Is Sproles' absence Chargers' problem?

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
8:00
AM ET
A lot has been made about the San Diego Chargers’ offensive woes and the issues of quarterback Philip Rivers.

The Chargers -- who have scored 30 points or more at least five times since 2006 -- have not scored more than 29 points this season and Rivers is off to his worst start as a professional. If ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth is right, the Chargers’ offensive struggles may continue.

Schlereth said on “SportsCenter” and “NFL Live” on Wednesday the Chargers are missing an explosive player who can control the middle of the field. Schlereth believes the Chargers’ offense is missing the player that used to fill that role -- Darren Sproles.

Schlereth said that he think Rivers misses getting the ball to Sproles on option routes and underneath plays.

Sproles departed San Diego as a free agent this summer. He did have an important role in the Chargers’ offense on screen plays and as a change-of-pace running back. However, last season, his production slipped some, causing the Chargers to decide they could move on without him.

Still, San Diego really doesn’t have anyone to take that role. It drafted small running back Jordan Todman in the sixth round with the hopes he’d eventually play a Sproles-like role. However, he was recently cut and placed on the practice squad. So he is clearly not ready to contribute

I think the Chargers’ best bet for finding Rivers targets in the middle of the field is tailback Ryan Mathews out of the backfield as both he and fellow running back Mike Tolbert have been solid receiving targets. In addition, I think the return of tight end Antonio Gates will help as well in the middle of the field. He has always been a top bail-out option for Rivers. He has missed three games this season due to a foot injury.

This offense has long been effective because it was varied and had different options. The loss of Sproles hurts, but I think it would be premature to think the Chargers’ entire season will be altered because of his departure.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

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