While we were expecting the Chargers to have a so-so season, this loss against the Falcons is still a bit of a downer. We had predicted a 7-9 record in 2012, but maybe the two wins to start off the season made us let our guard down a little bit. We tried to dampen our expectations, tried to remind ourselves that the Raiders and the Titans were awful teams, and that wins against them didn’t mean much, but maybe we got carried away. We thought that even though the Falcons were undefeated and impressive so far, maybe the short week and the trip out West might play to our advantage.
This game had many of the elements which worried us this summer and during training camp. The offensive line struggled to keep Philip Rivers upright, he was constantly hurried and hit. Philip still doesn’t have a connection with his new receivers, certainly not as good as the one he enjoyed with Vincent Jackson. His only reliable option is Malcom Floyd. Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem are not yet in sync with the new offence.
The John Pagano defence seemed promising during training camp, what with new, more athletic players and draft picks. As with every new Defensive Coordinator ever appointed, he promised us a swarming blitzing spectacular defence, one that we get off the field on third downs, a specific weakness of last year’s unit. While this was in evidence against the clueless Raiders and the neutered Titans who struggled without a productive Chris Johnson, the defence seemed overmatched against the powerhouse Falcons. We may agree that the Falcons are a stern test for most teams, but if the Chargers are to compete, heck, if they are to prove me wrong and win the division and/or make the playoffs, they need to be effective against productive offences.
Ryan Matthews played his first game of the season, and was effective running the ball at first, showing speed, quickness and change of direction ability, as well as power. Unfortunately, his old bugaboo resurfaced when he fumbled the ball near the Falcons goal line, killing a drive and any chance the Chargers might have had. We can be lenient in that he was thrown in the fire of regular season competition without a training camp and is barely recovered from a collar bone fracture, but the fumble was another manifestation of his problem hanging onto the ball. Again, he failed to protect it as he was going to the turf.
This is not new. Ryan says all the right things about working on ball security, but we get the sense that he lacks the mental tenacity and awareness to effectively deal with this problem. It’s sometimes difficult to analyze these issues properly strictly from viewing games on TV and by reading reports online, but a lot of red flags seem to be popping up: showing up out of shape last training camp, his problems picking up the playbook and pass protection, his traffic collision recently.
A.J. Smith was pointed when asked to comment on Ryan Matthews’ fumbling problems. He explained that players whose fumble regularly go through a three-stage process, the third of which is that they become a fumbler on someone else’s team. Pretty harsh, but a good indication of a growing concern and impatience regarding the young running back. Norv Turner also touched on the issue, explaining that Ryan would get more limited touches in specific situations, meaning he wasn’t going to get the ball when the game was close or near a goal line, which severely limits his effectiveness and value to the team. And to this fantasy football owner who was to really happy to scoop him up on waivers early this season.