Antonio Gates is back for his 16th season! He’s the Chargers’ franchise leader in yards, receptions, and receiving touchdowns, while also the NFL’s leading tight end in receiving touchdowns with 114. Gates has been an elite option for Philip Rivers over the years, with 84 of his career receiving touchdown being delivered by Rivers, the most by any quarterback tight end tandem in NFL history.
Whenever the pocket breaks down and Rivers has to scramble, Gates is the main priority on his mind. 3rd and goal on the five, Gates is on his mind. Their chemistry together is something coaches drool over. The ability to know each other's next move, on audibles, option routes, and when a play breaks down is priceless. The return of Gates is not just something that will benefit the Rivers to Gates connection, but will transfer to the entire offense.
Keenan Allen has one of cleanest breaks off the line of any wide receiver in the league. This allows him to create separation very quickly after the ball has been snapped, which defenses try to combat with double coverage on Allen. Gates demands respect from a defense, this limits the times when a linebacker or safety can cheat Allen’s way for double coverage. This will provide more opportunity for 1 on 1 matchups for Allen. He also has some of the best feet in the game, which allows him to run crisp routes, presenting a large window for Rivers to throw the ball. The effect is reciprocal for Gates, who at 38, is not a speed threat. With single coverage and good technique, Gates at 6’4” 255lbs presents a large target who can win by high pointing the ball. Enter second year player Mike Williams, who has been training all offseason to try and fill the giant void left by Gates in the short and intermittent parts of the field. He has progressed well and will be a threat in the red zone, even with Gates return. Williams is also 6’4” and excels at contested catches. Defenses simply do not have multiple players capable of stopping monsters like Williams and Gates in the red zone. The final cog in what should be a solid red zone machine will be the running game. Play action is going to be a nightmare to defend with Melvin Gordon in the game, as he can provide power rushing between tackles and then show finesse by chipping a defender before running a route. Defenses will not be able to sell out to stop Gordon due to the abundance of weapons at Rivers’ disposal, and Gordon’s versatility means even on pass plays he needs to be accounted for.
The return of future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates will provide much more than just another option in this high powered offense. His return will also completely change how defensive coordinators can scheme against the Chargers offense, taking some pressure off of Philip Rivers, who now has one of his most trusted targets back on the field.