By playing their most complete game of the season so far, the Chargers obliterate the Chiefs for their 3rd consecutive win at Arrowhead Stadium.
Another classic sports cliche applies to games like this: "Good teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat." In this case, the Chargers did so convincingly. It is immaterial whether or not the Chiefs are just bad or truly awful (in this case, maybe the worst Chiefs team I've ever seen), because the Chargers should beat them regardless.
As good as the Chargers looked in this game, there are still some areas for the coaching staff to work hard on during the upcoming week of practice. In fact, it was self-inflicted mistakes that prevented the Chargers from hanging more than 50 points on Kansas City.
Philip Rivers has been the best player for the Chargers this season. In the previous 5 games, his ability to attack the opponent was hampered by problems on the offensive line. Not this week, as Rivers was hit only twice and not sacked. Operating with a clean pocket, and effective running game, Rivers shredded an over-matched Chiefs secondary. There wasn't a throw in the game that was close to being intercepted, and Rivers was consistently able to evade the meager pass rush that the Chiefs provided. Minus one poor throw to Gates inside the Chiefs 5-yard line, dropped passes were the only thing keeping Rivers from throwing 4 (or more) TDs. According to ESPN stats, Rivers passed Stan Humphries for 3rd on the Chargers career passing TDs list with 88.
Running Backs: B+
LaDainain Tomlinson quieted at least a few critics yesterday. He hit the holes with burst and showed some elusiveness in the open field, most notably on a 36-yard trap run to the left in the 1st quarter. His final stat line shows 23 carries for only 71 yards, however, 9 of those carries came inside the Kansas City 10-yard line (see Offensive Line below). Darren Sproles added 41 yards on the ground, as well another highlight TD, 58 yards off a swing pass from Rivers. Tomlinson was improved on blitz pick-ups, while Sproles was outstanding at keeping heat off Rivers.
Wide Receivers: B+
Vincent Jackson has become the best deep ball threat in the NFL. His speed, ability to beat double teams down the field, attack the pass at it's highest point, and athleticism are first-rate. His grade for the game is an A+. Posting a team-record 142 receiving yards in 1 half is astonishing, considering that this is the franchise of Lance Alworth, John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner, Wes Chandler, and Kellen Winslow. Gates was outstanding as usual, his early season case of the the fumbles appears to have been cured. Malcom Floyd contributed a 4-yard TD catch. This brings me to Chris Chambers, who, to put it nicely, was not very good. On consecutive drives in the 2nd Quarter, Chambers dropped a TD, followed by a 3rd down drop on the next series that would have given P Mike Scifres much more room to work with. For his first season and a half in San Diego, Chambers caught almost everything thrown his way. This season, he has been inconsistent at best.
Offensive Line: B-
If I was grading the Offensive Line's play up to the Kansas City 10-yard line, the grade would be an A. Inside the Chiefs' 10, a C-. Pass protection was excellent across the board, as the Chiefs got no pressure on Rivers whatsoever, blitzing or otherwise. Run blocking was solid, but not great. There were a limited number of penalties, except for a bizarre call against rookie Brandyn Dombrowski for not reporting as an eligible receiver (the dubious penalty cost Tomlinson a TD run). However, this unit must significantly step up it's game inside the red zone. The inability to finish drives was the primary factor in the loss to Baltimore in Week 2, and here it could have allowed the Chiefs to mount a second-half comeback. Special attention must be paid to rookie RG Louis Vasquez, a terrific pass blocker who needs to execute better in short-yardage and goal-to-go running situations.
Defensive Line: B+
For the first time this year, the Chargers' defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. And what a difference it makes. The Chiefs offense was not effective using a power running game under any circumstances. The biggest play of the game was stuffing Chiefs' QB Matt Cassel on a 4th-and-1 sneak at the Kansas City 41-yard line. The Chargers linemen occupied multiple blockers, allowing Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera to run some early safety and zone blitzes that kept the Chiefs' offense guessing throughout the 1st half. In the 2nd half, Rivera used the linebackers more, and the space eaten up by the line helped force Cassel into 3 interceptions. Some work needs to be done on defending draw plays and QB scrambles. Also, it appears that DT Ian Scott, while no Jamal Williams, has added some desperately needed bulk and power to the interior of the defense. Minus Cassel's scrambling, the Chiefs rushed for only 97 yards.
At long last, a sighting of both OLBs Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips in something resembling Pro Bowl form. Phillips had a terrific 2nd half, netting 2 sacks of Cassel. Merriman contributed several QB hurries, at least one of which helped force an interception. Merriman also had a vintage play, running down Chiefs' RB Larry Johnson for a short gain on 3rd-and-3 from across the field. Inside, reserve ILBs Tim Dobbins and Brandon Siler (substituting for Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper, respectively) combining for 19 tackles. Dobbins in particular played with a nasty streak, getting penetration and making solid, hard tackles. There were no troubles in pass defense, as Dobbins collected a tipped interception, and the zone blitz scheme was used effectively.
Rookie S Kevin Ellison had his second good game in a row, contributing solid tackling and aggressive run support. Replacing CB Antoine Cason with S Steve Gregory at the nickel back slot appears to have been a good coaching decision, as Gregory made a few nice pass break-ups and grabbed Cassel's 3rd interception. S Paul Oliver, who has seen the field infrequently, snared a terrible Cassel overthrow. CBs Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie had solid games, finally getting the better of Chiefs' WR Dwayne Bowe. Cassel had nowhere to go during his initial reads, and the secondary was rewarded with consistent pass pressure.
Special Teams: B
Mike Scifres had his first good game in a couple of weeks, hitting punts with the booming distance and hang time we're accustomed to seeing. PK Nate Kaeding remains Mr. Reliable inside of 40 yards, but anything beyond 40 yards is a question mark. it is interesting to note however, that the flags on the top of the goalposts indicated there was a stronger wind than was on the field - both Kaeding and Chiefs' K Ryan Succop pushed their kicks to the right. Kaeding's kickoffs were shorter than usual, but it appeared deliberate on the part of the coaching staff to limit long returns. Coverage units played well, although kick and return blocking were not as good as they have been in previous weeks.
Coaching Staff: B+
I'm not sure whether Norv Turner and the staff can be overly praised for the Chargers being ready to play with a sense of urgency - this may be more the team realizing that the Denver loss puts them in a must-win situation. That being said, Turner called a good offensive game. Considering the red zone difficulties, Turner made 3 outstanding calls: the clear out which resulted in Floyd's TD catch in the 1st quarter, the 3rd-and-Goal where Rivers threw the fade stop to Chambers in the 2nd quarter, and the 3rd-and-Goal where Rivers missed Gates on a play-action pass in the 4th quarter. Also, I liked that Turner challenged the offensive line in the 3rd quarter with the game in-hand. Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera mixed in early safety blitzes which confused Kansas City's offensive line, building on that later with a series of well designed zone blitzes. Also, the defensive lineup changes appear to have had an impact, substituting Gregory for Cason at nickel back, as well as increasing the play time for Ellison at safety.
- Overall play of the defense was outstanding. Defensive line, linebackers, and secondary played as a whole unit for the first time. Players appeared to trust each other and not try to go "beyond the scheme" to make plays. Regardless of the opponent, allowing 7 points, 203 total yards, and 10 first downs is a job well done.
- Offensive run and pass blocking was terrific between the 20s. When Rivers has a clean pocket and the threat of a running game, the Chargers' offense is as good as any offense this side of New Orleans.
- Receiver play, excepting Chambers, was sensational.
- Coaches had an excellent game plan on both sides of the ball. In-game adjustments and play calls were well above average.
- Starting fast by passing to set up the run.
- Defense was excellent at keeping Kansas City in 2nd and 3rd-long situations throughout the game.
Biggest Areas of Concern:
- Inability to finish drives inside the opponent's 5-yard line kept the Chiefs in this game well into the 3rd quarter - the game could have been over at halftime.
- Chambers appears unfocused, or age is catching up with him. Either way, it will be harder and harder to keep Floyd out of the starting lineup if Chambers continues to struggle.
- Defense is still susceptible to draw plays and QB scrambles on 3rd and long.
To running the streak over Oakland to 13 games. In film buff parlance, the Chargers haven't lost to the Raiders since The Rundown was the #1 movie in America.
Author's Note: Linebacker section was corrected to reflect that ILB Stephen Cooper did not play, or was extremely limited in game action.