However, as LT and Gates have returned to health, it has become clear the shift in San Diego's offensive identity was not due to their injuries alone. Coach Norv Turner has always constructed his offensive attack around his best player and that person is no longer LT or Gates -- it's Philip Rivers.
The Chargers now prefer to attack outside the hashes, where Rivers can work the sidelines with deep-outs and comebacks. It makes sense given the personnel the Chargers have at receiver. Skyscrapers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd are tall enough that Rivers can put the ball where only they can catch it, while Chris Chambers is Chris Carter-esque along the sidelines.
LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates
Less time with the ball means less touches for San Diego's supposed superstars. Tomlinson is on pace to finish with less than 300 carries for the first time in his career while Gates is averaging less than four catches per game for the first time since his rookie season back in 2003.
Of course, one man's loss is another man's gain. Vincent Jackson is on pace to top 1,000 yards for the first time in his career; Malcom Floyd has already set career-highs in receptions (16) and yards (320); and Chris Chambers was averaging a touchdown per game before an ankle injury broke his stride in Week 5.
Perhaps no player signifies the decline of LT and Gates more than H-back Brandon Manumaleuna. Manumaleuna has handled much of the team's lead blocking this season as the Chargers are working without a pure bulldozing escort for Tomlinson for the first time ever (Fred McCrary handled the role from 2001-2002 before Lorenzo Neal came onboard in 2003).
Despite spending much time at fullback, Manumaleuna still finished Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts with more receiving yards than Gates (29 to 28).
The Chargers were destined to make the switch to a pass-first attack. Rivers, who at 26 years old leads the NFL in passer rating, will be a star in the league for another 10 years. Tomlinson, 29, probably has no more than three years left as a featured back.
However, coming on the heels of consecutive rushing titles by Tomlinson, no one expected this transition in offensive philosophy to take place so soon. As evidenced by the team's 4-7 record, the change remains a work in progress.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.