We began yesterday with a look at San Diego’s defense, so today we’ll take a quick glance at their offense…
There are a lot of nice things you can say about San Diego’s offense. In 2010 they had the #1 total offense, #2 passing offense and #1 scoring offense in the NFL. They have one of the best young QBs in the NFL in Philip Rivers, they have the best pass-catching and field-stretching TE in the NFL in Antonio Gates and they have a beast of a WR in Vincent Jackson.
So instead of going on a 6-paragraph rant about how well San Diego’s offense has performed in recent seasons and how their continuity will give them an advantage over most teams because of the lockout this past offseason, let’s simply look at each position grouping, breakdown some of the key personnel and then talk about what the Vikings can try to do to hold this explosive offense at bay.
Quarterback: The NFL is a QB-driven league and San Diego is often times in the driver’s seat because they have Philip Rivers. In 5 seasons where he’s played in 16 games, Rivers has never had a completion percentage below 60.2%, he’s never had more than 15 INTs and he’s thrown 135 TDs. Last year, Rivers was #1 in the NFL in passing yards and #2 in both passer rating and TD passes. He’s an elite QB and a legitimate MVP candidate in 2011.
Running Back: For nine seasons the Chargers had the luxury of an every-down, every-week starting RB in LaDainian Tomlinson. But that changed in 2010, as Tomlinson left via free agency and the team transitioned to more of a dual-RB approach. The Chargers traded up into the middle of the 1st round to select Ryan Mathews and they also enlisted the help of Mike Tolbert to be a goal line and 3rd-down specialist. Their FB is Jacob Hester and he can also be a threat on offense.
Offensive Line: The Chargers are solid on the left side of their offensive line, with 2-time Pro Bowler Marcus McNeil at left tackle and 4-time Pro Bowler Kris Dielman at LG. Nick Hardwick, a Pro Bowler himself, is also solid for San Diego at C. On the right side, though, there might be a couple of question marks. Louis Vasquez starts at RG and Jeromey Clary starts at RT. Vasquez was a 3rd-round pick in 2009 and Clary was a 6th-round pick in 2006, and while we’ve categorized them as “question marks,” that doesn’t mean they won’t play well. If the Vikings were to try and expose a spot on the offensive line, though, it’s reasonable to guess that their right side is the place to start.
Tight End: From a pass-catching production standpoint, Antonio Gates is as good as it gets. Having Gates on the field is basically the same as having another WR with which to contend. In recent seasons he’s been dealing with injury, but right now he’s healthy and ready to go. I’m not sure how the Vikings plan to defend Gates, but you can be sure it’s something they’ve discussed at length ever since preparations for this game began. Behind Gates, San Diego has Randy McMichael and Kory Sperry.
Wide Receiver: The star of this group is Vincent Jackson, who measures in at 6-5, 230 pounds and is a beast to defend. He has good speed and is excellent at going up and over defenders to make the catch. Last season he played in just 5 games, but in the 2 season prior to that he had 127 receptions for 2,265 receiving yards and 16 TDs. After Jackson, San Diego features Malcom Floyd, who is another 6-5 receiver with a wide catch radius who poses problems for most NFL CBs trying to cover him. If you include Gates in this group, the Chargers top 3 pass-catchers are 6-4, 260 pounds (Gates), 6-5, 230 pounds (Jackson) and 6-5, 220 pounds (Floyd).
Defending the Chargers: Not many teams have figured out how to defend the Chargers lately, and I’m not sure what the Vikings plan to do this week. But I’d like to see the Vikings get a touch more aggressive than usual, very much like the way they attacked Eagles QB Michael Vick late last season. Rivers is an elite passer and he’s most likely going to find a way to beat any defense. With that being the case, why not go after him? A lot of times when teams go up against formidable offenses, they try and design ways to contain that offense. I’d like to see the Vikings make the Chargers find a way to cover up blitzers and pressures, rather than having San Diego force the Vikings hand. Coaches talk a lot about setting the tempo in games; I’d like to see the Vikings defense set the tempo when Rivers and Co. take the field.
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