Norv Turner takes advantage of Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin, and Philip Rivers takes advantage of the Giants blitz to score a classic come-from-behind victory (giving us a classic Manning Face in the process), putting the Chargers in the thick of the playoff chase.
In the statistic department, the Chargers were obliterated by the Giants. Two statistics which correlate strongly with victory are Time of Possession (TOP) and Turnovers. The Giants led TOP by a 37:47 to 22:13 margin, and had a 2-1 edge in turnovers. The question is this: How on Earth did the Chargers steal this game?
The answers: Norv Turner took advantage of Tom Coughlin's ridiculously conservative gameplan, the Chargers cashed in their red-zone opportunities, the Giants posted 84 yards in penalties more than the Chargers, and Philip Rivers did what great QB's do - deliver in the clutch.
Grades are below the jump.
Until the final 2 minutes, Philip Rivers' grade was probably around a C-. During the first half, when the Chargers defense had issues getting off the field, Rivers took advantage of what limited chances he had. He carved the Giants blitz, consistently finding both Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates in space. In the 2nd half, Rivers was bouncing between good and awful - he was not helped by some crucial drops in the 3rd quarter. His interception to Jackson was either badly underthrown or overthrown - Jackson could neither run past Giants' DB Corey Webster or outjump him for the ball. Rivers late 4th quarter interception should have been a game killer - a badly aimed throw under pressure to Malcom Floyd. However, in the 2 minute drill, Rivers was brilliant. He managed the drill with great efficiency, not wasting any seconds or losing composure getting players moved around, or trying to get the play called. Accuracy was top notch, and Rivers' patience on the drive was rewarded with Giants' blitzes that opened holed in the defense.
Running Backs: C
The Giants completely bottled up the Chargers' running game. LaDainian Tomlinson was a non-factor, rushing for 22 yards on 12 attempts. Sproles lost a yard on his only rushing attempt. In fact, 15 of the Chargers' 34 rushing yards came on a Rivers scramble. Until the run-blocking improves, it will be impossible to determine exactly what Tomlinson has left. The inability of the defense to get off the field in the 1st half made it almost impossible for the Chargers to get any rhythm on the ground. Both Tomlinson and Sproles were largely ineffective in the passing game, excepting a huge pass play to Sproles on the game-winning drive. Blitz pickup by the running backs was solid for the 2nd straight game.
Wide Receivers: B-
Once again, Vincent Jackson shows why he's one of the 10 best receivers in the NFL. He didn't post huge yardage, and none of his plays were vertical, but the 2 TDs were more than enough. Aside from Jackson, the receivers were at best a mixed bag. TE Antonio Gates' stat line looks good, but it hides 2 terrible dropped passes in the 3rd quarter - the 2nd of which would have extended a drive inside the Giants 40. On the same drive, WR Malcom Floyd developed a severe case of alligator arms on a pass over the middle. WR Legedu Naanee made a couple of nice catches, and reserve TE Kris Wilson scored on a nice play-action pass on the goal line in the 3rd quarter.
Offensive Line: C+
Pass blocking was solid, but not exceptional, by the offensive line. Rivers was sacked twice, once after LT Marcus McNeill was beaten by DE Osi Umenyiora, then later when DT Fred Robbins beat RG Louis Vasquez and C Scott Mruczkowski. On the whole, the Chargers did a workmanlike job handling the Giants' myriad blitzes. When it counted late, Rivers was hassled only once. As for the running game, the unit as a whole was ineffective. In particular, Vasquez, Mruczkowski, and LG Kris Dielman struggled to hold their blocks, pull effectively, and prevent DTs Robbins and Barry Cofield from disrupting the running game. It cannot be said enough that C Nick Hardwick will, once healthy, instantly upgrade the middle of the line. In a welcome display, RT Jeromey Clary largely held his own against DE Justin Tuck.
Defensive Line: B-
Luis Castillo had a very good game, when lined up outside on Giants' RT Kareem McKenzie, he was very disruptive and created blitzing lanes for Shaun Phillips and the defensive backs. He also made the biggest hidden play of the game, beating Giants' RG Chris Snee and drawing a holding penalty to help keep the game within a TD. Inside, the rotation of Travis Johnson, Ian Scott, and Ogemdi Nwagbuo was solid, and intermittently disruptive (Scott in particular). On the other DE spot, Alfonso Boone and Jacques Cesaire were decent at taking up space, but failed to hold the edge on more than a few run plays. However, on the whole, the group did a good job opening blitzing lanes for the linebackers and secondary.
OLB Shawne Merriman is very close to full strength. He posted 2 sacks, one with 4 minutes left on to get the ball back for the offense, and later to end the game. His lateral pursuit is improving by the week, and his bull rush is increasingly effective. He also missed Manning by inches on 2 or 3 other occasions. On the other side, OLB Shaun Phillips had a sack and blew up a couple of short yardage running plays. Inside, ILBs Stephen Cooper and Brandon Siler did a good job cleaning up the middle of the defense, posting 21 tackles between them.
A few weeks ago, Ron Rivera uncorked safety blitzes and zone blitzes against the Chiefs. In this game they were tremendously effective, opening room for Merriman and Phillips to work 1-1 on the Giants' OTs. Rookie S Kevin Ellison has been a major upgrade over Clinton Hart - he is a very good in-the-box defender and is terrific coming off the edge and attacking the QB. Ellison's major issue is overpursuit - it cost him at least one sack on Manning, and was what allowed Giants' WR Steve Smith to score a TD in the 2nd quarter. Later, his overpursuit allowed WR Hakeem Nicks to pick up 29 yards on a screen pass. If coaches can correct his pursuit issues, Ellison has a chance to be very, very good. FS Eric Weddle played a great game, recording 9 tackles and 2 major hits on receivers over the middle. CBs Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie were not tested down the field, and allowed limited completions - excepting Smith. Tackling has generally improved, although it's an issue for Ellison and Cromartie. DB Steve Gregory struggled a bit to contain Smith in the slot, but was effective as a blitzer.
Special Teams: B
The Chargers coverage teams were solid, giving up only one significant return on a punt in the 4th quarter - although the return gave the Giants a short field on offense. Tom Coughlin decided earlier in the week that he would not allow Sproles to beat the Giants on a kick or punt return, resulting in several short kicks that gave the Chargers good field position. P Mike Scifres was very good, limiting returns with a combination of hang time and distance - except for the punt that was returned (mentioned above). K Nate Kaeding was solid on kickoffs, and extended his streak of consecutive XPs.
Norv Turner has been justly criticized for terrible late-game management, but in this game, he performed brilliantly. By saving his timeouts, he gave the Chargers a chance to steal the game late. Coughlin took the bait and played into Turner's hands by going conservative. Turner's playcalling on the last drive (with an assist from Tomlinson) was so good that the Chargers didn't even use their last timeout. Red-zone efficiency has gotten better due to spreading the field and use of play action passing. However, the insistence on a power run game served as a drive killer on more than one occasion - the Chargers need to spread the field to create space for Tomlinson and Sproles. On defense, Ron Rivera is continuing to dial up the pressure. The Giants especially had problems handling the zone and safety blitzes Rivera deployed - a less athletic QB than Manning would have taken 7-10 sacks. Special attention must be paid to defensing pass situations on 3rd and more than 4. The Chargers missed too many opportunities to get the Giants' offense off the field
Hidden Plays (non scoring, non turnover plays that directly affected the outcome):
- Giants' DB Kevin Dockery runs into Darren Sproles after signaling a fair catch - moving the ball from the SD 15 to the 30. Despite the Floyd and Gates drops, this penalty helps the Chargers maintain field position.
- Gates' 2nd drop stalls a drive in Giants territory - a catch would have put the Chargers at the edge of Kaeding's FG range.
- Castillo blows up RG Chris Snee on 1st and Goal from the Chargers' 4, leading to a holding penalty and forcing the Giants to settle for a FG, instead of scoring a clinching TD.
- Norv Turner's challenge of a completed pass results in an incompletion, forcing the Giants to kick a red-zone FG.
- Coughlin passes on 2 4th-and-1 situations in Chargers' territory.
- Giants are forced to stop the clock when DE Justin Tuck gets hurt with 50 seconds remaining.
- Resilience and poise in a critical game.
- Reduced number of penalties.
- Turner's end-game clock and timeout management.
- The pass rush, with safety blitzes, and zone blitzes is getting to the opposing QB..
- Short-yardage run defense was improved.
- At 5-3, the Chargers have their best mid-season record under Turner.
Biggest Areas of Concern:
- Run blocking is still a major issue.
- Insistence on running out of power formations.
- Although improved, NT position is not always effective at holding the point of attack.
- Inability of the defense to get off the field in 3rd-and long situations.
- Missed tackles.
- Dropped passes.
To beating the Eagles. The Eagles should not pose a major running threat to the Chargers, especially if RB Brian Westbrook has not fully recovered from his concussion. The Chargers are facing another blitz-happy defense; there's nothing Philadelphia should throw at them that they haven't seen from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Denver, and the Giants. Getting C Nick Hardwick in the starting lineup should provide a major boost to the offensive line.