When you factor in things like how the opposing teams have played in the games immediately before or after their showdown with the Chargers, you could make a case that this Cowboys team is the 2nd or 3rd best team the Bolts have faced all year. Although it's December, they're playing much better than they were in the beginning of the season (when the Broncos beat them) and it was going to take a complete game by the coaching staff and players to get a win.
Well, that was about as complete of a game as you can have in the NFL against a legitimate opponent. The defense, similar to the game against the Browns, seemed to play a soft zone in the beginning and end of the game. They struggled to stop any of the Cowboys three star RBs, and yet Dallas was only able to score one meaningful touchdown in the game. I have no idea how Ron Rivera keeps doing it, but he continually keeps points off the board.
The offense is currently unstoppable. It's clicking in a way it never has before, with Philip Rivers playing his best football and Norv Turner calling all the right plays at the right times. It helps when you have 5 guys on the field who are receiving threats on any given play. Even LaDainian Tomlinson, who isn't much of a feature-back these days, seems to become a better player near the goal line and whenever the Chargers need a big run for a first down.
It's a good time to be a Chargers fan. The division crowd, the playoffs and a first round bye are no longer just dreams.
Philip Rivers - 21/32, 272 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT. Whomever is disappointed that Philip didn't have another game with a QB rating of over 130, please leave the room. This was not the Browns and it was not the Chiefs. This was a legitimate NFL defense with very few holes. The pass-rush was there all game, and kept Philip stepping up in the pocket and sometimes running for his life. The CBs played a great game, Mike Jenkins in particular. Rivers and his WRs were just better. Any time you can post a near 90 QB rating against one of the better defenses in the league, count it as a victory.
Vincent Jackson - 7 catches, 120 yds. Well, well, well....somebody's back. In reality, VJ never left. This game wasn't about him breaking out as much as it was the defense going with a different philosophy. In the last few games, the idea was to double Jackson on every play. That left things open for Antonio Gates. This game, the Cowboys did the opposite and VJ came through in a big way. Huge plays by him and Rivers are the reason this game wasn't lost. They kicked the team back into high gear after the injury to DeMarcus Ware.
Antonio Gates - 4 catches, 44 yds, 1 TD. Need a first down on third down? Need a TD from inside the 15 yard line? Go to the guy who is completely and totally uncoverable. Philip didn't need to force passes to him this game, and didn't, but when he needed that outlet to get the team out of a jam Gates was there. He always is.
Malcom Floyd - 3 catches, 40 yds. First off, his catch on the sideline was absolutely ridiculous. Second, Floyd is a Pass-Interference machine....which actually makes sense. His speed is not that great, so it's rare that you see him more than a half-step ahead of his defenders downfield. However, he has a reputation for catching everything and is the king of jump balls. So any CB covering him is close by, and knows that just getting his hands in Floyd's face isn't going to do a thing. Add in the fact that he's skinny (so it always looks like he's the one that got pushed) and he could get PI called against a CB nearly every time if he tried. It's great that Norv has figured this out, and knows there's no risk in throwing it to Floyd one-on-one downfield, and calls it when a big play is necessary.
Offensive Line - 1 sack allowed. Say what you want about the run-blocking. It's at least three times more important to keep Rivers upright and healthy than it is opening holes for LT and Darren Sproles. That was a fierce pass-rush, with lots of blitzing (I miss Phillips' recklessness sometimes), and the offensive line gave Philip just enough time and space to make plays. Even that one sack, you could argue that it happened because Rivers didn't move in the pocket when he should've. Great showing by everyone, and specifically the tackles. I don't know where Scott Mruczkowski and Brandyn Dombrowski fit into the future of the offensive line, but with them and Jeromey Clary and Nick Hardwick it would appear the Bolts have a plethora of talent up front for next year.
Brandon Siler - 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss. That's it. Let there be no more doubt in anybody's mind. Brandon Siler is a Player, with a capital P, and has earned the right to start ahead of Kevin Burnett for the rest of the season. He makes the run-defense stronger, gets pressure on the QB when blitzing and is generally a force that can mess up any given play for the offense. Give him the most credit for the goal-line stand (his specialty), and give him credit for being strong in coverage all game as well.
Stephen Cooper - 3 tackles, 2 defended passes, 1 forced fumble. The best game of zone coverage Coop has played all season. I don't really care that he didn't pick off the passes he got his hands on, because I believe most of them were big 3rd down plays. Cooper had an OK game against the run as well, which is why you saw a lot more runs to the outside (away from him and Siler) as time went on.
Mike Scifres - 42.0 average, 2 (of 3) inside opposing 20 yd line. Follow this theory, dreamed up by my wife. With about 10 second left to go in the first half, Scifres came out for his first punt (that's kindof amazing). The punt landed inside the Cowboys' 5 and bounced into the end zone. When the camera showed Mike, he was screaming "Man, what the @#$&!" at somebody. I couldn't tell why, and my wife said "I guess he wanted somebody to down it. You know, for his stats." My response was "Screw his stats, it's the end of the half!" Well, if the following theory is correct, I'm the only idiot.
In the second half, Mike punted twice. Each time it was downed inside the Cowboys' 5 yard line by Kassim Osgood. After each time, Kassim stayed where he downed it, held the ball up and looked back at where the play originated from. I originally thought he was just doing it as a celebration, and to show the refs where he was. My wife was the one who said "I bet he's showing the ball to Scifres." If that's the case, and it makes the most sense, then good job by Mike to get on Kassim. That field position meant the world in the second half. Oh, and....
Kassim Osgood - 2 downed punts inside the Cowboys' 5. You could argue that, between Osgood and Mike Tolbert, the Chargers have two of the ten best special teams players in football. I'd certainly argue that point. The Bolts are going to have big shoes to fill on punt returns next season when Osgood is playing WR somewhere else.
Nate Kaeding - 2/2 FGs, 2/2 XPs. I love that stat that shows up every time he kicks now, the most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL. Kaeding is everything that everybody thought Mike Nugent would be. If you're within 45 yards of the goal post, it's a guaranteed 3 points. Beyond that, you still have a good chance.
There were no offensive Dolts this week.
Defensive Line - 4.0 YPC allowed, zero sacks. This probably isn't their fault. There just isn't enough talent on the line to dominate anybody anymore. Still, each guy on the line was getting pushed around with ease and I don't believe any of them were demanding anything more than a single blocker. This is a big reason why Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips were held in check as pass-rushers and run-stoppers. The defensive line allowed a lot of easy runs up the gut, and didn't take up the blockers to free up LBs to stop the runs to the outside either. Whether or not they can do it, the Bolts may need the defensive line to play better than that to win any playoff games.
- Mike Tolbert - Quite a weapon on offense, and quite a hitter on special teams. I'm left scratching my head as to why he didn't carry the ball once all game, but I'm sure Norv has his reasons. Perhaps, like me, he doesn't yet trust him to hold onto the ball in a close game?
- LaDainian Tomlinson - Just what we've come to expect from LT. Smart running, timely big plays and a knack for never fumbling the football. Has anyone else noticed that he never loses yardage anymore? A handoff to LT these days is a guaranteed 2 yards or more.
- Antonio Cromartie - He's gotta be the best man-to-man CB in the league right now. In man, he was untouchable. In zone, he was good but not great. The Quentin Jammer-Antonio Cromartie tandem is playing at the highest combined level ever right now. That's why you see teams putting their star WRs (like Miles Austin) in the slot, to get away from those guys.
- Safeties - Nobody mistook these Safeties for Eric Weddle or Troy Polamalu out there, but the same philosophies were in place and played out. Paul Oliver, Steve Gregory, Kevin Ellison and C.J. Spillman did not allow big plays through the air and prevented big plays on the ground with sound tackling. I personally can't wait until Gregory can slide back down to the Nickel CB spot again and Weddle can start roaming centerfield like always. It's my belief that the run defense, as well as the man-defense on the slot receiver, is a lot better with Gregory down near the line of scrimmage.
- Tim Dobbins - The poor man's Brandon Siler. He played well in goal line situations.
- Larry English - He got the closest to Tony Romo out of the OLBs. As with most of this season though, English was close but couldn't make the play.