Stats never lie, except when they lie. Looking at the Oakland Raiders' 4 scoring drives, not one went beyond 50 yards. The Chargers had 4 scoring drives of more than 50 yards. Oakland totaled 180 yards of offense, neither rushing nor passing for more than 100 yards. The Chargers ran for 100 yards, and passed for almost 250 yards. This begs the question...
How on Earth did the Raiders have a chance to tie this game in the 4th quarter? Answer: Unforced Errors.
In every game the Chargers have played this year (excepting Pittsburgh), the Chargers have been the biggest source of their problems. A good argument could be made that unforced errors have cost them 2 wins (vs. Baltimore, vs. Denver). Luckily, the Chargers played an opponent yesterday that was incapable of making the Chargers pay for their mistakes. Grades for each position are posted below.
Philip Rivers enjoyed his second straight game facing little-to-no pass pressure. He opened the first half on fire, making great use of mismatches as Norv Turner moved the receivers around to get favorable matchups. The tipped interception late in the first quarter likely snuffed a scoring drive, and was responsible for keeping the Raiders in the game through the first half. In the 3rd quarter, the entire offense was out of rhythm, and Rivers missed several throws, notably a slant to TE Antonio Gates that is usually a completion. In the 4th quarter, Rivers completed several clutch throws, one to WR Chris Chambers for a huge 1st down, and later threading the needle to Gates on a bootleg. A couple of chances for big plays were missed.
Running Backs: B
LaDainian Tomlinson continues to get better with each game. Despite scoring 2 TDs, we are still waiting on the "breakout" performance. Tomlinson also continues to improve in pass protection. Darren Sproles also contributed some nice runs, twice coming close to breaking free for touchdowns. Neither player was used much on screen passes, and both players served as decoys against the Raiders defense on passing downs. It should be noted that both players had more running room when operating out of spread formations than in power situations, and Tomlinson coasted for a TD on the Chargers 1st use of the Wildcat. Both FBs Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert contributed drive-sustaining 1st downs on 3rd-and-1 dive plays. Tomlinson also recovered his potentially devastating fumble early in the 3rd quarter.
Wide Receivers: B
Vincent Jackson had another good outing, with 8 catches for 103 yards and a TD, but he made a serious mistake allowing a pass to deflect off his hands for an Oakland turnover. Also, somewhat similarly to the game against Kansas City, Jackson largely disappeared after a terrific 1st half. Gates made some huge plays, notably turning a 5 yard crossing route into a 30-yard gain, and a great catch off the Rivers bootleg mentioned above. Malcom Floyd contributed another marvelous jump-ball catch to set up the Chargers' first score, and Chris Chambers came up with a great catch, off a fade-stop with the sun in his eyes in the 4th quarter to keep Oakland's offense off the field.
Offensive Line: B-
For the second straight week, the pass blocking was sensational. The Chargers neutralized Richard Seymour, who wreaked havoc in the Chargers Week 1 escape. On the whole, nothing the Raiders did produced consistent pressure on Rivers. However, in the running game, the Chargers struggled again when running out of power sets, the exceptions a pair of FB dives on 3rd-and-1, and a 4th quarter 3rd-and 1 which Tomlinson took 13 yards to set up a 1st-and-Goal. The Chargers' most successful runs came from gimmick sets (such as the Wildcat) and out of spread formations. Penalties also hurt the Chargers; notably a false start against blocking TE Brandon Manumaleuna hurt the Chargers' chances to put the Raiders away in the 4th quarter. As usual, RT Jeromey Clary struggled with speed rushers - backup DE Matt Shaughnessy (subbing for Greg Ellis) abused Clary throughout the 2nd half.
Defensive Line: B
In the Week 1 matchup against Oakland, the Chargers lost Jamal Williams and got pushed around for a good part of the game. Yesterday, after Oakland fell behind, the D-Line contained Oakland's trap and slant based running game. Keeping Oakland in 2nd and 3rd-and-long situations benefited the Chargers line, allowing them to occupy linemen and create blitzing lanes for the linebackers. The DT rotation has improved with the addition of Ian Scott - the rotation of Scott, Vaughn Martin, and Ogemdi Nwagbuo has allowed the Chargers line to remain stout, if not disruptive at the point of attack. Holding the Raiders to 99 yards rushing, with a 3.7 per carry average, is good under any circumstances.
Author's Note: Vaughn Martin was inactive for this game, Travis Johnson was in the rotation at DT. Caught by the readers. Thanks for the info.
OLBs Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman both got loose in the second half yesterday, each recording 2 sacks. Phillips made the play that all but clinched the game - crushing JaMarcus Russell late in the 4th quarter and putting the Raiders' offense in a huge hole. Merriman is getting closer to full strength, getting a sack after fighting through a block, and later blowing up Raiders' LT Mario Henderson on a bull rush. Inside, ILB Stephen Cooper contributed 10 tackles. ILB Brandon Siler, substituting in for Tim Dobbins (Dobbins was replacing an injured Kevin Burnett) contributed 6 tackles. The only issue for the ILBs was the failure to contain Oakland TE Zach Miller and RB Justin Fargas on short and intermediate routes.
As was the case in Week 1, CBs Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie were not challenged by Oakland's receiving corps. WRs Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Johnnie Lee Higgins combined for 2 catches, 16 yards. Cromartie contributed an interception early to force the Raiders' offense into a shell and sparked the Chargers' opening TD. Steve Gregory played well in his 2nd game as the nickel DB, and contributed a sack off a safety blitz. Safeties Eric Weddle and Kevin Ellison also had good games, although the group had problems with Miller in the middle of the field. Tackling was improved across the board, and there was none of the confusion that resulted in cheap plays for the Raiders (contrast this with Week 1, where Cromartie and former S Clinton Hart allowed a late TD bomb to give Oakland a 4th quarter lead).
Special Teams: C-
Surprisingly, this area has become a weakness for the Chargers over the last 3 weeks. Coverage teams allowed a long kick return - the Raiders were able to get a cheap FG late in the 1st half, just after the Chargers had taken a commanding 21-7 lead. For the 2nd straight game, the blocking teams were unable to create space for Sproles. Sproles himself had an unusually rough game, losing a fumble near midfield during a punt return - this play gave Oakland momentum after closing within 8 points. Later, on the kickoff following Oakland's last FG, Sproles mishandled the return, getting brought down at the Chargers' 8-yard line. P Mike Scifres nearly had a punt blocked when Hester missed a block. PK Nate Kaeding had only 1 FG attempt - he was his usual perfect self inside 40 yards, and made a touchdown-saving tackle on the return mentioned earlier. The Chargers should consider returning to the short, high kickoffs used the previous week in Kansas City.
Norv Turner showed some imagination, using the Wildcat to get the Chargers on the scoreboard. He also was smart to emphasize the passing game in the first half against the Raiders, build a large early lead and force Oakland's passing game to keep pace. However, the Chargers came out with a stalled engine in the 3rd quarter, and it appeared that Turner didn't have an answer for jump-starting the offense. On defense, Ron Rivera dialed back the blitzes a bit against JaMarcus Russell, but nearly every call was effective. The only knocks against Rivera were not taking Miller completely out of the game with constant double teams, and not using more zone-blitzes in the first half to flood the middle of the field and take away what little comfort zone Russell has.
- Norv Turner getting innovative with the Wildcat inside the opponents' 10-yard line.
- Emphasizing the pass to build an early lead in the first half.
- Red-zone offense was improved, scoring 3 TDs in 4 chances.
- Building a lead allowed the Chargers' defense to attack the QB - posting 5 sacks.
- Defense holds the opponent to less than 100 yards rushing.
- Defense keeps Oakland from scoring TDs in 3 out of 4 short field opportunities.
- Improved pass protection for Rivers.
Biggest Areas of Concern:
- The Chargers inability to control the line of scrimmage when operating a power-run offense.
- Norv Turner's insistence on running the ball out of power-run formations.
- Self-inflicted mistakes keep the Chargers from putting opponents away.
- Inability to neutralize the opposing teams' TE.
- Special Teams miscues gave Oakland great field position during the 2nd half.
- Injuries to Burnett and Dobbins at ILB.
To "monkey wrenching" Eli Manning's postseason hopes. Based on the Giants last three losses (at Saints, vs. Cardinals, at Eagles), their defense has problems handling spread offenses. With this in mind, Norv Turner should continue to emphasize the pass over the run. The game in New York will give us the first opportunity to gauge whether the Chargers have turned the corner, or whether they've taken advantage of 2 of the worst teams in the NFL.