RB Ryan Mathews (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
The San Diego Chargers are working without a lot of players who were critical to their success last year. It didn't matter in the preseason opener on Saturday, as the fill-ins found a way to stand out. Here's a look at what worked, what didn't and what's next after the 25-10 victory over the Chicago Bears.
--It didn't take rookie RB Ryan Mathews long to prove he can shoulder a vastly improved running game. The first-round pick from Fresno State played the first half of Saturday's game and finished with nine carries for 50 yards (5.55. ypc). He also added two catches for 11 yards. One-third of Mathews' rushing attempts went for 8 yards or more, including a long of 18.
--If Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill watched the game from home, they saw they are not as irreplaceable as they'd like to believe. San Diego's first scoring drive was kept alive when Philip Rivers found Buster Davis for a 22-yard gain on third-and-10. Two plays later, Rivers hit Legedu Naanee with a 28-yard scoring strike.
San Diego only gave up one sack, which came from former Charger Nick Roach in the third quarter. McNeill's replacements, Brandyn Dombrowski and Tyronne Green, combined to shut out Chicago's big offseason pickup, DE Julius Peppers.
--The defensive line looked impressive and controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish. The Bears averaged just 2.3 ypc and yielded six sacks. NT Cam Thomas led the unit with three tackles. He also collapsed the pocket on the third-quarter play that ended with Paul Oliver's interception.
--A handful of rookies put the "special" back in special teams. LB Brandon Lang blocked a punt that rolled out of the end zone for a safety. WRs Richard Goodman (51) and Jeremy Williams (35) both contributed long kickoff returns. Goodman even chipped in a couple tackles on the coverage units.
--The most obvious problem was the penalties. The Chargers were penalized 10 times, nine in the first half, costing the team 81 yards. RT Jeromey Clary caused more laundry to fly than anyone else, committing three false starts, including two on consecutive snaps in the first quarter. DT Travis Johnson also had a dumb penalty when a late hit turned a third-and-13 into a new set of downs for the Bears. Johnson redeemed himself a bit by forcing a fumble just one play later, although Chicago recovered the ball.
--San Diego had 13 players catch passes against the Bears; Malcom Floyd was not one of them. Although the first-string offense was on the field for just two series, it is important to get Floyd going as he prepares for his first season as a No. 1 receiver.
--Rookie QB Jonathan Crompton continues to struggle. After throwing dozens of interceptions during the first couple weeks of training camp, he tossed another one on Saturday when his pass for Seyi Ajirotutu sailed into the arms of SS Al Afalava. Watching Crompton at this point is reminiscent of watching Ryan Leaf -- just hold your breath and wait for something bad to happen.
The team goes back to work at Chargers Park, although the practices will no longer be open to the public. Fans won't have to wait long to see the Chargers in action again, though, as San Diego will host the Dallas Cowboys Saturday at 6 p.m. (PT). The Cowboys, along with national media attention, bring with them former Chargers Igor Olshansky and Cletis Gordon, not to mention Coach Wade Phillips.
What are your observations from the Bears game? Discuss in the message boards.
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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.