The Chargers play rude hosts to Kansas City, converting 4 turnovers into 28 points and breezing to their 6th straight win behind Philip Rivers' passing and an opportunistic defense.
This game had "trap game" written all over it. The Chargers, coming off a convincing victory in Denver, and dealing with a PR intensive week (Thanksgiving food drives, Chargers Blood Drive), were facing a Chiefs team on a 2 game winning streak, the second of which was a gutty overtime victory against the defending champion Steelers, at Arrowhead.
On the weekend where the Chargers announced their 50th Anniversary All-Time team, the Chargers did their predecessors proud. Aided by some truly bone-headed mistakes by the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers turned a mildly competitive game into a blowout by halftime.
Now at 8-3, with the woebegone Cleveland Browns up next, and with an assist from the the New Orleans Saints, the Chargers are in prime position to make a run at the AFC's #2 seed and a first round bye.
Grades are below the jump.
As opposed to the last couple of weeks, Philip Rivers was turned loose on an overmatched Chiefs defense. Rivers was sensational again, completing 21 passes on 28 attempts for 317 yards and 2 TDs. Rivers attacked the Chiefs defense on all levels, but had his best success abusing the Chiefs' LBs, particularly with TE Antonio Gates. As good as Rivers was, he missed a pair of deep opportunities to WR Vincent Jackson in the 1st half - the only difference it would have made in the game was turning a commanding lead into a blowout. Rivers did a good job spreading the ball around, completing passes to 8 different receivers. As as been the case since the Giants game, Rivers has been exceptional at protecting the ball.
Running Backs: B
The numbers for LaDainian Tomlinson (13 carries, 39 yards) are misleading. In the first half, he had a respectable 10 carries for 35 yards and 2 TDs. The Chargers had a limited amount of runs in the 3rd quarter, and by the time the offense got the ball in the 4th quarter, the game was well in hand. The only knock on Tomlinson was his 4th quarter goal line fumble. Darren Sproles struggled to find open space when running the ball, but he was very productive as a pass catcher, contributing 66 yards on 5 catches, nearly taking two or three screen catches for TDs. As was the case in Denver, the Chargers used FBs Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester to grind out the clock in the 4th quarter; they contributed 22 yards on 7 carries.
Wide Receivers: A-
Antonio Gates had his best game of the year on Sunday, posting 7 catches for 118 yards and 2 TDs. Gates made multiple great plays, including a one-handed stab in the 1st quarter that turned into a 19 yard TD catch. Gates abused the middle of the Chiefs defense, S Mike Brown in particular. Vincent Jackson was quiet for the 3rd game in a row, posting 2 catches for 27 yards - however Rivers missed him twice on deep routes where Jackson could have scored. Malcom Floyd contributed 86 yards on 3 catches, including another circus catch that gave the Chargers a 1st and Goal at the 1 yard line.
Offensive Line: B
As has been the case, pass protection for Rivers was solid across the board, barring some early struggles from C Scott Mruczkowski. In particular, RT Brandyn Dombrowski had a very solid effort, considering his assignment was DE Tamba Hali - he was given help on several occasions by TE Brandon Manumaleuna. Run blocking was decent if not as solid as the previous week's effort in Denver. It was surprising that the Chargers did not attack the right side of the Chiefs defense behind LT Marcus McNeill and LG Kris Dielman, considering the success the Chargers had running to the left when they faced the Chiefs earlier in the year. RG Louis Vasquez continues to improve his run blocking and pass protection from week to week.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line had another solid effort controlling Kansas City's pedestrian offensive line. DE Luis Castillo was sorely missed after getting injured, as DEs Jacques Cesaire and Alfonso Boone were unable to control the end, which allowed speedy Chiefs' RB Jamaal Charles to break a few big runs to the outside. Inside, the rotation of DT Ian Scott and Ogdemi Nwagbuo were solid at the point of attack. As a group, the unit did another good job of creating blitzing lanes for the LBs and DBs. As was the case in the last game against the Chiefs, the line needs to do a better job getting off their blocks, as Chiefs' QB Matt Cassel turned several near-sacks into positive scrambles.
After several good games of getting to the quarterback, the LBs regressed a little bit, primarily due to overpursuit and missed tackling. OLB Shaun Phillips had a another terrific game, with 2 tackles for losses and a marvelous pass defense on a Cassel roll-out. After Castillo left the game, however, his impact was diminished. OLB Larry English struggled a bit on the edge, but he contributed a huge fumble recovery after Chiefs' C Rudy Niswanger botched a shotgun snap at the start of the third quarter. Inisde, ILB Brandon Siler had another good game, contributing 9 tackles. ILB Kevin Burnett added 5 tackles, and was not tested in pass coverage. ILB Tim Dobbins forced Cassel into a grounding penalty that resulted in a Safety.
CBs Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie both had some issues giving the Chiefs WRs too much operating room outside, as a result, former Charger WR Chris Chambers torched them on short and intermediate routes. Otherwise, the Chargers' DBs had a terrific overall game. Safeties Paul Oliver (subbing for injured S Eric Weddle), Kevin Ellison and Steve Gregory were very disruptive when blitzing. Oliver rushed Cassel into a fumbled pass attempt, which he recovered and took 40 yards for a TD. Jammer and Gregory contributed a forced fumble of Jamaal Charles, and Jammer added an interception off a tipped pass. Gregory was outstanding in his nickel coverage.
Special Teams: A-
With the exception of one long return by Jamaal Charles, the coverage units were terrific across the board. WR Legedu Naanee had 2 nice tackles in coverage, and WR Kassim Osgood made the saving tackle on Charles long kickoff return. PK Nate Kaeding contributed a 23 yard FG, as well as a booming 55 yard FG. P MIke Scifres averaged 43 yards on 3 punts, with 1 downed at the 8 yard line and no touchbacks.
Norv Turner took a couple of series to figure out what the Chiefs were doing defensively, namely covering Gates with a LB over the middle. Once the adjustment was made, the Chargers' offense never looked back. He stayed with the passing game, and largely abandoned the run, which put the Chiefs in the unenviable situation of having to match the Chargers score-for-score. On defense, Ron Rivera stayed with the blitzes which bothered the Chiefs earlier in the season, and while the sacks were few and far between, the pressure was effective at forcing mistakes.
Hidden Plays (Non scoring, non-turnover plays that directly affected the outcome):
- On the Chargers' 1st possession, Rivers missed Jackson for at least a 50 yard pass play, if not a TD. The Chargers struggled on their 1st 2 possessions with bad field position.
- Paul Oliver's face mask penalty added 14 yards to a 30 yard run by Jamaal Cahrles to give the Chiefs a 1st down inside the Chargers 20-yard line.
- in the 3rd quarter, Matt Cassel slides after scrambling - the spot leaves him a yard short of the 1st down. On the next play, C Rudy Niswanger makes a bad shotgun snap which is recovered by Larry English at the Chiefs' 10 yard line - effectively ending the game.
- Consecutive false start penalties and a delay-of-game killed a Chargers' scoring drive in the 3rd quarter - the offense was bailed out by Kaeding's 55 yard FG.
- Offense continues to score inside the red zone, scoring 4 TDs in 6 red zone opportunities.
- Defense forcing timely mistakes, killing any chances for a Chiefs victory.
- Solid efforts from RT Brandyn Dombrowski and C Scott Mruczkowski over the last several weeks have helped the team "weather the storm."
- Starting C Nick Hardwick and newly acquired RT Jon Runyan should play at least a few series next week against Cleveland.
- Solid play by Paul Oliver helps ease the loss of S Eric Weddle.
- Seeing so many heroes from the past on the field for the Chargers' 50th Anniversary Team.
Biggest Areas of Concern:
- Front 7 had difficulties holding the edge against the Chiefs' running game.
- Offense got off to a slow start.
- After several weeks of disciplined play, the Chargers got sloppy with penalties (8 for 55 yards).
- Inability to get Sproles running room on offense or kick returns.
- Injuries to Castillo and Weddle will hurt the defense over the next 2-3 games.
Looking ahead to:
Beating up on "Mangenius." Nothing against Cleveland browns fans, maybe we can help their cause by forcing Eric Mangini out of his job after 1 season. Also, with Hardwick and Runyan preparing to join the fray, I'm looking forward to seeing LaDainian Tomlinson continue to climb up the career rushing yardage ladder.