Both the offense and defense were dominant in the first quarter of Monday night's game. The defense even carried their dominance throughout the entire first half. Unfortunately, the offense ceased to do anything effectively from the second quarter on and the defense which had been stifling in the first half had a let down in the third before breaking even again in the fourth.
After jumping out to a quick start for the first time in roughly forever, the offense played inconsistent, ineffectual football for the final three quarters. They could neither run nor pass effectively despite having done both for the first 15 minutes.
First downs, especially when passing, were a bright spot and second downs were at least not terrible, but third down success was nowhere to be found. The usual culprit on those third downs was a complete lack of pass protection. Denver managed to get to Rivers in different ways, too. They would bring delayed blitzes that nobody picked up, get Dumervil lined up against Manumaleuna or Clay or just run more guys up the middle than the could be accounted for. It was impressive and San Diego had no answer other than the 20 yard pass to Floyd on the all out blitz in the first quarter.
Delayed blitzes, in particular, seemed to work without fail. I've watched the game three times now and I can't recall seeing the Chargers pick up a delayed blitz. Another failing that cropped up more than once was the failure to hold blocks long enough in the running game. Holes would open and just as Tomlinson reached it Clary or Vasquez's guy would slip off their block and trip him up. Perhaps this isn't their fault entirely, though. I can't say for sure whether or not Tomlinson should be hitting the holes earlier or should be maintaining his balance as he seemed to in the past.
It wasn't all bad, though. Rivers, in spite of the rush, made plays by buying time or simply not letting the proximity of defenders affect him. Screens to Tolbert went for big gains and both Gates and Jackson had stellar games. Also, Tomlinson, though still not the player he once was, looked rather solid and certainly better than he has in a while.
Defensively, the story is a little more pleasant. Ron Rivera's defense looked very solid throughout the first half. Denver could neither pass nor run effectively against the unit. Two lapses on special teams made it look like a shootout at half time, but San Diego's defense was only responsible for 3 of Denver's 17 points. Unfortunately, in the third quarter Denver's passing game started to find a rhythm. They still couldn't run consistently, but they picked up big enough chunks in the air that it didn't matter.
San Diego's inability to generate pressure, especially when blitzing, was their downfall. They were able to get penetration on running plays and occasionally forced to Orton to move his feet when the coverage held downfield, but they simply weren't able to even threaten a sack for most of the game. Their ability to stifle a rather strong running game was promising, though. Both Johnson and Scott showed up and when Denver wasn't able to commit two or more linemen to them in the running game they held their ground or created some degree of push.
The biggest bright spot was Kevin Ellison. Ellison had a missed tackle on a long catch and run by Scheffler and was flagged for pass interference, but he was a force in the running game and more than held his own in coverage. In fact, his finest play may have been the one he was flagged for as he made a great play on the ball and the call was a phantom one. He led the defense in Stops with four and became only the fourth Charger this season to register as many as four in a single game. Dobbins, Burnett and Cooper are the other three to have managed the feat this year. Replacing Hart with Ellison appears to have paid off already.
English and Nwagbuo are the only remaining defenders with at least one Stop in each game and English's three were the first time he'd managed more than one. The only other defender that really needs mentioning is Cromartie. Cro was actually pretty impressive in coverage and made several good plays on the ball. He also came up and made a good tackle for a stop on Moreno. However, he also missed several big tackles that would have prevented first downs and apparently was enough of a problem on kick coverage that he was benched from it by half time. The guy has talent, but there's something lacking there.
Overall, I'm actually encouraged by most of what I saw on Monday. Denver is a good team and San Diego looked every bit as good. In my opinion, the only thing really separating the two is health. Denver has been remarkably healthy this year and San Diego is missing key players on both lines. We won't be getting Bingham or Williams back, but Johnson and Scott definitely helped. And Nick Hardwick will be back and I'm convinced he's the solution to our pass protection woes. The special teams coverage units probably won't have another game as bad as Monday's this year and if they hadn't managed to cough up 14 points in a half, the offense and defense looked good enough to have won this game.
Offensive Success Rates:
Defensive Stop Rates:
|2 DL (Pass)||50.0%||2/4|
|2 DL (Rush)||0.0%||0/2|
|3 DL (Pass)||47.6%||10/21|
|3 DL (Rush)||55.0%||11/20|
|4 DL (Pass)||57.1%||4/7|
|4 DL (Rush)||83.3%||5/6|