Bolts & Dolts: Chargers at Titans

This was the most complete win, and certainly the most dominating victory, for the San Diego Chargers this year if you take out the two games against the Chiefs. I know a lot of people were worried about this streaking Titans team heading into the Christmas Day matchup, but after I wrote up the game preview I knew it would turn out this way.  Really, any time the game preview says the opposing team hasn't been very good at defending the pass and they just lost their best player for the season....it's going to be a big win for the Chargers.

Because this team was great in just about every facet of the game, there will be plenty of Bolts and not a lot of Dolts this week.  I suppose that's a good thing.  Nobody wants to be a grinch this time of year.

Bolts

 

My Parents.  All four of them (birth parents and in-laws).  My in-laws for just generally being awesome.  For Christmas they got me a fancy new computer monitor that's bound to make me even more attached to my computer.  They also whipped up a fantastic Christmas dinner and didn't grimace when I said me and my wife were leaving to "get home in time for the Chargers game".  My regular parents get a "bolt" for still loving me (I hope) after I was a grouchy to them on the phone last night.  Sorry guys, I was tired and I don't like distractions during the Chargers game.  Merry Christmas and I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier.  My dad gets the line of the night with "The first Christmas Day when I don't talk to you will be when I'm dead, you got that?"  I do.

My Wife (and My Lucky Jersey).  With the Chargers up 7-3 in the first quarter, and the Titans driving down the field easily, my wife suddenly looked at me and her eyes got really big.  "Honey!  Where's your lucky jersey?!?"  It was sitting on the chair 2 feet away from me, but I jumped up and threw it on.  I went from feeling nervous (I was sure Tennessee was going to get a TD) to immediately feeling calm.  About 3 seconds after I sat back down on the couch, Brandon Siler was intercepting a Vince Young pass and all was right with the world.  Thank you, lucky jersey.

Norv Turner/Ron Rivera.  I don't know if anybody has noticed, but I've stopped putting Norv under "offense".  It's because, as great of a play-caller as he is, he has really shined this year as a head coach.  I think part of that is him getting better at it (it's always easier when you actually care about the players, which is hard to do when you hardly know them) and another big part of it is Ron Rivera.  

First, when was the last time you saw a Chargers coach screaming at his players on the sidelines?  I think I can remember Marty yelling at the o-line once.  Wade Phillips, Ted Cottrell, these men are geniuses on the whiteboard but will never be feared.  Everyone's seen Rivera blow up at least once and is terrified of being in his eyesight the next time it happens.  While you don't need fear to motivate, it certainly doesn't hurt.  It also allows Ron and Norv to play good cop/bad cop with Ron if he needs to.

Second, when was the last time the Chargers defense was this consistent?  Sure, it's not the best defense in the league and it has holes if you can find them....yet Rivera just keeps scheming around them.  Anyone want to guess the last time the Bolts gave up 30 points?  Week 6, the game that sent the Chargers to 2-3, against the Broncos.  The most points they've given up during the ten game winning streak is 24 points, which was to the Bengals.  So the offense knows, going into each game, that if they put up 24 points (they average 28.7) they have a great chance of winning the game.

Third, (and this is back to Norv) does this team remind you of the Chargers of recent history?  It doesn't for me.  Those teams were inconsistent.  They would blow out some teams (Jets, Patriots in 2008) and then get blown out the next week.  They came out in games looking confused until they were trailing most of the time.  The main thing the team always seemed to lack, and the main reason Chargers fans were afraid to face teams like the Patriots, Steelers, etc., was focus.  It would be there one week but not the next.  The team seemed to take the "one game at a time" motto too seriously, playing without a care for how it effected their overall season.  

This team seems different for me.  This team seems to have a killer instinct that was lacking in the past.  Before, a road game on Christmas or trying to hype the offense back up after a stoppage due to a major injury seemed impossible for the Chargers.  We used these as excuses and wondered why the Chargers could not be as mentally tough as the teams winning the Super Bowl each year.  Why did they only look fierce when they were playing the Colts?  This year, nothing effects them.  Cross-country road game on Christmas Day?  Just play.  Back 3.5 games in the division?  Just play.  I don't know where this mental toughness came from, but I never expected to see it in San Diego.  I credit Norv Turner, because he seems like the leader of the team.

 

Offense

Philip Rivers - 21/27, 264 yds, 2 TDs.  Over at Music City Miracles, I was very clear that Philip has been making some bone-headed plays the last couple of weeks.  Namely, dumb interceptions when he would get pressure on him.  I was quick to follow up by saying that nobody knows their own faults, and works harder to fix them, than Rivers and that I expected to see him play smarter the next time he got pressured.  He did.

(Side Note: I find it very humorous that Billy Volek replaced Rivers at the beginning of the 4th quarter, the offense ran 16 plays with him in there, and he didn't throw once.)

I've had it with people asking me if the Chargers regret letting Drew Brees walk away.  I usually go back and explain the story, and why it made sense at the time.  I always end it by saying I'd rather have Rivers though, even know, and that's always responded to with somebody disagreeing with me.  I don't get why though.  Rivers is two years younger, has had more team success (why does Brees get into the Brady/Manning talk without doing anything in the playoffs?), and is the only player close to Brees statistically this season.  Rivers is 2nd in QB rating, 1st in yards per attempt, 1st in pass play of 20+ yards, 1st in % of his throws going for 1st down....what am I missing?  That's before I even add in the Saints' 5th ranked rushing offense (Chargers are 29th) or their terrible 2009 schedule.  Why would anybody take Brees over Rivers at this point?

LaDainian Tomlinson - 16 carries, 59 yds, 2 TDs.  I can't tell you how hard I laughed when he missed on the TD throw.  It just seemed like Norv was saying "Fine, you want to take the ball out of the hands of your best player?  I'll show you how well that works."  Anyways, a fine running day for the spry-looking LT.  The offense line did a great job of opening holes for him, and he did a great job of hitting them and taking what was there.  Seeing how good Chris Johnson was must've been like looking into the past for Tomlinson, but he's still a very effective RB in the league and seems happy to have the weight of the offense on somebody else's shoulders.

Darren Sproles - 5 carries, 38 rush yds, 2 catches, 23 rec yds.  I said it last night in the open thread, but I'll say it again.  Sproles always looks fantastic against teams that know they're out of it and don't feel like putting in the 100% effort it takes to catch him and tackle him.  He's not starter material, and he's not great at running down the clock with a 3 point lead, but put him in there with a 20 point lead and he'll rip the heart out of the opponents.  Also, he fair-caught a ball!  I'm going to say it now: Sproles is going to have another huge, HUGE game in the playoffs.  Probably against the Colts.

Antonio Gates/Vincent Jackson/Malcom Floyd - 11 catches, 199 yds, 1 TD.  They're all grouped together because they all played equally as good as each other and opened up holes for one another.  Floyd was always open after a Jackson catch, Jackson was open after a Gates catch and so on.  With Floyd getting better and better every week, this might be the best receiving trio in football right now.

By the way, not enough was made of the Gates TD.  It was a smart move by Gates to start running downfield when his defender left him, but why is nobody mentioning that Rivers threw a 30 yard strike while sliding to his knees.  Do you have a football and some time?  Go outside, find some grass, and try hitting a tree or anything with a strong spiral while sliding/falling to your knees.  It's impossible.  Your ball will either hit the ground 5 yards in front of you, or it'll go sailing over the tree.  Although Gates got that TD, the scramble and the throw by Rivers is the only reason it happened.

Offensive Line.  Both offensive lines.  Marcus McNeill was beaten once or twice, but was fine besides that.  Brandyn Dombrowski played very well.  It was obvious that after they started getting some pressure on Rivers, the game plan was the force the pass-rushers to the outside and let Rivers step up in the pocket (resulting in the Titan defenders running into each other more than once).  It worked wonderfully.  The biggest Bolt goes to the interior of the line though.  Nick Hardwick was a huge improvement over Scott Mruczkowski, which I did not expect in his first game back.  He showed me the difference between a good Center and a Pro Bowl-caliber Center in one game.  His play made it easier for Kris Dielman and Louis Vasquez, who both had huge games (especially as run-blockers).  I now feel about 100 times more confident about the line heading into the playoffs.

Also deserving a Bolt was the backup line.  It was Dombrowski at LT, Vasquez at LG (which he played in college), Dennis Norman at Center, Tyronne Green at RG and Jon Runyan at RT.  They didn't have to do a lot of pass-protection (where it gets more complicated), but they did their job in bullying around the Titans' defensive line for the entire 4th quarter.  It will be interesting to see if Runyan or Dombrowski gets the start in the Chargers' first playoff game, but at this point I'm really comfortable with either one.

 

Defense

Eric Weddle - 4 tackles, 1 interception, 2 defended passes.  "Mr. Everywhere" (just made that up) certainly was last night.  He had his usual game of disrupting passes, freaking out Vince Young on blitzes, picking off an inaccurately thrown pass and keeping Chris Johnson's 7 yard runs from turning into 70 yard runs.  He and Shaun Phillips have been the Chargers' best defensive players this year, but Weddle was without a doubt the best one last night.

Steve Gregory - 6 tackles, 1 QB hit.  He followed up probably his weakest game of the season with one of his strongest.  He was great in coverage, very good in run support and Vince Young was looking for him to blitz on nearly every play.  I saw him go down late in the game, but with 2 weeks (plus a couple of days) until the Chargers first playoff game he should be fine.

Quentin Jammer/Antonio Cromartie.  Although VY's two interceptions went to a LB and a Safety, that was mostly because he had to throw away from the Chargers' CBs (who were shutting down just about everything).  You can blame Young's 38% completion percentage last night on these two guys.

Defensive Line.  Some of the guys that are playing insane on the line right now were literally taken off the street by A.J. Smith, who would be the favorite for Executive of the Year (or whatever the "Best GM" award is called) if Larry English was having a bigger impact this season.  Still, Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone were disrupting just about every Titans offensive play last night.  They pushed the pocket around and stopped a lot of runs.  Luis Castillo had a great game too, and Travis Johnson and Vaughn Martin played good when they saw time.  What a weird mix of defensive linemen, but they're getting the job done and were a big part of last night's win.

 

Dolts

There were no offense or defensive Dolts this week.

 

Almost Bolts

Mike Tolbert.  Alright, fine.  Even though he was running against a team that had given up on the game and their season, it's difficult to overlook a 5.5 YPC when the defense knows you're getting the ball on every play.

Jacob Hester.  Had his best game as a blocker for LT that he's had all season.  Perhaps Hardwick helped him in some way as well.  I think putting the ball in Hester's hands might always be a mistake, but if he keeps opening up holes for Tomlinson I have no problem with him being on the field.

Legedu Naanee.  Is there anybody on this team that can't make a tough catch?  Naanee has great hands and can take a big hit after catching it too.  To have at least 4 guys like that on the team makes the Chargers very dangerous on third down.

Brandon Siler.  Excellent interception and good job against the run.  Nothing stood out as being spectacular, but he certainly doesn't look lost as a starter.

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