Neal shows backs the light

The San Diego Chargers player scheduled for analysis this week was Vincent Jackson, but his contributions were limited to special teams and run blocking. For that reason, we'll make like the Chargers on opening day and call a reverse. Instead, we will look at the player who had arguably the greatest impact in Monday's outcome – fullback Lorenzo Neal.

Neal's statistical impact was not much more profound than Jackson's, as Neal had but three carries for six yards. What was so impressive about the 35-year-old fullback's performance was his consistently devastating blocking. He tracked down younger and faster linebackers on every running play and blew one up each time.

His dominating play allowed the Chargers to properly execute their run-oriented attack. The team ran the ball on 48 of 59 offensive plays.

LaDainian Tomlinson, the primary beneficiary of Neal's efforts, explained the methodology as follows: "We just ran the ball, even on third down, because you don't want to put a young quarterback in a situation where you get a turnover."

The Chargers ran well and often in Oakland. Tomlinson and Michael Turner combined for 168 yards, giving the Raiders few chances to get after Philip Rivers. And when Rivers did drop back to pass, Neal was there, too. Having both Neal and 288-lb. tight end Brandon Manumaleuna on the field at the same time is like having seven offensive linemen pass blocking. As a result, Rivers was never sacked and completed over 72 percent of his passes, just as Coach Marty Schottenheimer drew it up.

"It is considerably more enjoyable to throw the ball only when you choose to throw the ball," Schottenheimer said.

It takes a fullback like Neal to make such an offense work. He has led the way for nine consecutive thousand-yard rushers, and played against the Raiders as if he's intent on running that streak to double digits.

Neal is an enabler; he makes it possible for the stars to shine like they do. Despite the fact that he started in last season's Pro Bowl, his name is still often times skipped over when people mention the Chargers marquee talent. Count the Raiders among those who are now in the know about just how dominating Neal can be.

Next week we will analyze the performance of rookie first-round pick Antonio Cromartie. Hopefully, he will cooperate more than Jackson did and actually make his presence felt on game day. Given that he will be tracking down passes thrown by fellow rookie Vince Young and the always inconsistent Kerry Collins, Cromartie should every opportunity to make his first career interception in the Chargers home opener.


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