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Chargers Offense Missing Usual Identity

Passing game is short on big plays

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    San Diego Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd celebrates his 42-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 29-24.

    San Diego Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd stood quietly at his locker, shedding piece after piece of football equipment after a long day of work.

    Maybe he meant it sincerely. Maybe he meant it sarcastically.

    Given his luck of late, his words Friday were probably a bit of both.

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    “It's a blessing to make it out of a day's practice healthy,” Floyd said.

    Floyd practiced for a third straight day in full, and the injury-maligned vertical weapon with a flare for the spectacular is on pace to return Monday night to face the Jacksonville Jaguars, adding big-play potential to an offense and team in great shortage.

    Sidelined the past four games with a hip injury, Floyd has watched a six-game skid that has seen it all: injuries to six of the top eight offensive linemen, including three for the season; a lot of giving away the ball — and at critical times — with little taking it back.

    But one overlooked aspect to this nearly lost campaign has been its absence of the big play.

    Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown just five passes this season for 40 yards or more, including one during the current losing streak. Among the league leaders, that ranks a pedestrian 16th, tied with the likes of Curtis Painter, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Cassel.

    Rivers led the NFL in the category last season, and entering the year, his 38 long gains since 2008 were fourth-most in the league.

    “I think I add a little more firepower,” said Floyd, who has missed 62.8 percent of the offense's snaps. “That's why I'm more upset that I've been out. I can help out. I feel like I've let my teammates down a little bit. But you can't control injuries. I landed on my hip. What can you do? It's part of the game.”

    And Floyd is only one part of the Chargers' big-play puzzle.

    At wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, third in the NFL with 18.8 yards per reception, has more than done his part, including a midseason period of playing through injury. For a range of varying reasons, the team hasn't been able to get him going consistently. He has 27 receptions, 586 yards and seven touchdowns in his four best games with averages of 2.4 catches, 34.1 yards and no scores in the other seven.

    The up-and-down contribution, he admits, is frustrating.

    “It is. It is. For sure,” Jackson said. “Just as a competitor, you want to compete. But it's not a selfish thing. I want to contribute as far as helping us win games ... Teams definitely pay a lot of attention to me. (Antonio) Gates has been nicked up earlier in the season. Luckily now, we're trying to get Malcom back, so maybe that keeps it a little more balanced.”

    Rookie Vincent Brown flashed bright potential in Floyd's absence, but he is still raw after missing a chunk of training camp to injury. He's converted 15 of 31 targets.

    Last year, slot machine Patrick Crayton sparked the underneath game, totaling 18.4 yards per catch and three plays of 40 or more yards.  But Crayton, 32, missed the season's first two games following August ankle surgery, and his explosion is a shadow of yesteryear. A Week 3 grab of 23 yards remains his season long, and his 4.2 yards after catch is down from 7.9.

    Bryan Walters and Richard Goodman won roster spots in camp — yes, in favor of late-camp bloomer Laurent Robinson, who's been sensational for the Cowboys — and have contributed on special teams, but their presence in the passing game has been almost totally negligible.

    Someone else is missing. Darren Sproles, an elite pass protector and slippery receiver out of the backfield, escaped via offseason free agency.

    “Our backs have caught a bunch of balls,” Rivers said, “but without Darren back there, that is different, too. Defenses don't focus (there) as much. Defenses were concerned wherever he lined up, whether it be a screen ... so it's not quite that much of a matchup concern from that standpoint.”

    All things considering, coach Norv Turner's usual high-octane offense has done a nice job of improvising, given its personnel issues and the clock in Rivers' head ticking a tock faster behind a fragmented offensive line. It still ranks fourth in first downs.

    Maybe, if not for some terribly ill-timed turnovers, the Chargers (4-7) would be beaming with optimism on their plane ride to Florida. The offense, after all, is getting players healthy, from Floyd to guard Louis Vasquez to guard-tackle Tyronne Green.

    Their big-play receiver didn't say it outright Friday when quietly changing out of his practice uniform.

    But yes, it's a good thing to get healthy. It's just too bad it probably came too late.