96 yards for a touchdown by Drayton Florence.

Keeping penalties to a minimum. Four penalties for 50 yards. Not too shabby. A penalty by Courtney Van Buren cost the team a first down. A pass interference on Vernon Fox cost the team 31 yards but it did not cost them as the Niners ended up punting. A penalty on Omari Hand cost the team five yards that would not make much of a difference. Another penalty on Van Buren, a false start penalty, would not be the cause of a stopped drive. Considering only one penalty cost the Chargers, it was a fantastic day. It may be no coincidence the Chargers have won the last two games since limiting penalties, or it could be huge.

The rushing game. We all knew it would be good. 5.1 yards per carry good? That is what the Chargers averaged on 42 rushes Friday. Who cares that it came against the second and third team defenses. The Chargers had their own second team O-line in the game and even when the Niners knew a run was coming they could not stop it. A win is made by pounding it out in the fourth quarter and killing the clock. The Chargers did just that and were exceptional at it. Fourth down and short, no problem, the Bolts were 3-3 in such cases. Along the goalline, heck, even Joey Good speed got in on the action for a touchdown run.

What Didn't?

Mike Scifres kicking off. Mike kicked the ball off to the 10, 15, end zone, 18, and 4 yard line. One touchback in five attempts and if not for two Niners penalties, they would have started many drives past their own 40 yard line. Scifres was drafted for kickoffs first, punting second. He must master one before the other and his mastery of kickoffs will give the team flexibility with their field goal kicker and pinning the opponent deep will make them have to go that much further, a must for this young defense.

Drayton Florence tackling. Florence registered just one tackle on the day and had chances on a few others that he simply overpursued. Then there were other times that Florence got juked out of his shoes. It is not that much of surprise considering his straight line speed and kickoff returns that go straight, without cutbacks. It is however a concern in the secondary. Florence must see the difference between taking chances and going for the sure tackle, even if it means a couple extra yards gained. That could mean the difference between a five yard play and a thirty yard play.

This down efficiency. The Bolts may have won 24-3, but they only converted 3-13 third downs, a paltry 23% of the time. They missed on a third and two, three separate third and threes, a third and four, a third and six, two separate third and eights, a third and twelve, and a third and sixteen. Two of those they made on fourth down, but at least five of those were very makeable.

Up for Debate?

Picking up the blitz. Several times the running backs failed to pickup the blitz and it sent the Chargers quarterbacks scrambling. Luckily the Chargers quarterbacks managed to escape pressure and went down just two times for a total of six yards. It is always a concern for young backs, but the backs are not always responsible. Sometimes with stunts along the line, the center and guards failed to pick up the blitzer. Too many times Niners came in untouched. Second team units will eventually get their chance on the front line, and they must be prepared.

Field goals. Steve Christie missed a 44 yarder by 20 feet, wide left. Mackenzie Hoambrecker lost his chance to impress when he missed a 53 yarder left. It was a concern last season, and it is a concern this season. If Christie cannot kick 40+ yarders with some regularity, the Chargers will lose an extra 1-2 games. Deny it all you want, it is the truth. Christie and Hoambrecker both had the distance on their kicks, but it does not mean a whole lot if the ball goes wide.

The passing game. We all know the Chargers can run the ball. They have LT. What we don't know is if the playcalling this year will open up and the team will take more downfield chances. The addition of David Boston says we will, but fans have seen Marty Schottenheimer run offenses for the past 20+ years. With so many weapons, the team cannot afford to be one dimensional. Of course, why show your plays now, when the season starts next week.

Keep an eye on:

Antonio Gates. His progress is impressive. Gates has made the most progress of any player on the team. He may also have had the furthest to go. His blocking has made significant leaps and he is not getting beaten very often. His route running is crisp, and just when you think there is no one to throw the ball to, Gates is open 20 yards downfield. He may look slow, and maybe he is, but he bowls people over with his size and is becoming stronger daily at the point of attack. He will not last if the team puts him on the practice squad.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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