Are the Chargers better without Gates?

When I requested statistics about the San Diego Chargers when they play without star tight end Antonio Gates, I didn’t expect the results I received.

Yes, Katharine Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information came up with some stunning numbers regarding the seven games Gates has missed since the start of the 2010 season.

The Chargers have actually been better without Gates.

I know, I know. Shocking.

I’m not going to say the Chargers will continue to be better without Gates. It’s absurd. He’s a favorite target of quarterback Philip Rivers, and Gates could someday end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Yet, the Chargers are 6-1 in games that Gates has not played in since the beginning of last season. The Chargers are 5-7 in games Gates has played in since the start of last season. Now, as Sharp points out, six of those games were in the second half of last season when the Chargers are traditionally better than in the first half of the season.

Gates also missed the Chargers’ win over Kansas City in Week 3 with a nagging foot injury. The injury has been bugging him for years and it will likely continue to bother him. Whether Gates can play is a matter of pain tolerance. He saw a specialist Tuesday. Gates doesn’t expect to be out for the long term, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he shut it down through the team’s Oct. 16 bye. The Chargers play Miami and Denver before the bye. Giving it nearly a month of rest could help the foot for the stretch run of the season.

Regardless, the Chargers, statistically speaking, know they can live without Gates.

Since the start of 2010, the Chargers are averaging 25.3 points with Gates. They are averaging 28.9 points without him. Either way, that’s a lot of points. The Chargers are averaging more yards with Gates, who has been outstanding when healthy, than without him since the start of last season by an average of 21 yards per game.

The Chargers, naturally, rely on the running game more without Gates. They are averaging 126 yards per game without him and 102 with him.

What does all this mean? The Chargers have a lot of weapons, including backup tight end Randy McMichael. They can survive without Gates. Still, he’s a special talent and Chargers would certainly rather play with him than without him, regardless of what the numbers may say.