Sunday, 16 September 2012

NFL Week 2: Chargers 38, Titans 10

Okay, let's get the elephant in the room discussed and out of the way: those white uniforms on the Chargers today were jarring (I first wrote shocking, but didn't want to be accused of committing a pun).  They were awful.

I haven't been on board with the white helmets to begin with, ever since they were introduced, and all the footage we've seen in the last few months of Junior rampaging on the field reminds me how much better the electric blue helmets were.  The  players looked more intimidating with these on.  I wonder if the 'finesse' team reputation the Chargers have derives in part from the white helmets our team has been sporting lately.

Today, the team went all white, and asked the fans to wear white as well to replicate the Winnipeg Jets' whiteout tradition. Was it a transparent attempt to sell white jerseys to fans who normally rely on their electric blue or powder blue jerseys?  Another reason given was to keep the players from overheating while San Diego is embroiled in a heat wave, it was thought the white uniforms would keep our team cooler.  I'll allow the point, although I wonder if the yellow pants would have been materially warmer.  They certainly would have been less transparent.  Yikes.  It's a purely academic point however, since the only allowable colours this year are white and blue for pants, and white, blue and powder blue for the jerseys.

In any case, the Chargers have some of the best, most iconic uniforms in the NFL.  We don't need to reinvent the wheel.  We're not the Oregon Ducks or the Seattle Seahawks.  Let's bring back the yellow pants, and use the powder blue more.  Just 'cause.

Today's game was refreshing for Chargers fans, in that it confirmed some positives we suspected, and countered some negative assumptions we have, at least for one week.  The offensive line was effective, in that Kamerion Wimbley didn't maul Mike Harris, and didn't hospitalize Philip Rivers as he nearly did last season.  While Mr. Harris isn't an ideal solution at left tackle, when we well remember Marcus McNeill's excellence at that position, his play offered some encouraging signs.  He got flagged on at least one occasion, but he never gave up, tried hard, and seemed to get better as the game progressed, especially when the Chargers were running the ball right at the Titans to close out the game.  In fact the whole offensive line seemed to enjoy pounding on the Titans defence at that point, and they in turn didn't seem to want to play anymore.  It wasn't quite like the old days with Marcus and Kris Dielman blowing holes open for LT, but it was good to see an effective run game to wind down the clock.

The running backs played well.  The intent at training camp was to have a panoply of RB's with complementary skills.  Sure, Ryan Mathews would get the lion's share of the carries, but we'd have ways to use Ronnie Brown, Le'Ron McClain and even Jackie Battle in certain situations, we thought.  Today, they showed they can contribute, and are not useless as we were beginning to fear after four pre-season games and last week's dud at Oakland.  Curtis Brinkley showed a little more than Ronnie Brown did last week, and may have wrapped up the unofficial #2 spot behind Ryan, and we can only hope he continues to improve.

We also had hopes that the four tight ends would all contribute to the offence as well as on special teams.  They could be deployed in two TE formations and cause headaches for defences.  We saw today that Dante Rosario can chip in quite well, that Randy McMichael is trustworthy as ever in the run and passing game, and Ladarius Green's first NFL reception, with an impressive bit of running after the catch.  As such, this made the absence of Antonio Gates seem academic.  We can hope that he will be recovered fully by next week, and that his presence on the roster doesn't preclude the other guys being effective.

The defence also solidified our early impression that they'd be more athletic and effective than the last couple of seasons.  The front seven limited Chris Johnson, a guy who has killed us in the past, to pedestrian numbers.  Shaun Phillips seems re-energized after a difficult season last year.  Donald Butler is an early-season revelation, after a rookie season on IR and a promising sophomore season all things considered.  He's not just a solid run-stuffer, he shows athleticism and runs sideline to sideline.  Eric Weddle came up with another interception.

While the Titans may turn out to be one of the weakest teams in the league this year, it was good that the Chargers didn't play down to their level, and executed in all three phases of the game.  We saw the coaching staff reacting to game situations, with play calls capitalizing on the Titans failure to cover Dante Rosario, and inserting Jackie Battle to see what he could do and keeping the big back rolling when he showed effectiveness.  They kept at the running game and got some positive results.  Even Norv got into the act, working the refs and trying to gain an edge for his team.

Finally, for this viewer, the most hopeful sign was the steady play of Philip Rivers.  He didn't force any balls, he didn't have happy feet, he didn't melt down when there was pressure.  He was the steady reliable QB we've come to know in the past few seasons, at least before the blip of last season and the worrisome training camp this August.  His one interception came on a third-and-10 longshot attempt to Malcom Floyd, and served as a shortish punt if anything, it certainly wasn't a disaster.

So a good win to put into the bank, in a game that was a 'should-win' home game.  It's the first time the Chargers have been 2-0 since 2006, and it's great to have put away weak sisters before we hit a stretch of four games against tough NFC South teams and Divisional opponents.

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