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Preview of a Bolts Ground Game?
Ryan Mathews went airborne.
The running back leapt over two advancing defensive tackles and pirouetted in midair to brace for contact. When only the ground touched him, he climbed back to his feet to fight for more yards before two defenders forced him down.
That nine-yard gain -- and the cheers that followed – could be a sign of things to come. Chargers fans will keep cheering if the team continues its running approach put on display during Thursday night’s preseason opener.
It was plain to see that the Chargers don’t want to be the same team that finished 27th in the league in rushing in 2012. Mathews carried the ball only three times, but each one was between the tackles. The end result? 19 yards on just three carries – good for a 6.3 yard-per-carry average.
"The linemen did a good job up front," said Mathews. "All I had to do was get right behind them. It’s a learning process.”
Tonight’s refresher course lasted much longer than Mathews’ three carries, though. The Chargers continued to pound the rock, netting 74 yards on 29 team attempts.
In just the second quarter alone, first-year back Fozzy Whittaker had nine carries. The most impressive: a thirteen-yard gain that went right between the tackles.
Another Whittaker carry showcased his patience. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst gave the former Texas Longhorn the ball on a reverse pivot handoff -- a slow-developing running play by nature. When it seemed that the pursuit would catch Whittaker, he covered the ball with both hands, dipped behind right tackle Mike Harris, and gained nine tough yards.
That kind of patience is exactly what this rushing attack needs. For Philip Rivers and the entire passing offense to succeed, it'll require the kind of balance it sorely missed in 2012. That means handing the ball off early and sticking with it throughout the whole game.Fifty-six percent of the Chargers' plays last season ended up with Rivers dropping back to pass. So for the sake of the offense, Rivers is hoping that ratio significantly dips this year.
"It’s no secret we need to run the ball," said Rivers. "We had a good balance of everything tonight and that certainly helps."
Rivers and the Chargers’ passing game can thrive when opponents start respecting that ground-and-pound approach. Both Mathews and Whitaker can help there too -- they both took snaps lined up at wide receiver. The running game will boast skilled pass-catcher Danny Woodhead to boot.
It all starts with a power running game, though. Just look at tonight’s opponent, the Seattle Seahawks. They made it to the NFC Divisional round on the strength of a passing game building off the powerful running game of All-Pro Marshawn Lynch.
The Chargers want that same kind of attack throughout 2013.
"It was a nice blend,” said Nick Hardwick. “We had good balance and we got into a nice rhythm. We look forward to more of that. Whatever coach calls we don’t care if it’s a run or a pass, we’re going to execute it and keep the tempo high.”