Well that certainly seemed a lot like 2008, didn't it? The defense didn't show up until the second half, the offense didn't look effective until the fourth quarter, but yet the team manages to squeak out a victory. It was ugly, it was jarring, but if the San Diego Chargers can come out and win 2 of their next 3 games against Baltimore, Miami and Pittsburgh, we'll forget all about how close the team came to losing this one.
Let's be honest though. That was not the same Oakland Raiders team we are used to seeing. With their offensive line pushing people around, and the defense knocking Chargers out of the game with injuries on seemingly every play, that looked more like a Bill Parcells-coached football team. Give credit to the Raiders and Tom Cable, who may ride that recipe for success to a competitive finish in the AFC West.
I'm expecting a lot of players on both sides of Bolts & Dolts this week. The entire list, along with stats and analysis, is after the jump.
Philip Rivers - 24/36, 252 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int. He never had a great pocket to work with, and his receivers had a difficult time getting open. Plain and simple, Richard Seymour and the Oakland secondary (who game him fits last season) put Philip in a tough spot on almost every play. However, when it mattered most Rivers did what he usually did. He got better. He got rid of the ball quicker, took what the defense gave him and quickly worked his team downfield for the winning score. Also, his touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson was either a complete mistake or one of the most perfect passes I've ever seen thrown.
Darren Sproles - 9 carries, 23 yards, 1 rush TD, 5 catches, 43 yards. Worth every penny. His catch and run for the first down on third and long was probably the biggest play of the game. His touchdown run seemed effortless. Over the entire game he had less luck running the ball than LT, but when the Chargers spread the Oakland defense out he became the biggest player in the game. The last drive, for me, negates all of those muffed punts and kicks he had during the game. It's week 1 and I bet Sproles has never heard the Coliseum get that loud. Let's chalk those up to jitters and move on.
Legedu Naanee - 5 catches, 49 yards. Did he get a single easy catch all night? Everything was either an impossible catch that he made, or a double-catch that he had to make because he was bobbling it. Needless to say, he played his heart out. His speed and presence of mind should also be praised, because when he got the ball during the two minute drill he scampered over to the sideline to stop the clock and save a timeout. As he always does, Legedu made a big impression on me and I'm happy to see him being incorporated as a bigger part of the offense.
Vincent Jackson - 5 catches, 56 yards, 1 rec TD. The Chargers tried to creatively get him involved early in the game, but he didn't look great until he was out there running normal routes. He made a couple of big catches for first-downs, and his touchdown catch was a thing of beauty. When the Chargers face teams that do not have shutdown corners, I'll be expecting big games from VJ.
Antonio Gates - 5 catches, 83 yards. The only reason Antonio is a Bolt this week is because I'm not 100% positive that Philip's interception bounced off of his hands. It came out so sharply that it seems more likely that it was tipped away by the defender that was draped all over Gates. He also gets praise as the only guy who seemed get open all night prior to the fourth quarter.
LaDainian Tomlinson - 13 carries, 55 yards, 1 rush TD. LT looked significantly better than the 2008 LT to me. He was just fast enough to get to the corner, made a couple of guys missed and ended up with a decent 4.2 YPC. The fumble was only slightly worrisome, but I don't expect to see any more of that from him. So why was he on the sidelines during the final drive? The report from the locker room is that LT rolled an ankle and was limping around noticeably after the game. Get ready for another season of LT fighting through injuries, Chargers fans.
Stephen Cooper - 13 tackles (1 for loss), 2 passes defended. The only guy on the Chargers defense that could make a tackle in the first half. He also forced a Darren McFadden fumble and recovered it himself in the 2nd quarter, which led to LT's 1 yard touchdown run. I apologize for all of the hype I gave to Kevin Burnett in the preseason, Stephen Cooper is clearly the best LB on the team.
Quentin Jammer - 1 interception. Not only was the interception quite nice, but the most important stats here are the ones that are missing. Quentin had zero tackles because the receiver that he was covering for 95% of the game (Darrius Heyward-Bey) was held without a single catch. There's only a few shutdown corners in the NFL, and Jammer is definitely included in that group.
Eric Weddle - 6 tackles, 1 pass defended. Typical Weddle performance. He was all over the field, never missing a tackle, all game. Weddle very rarely is out of position and almost never gets beaten on coverage. His knockout hit on Johnnie Lee Higgins should've been the nail in the coffin for the Raiders, but poor coverage on the next play led to an easy 57 yard TD pass for JaMarcus Russell.
Ogemdi Nwagbuo - 3 tackles (1 for loss), 1 sack. I haven't reviewed the game, but I think the biggest halftime adjustment the team made was to take Travis Johnson out and put Nwagbuo in. Travis looked decent against the run, but offered no push at all on pass plays. Nwagbuo was the complete package, and his little bit of pressure certainly helped. He may be the Chargers future NT, but right now I'd keep him as the starting DE until Cesaire has a chance to get back to 100% and work with the team a little more.
Play-calling. Look, I'm not a genius. I don't pretend that I could call a better game than Norv Turner. However, I believe there is something predictable and dated about Norv's style of attack. The two-TE packages with a FB and runs up the middle don't work for this team, for whatever reason. Maybe Hardwick isn't a big enough Center. Maybe the problems at RG are to blame. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that it's become very evident to Chargers fans how this team should be run on offense. We have one of the smartest, most accurate QBs in the league. If he has to throw the ball constantly out of the spread formations at the end of each game anyways, why not just start there? With VJ, Chris Chambers, Malcom Floyd, Gates and Naanee, the team certainly has the horses to run it. Those are 5 players that absolutely cannot all be covered on the same play by the defense. Throw them out there and let Philip pick the defense apart by finding the open man. Use the pass to set up the run. The 2009 San Diego Chargers should look like "The Greatest Show on Turf" Rams from the late 90s and early 00s, but instead Chargers fans only get glimpses of that offense in the fourth quarter after they've already endured 3 heart attacks and more 3 & outs than they'd care to remember.
Offensive Line. Granted, by the end of the game they had nobody in reserve and were playing with two backups, but even before that they didn't look all that great. Especially compared to the Raiders offensive line. They couldn't run block at all (which was the reason for all of the toss plays), but their biggest transgression was almost getting the franchise QB killed. Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman, two former Pro Bowl linemen, couldn't stop Richard Seymour (2 sacks) when they were double-teaming him. In total, the Chargers gave up 3 sacks and let Rivers get hit at least 2 more times on top of that. Philip did them a favor by getting rid of the ball at least twice when it was obvious that he was going down. The offense cannot be effective unless the team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage, or at the very least gives Rivers a pocket to throw from. They did neither against the Raiders.
Jacob Hester - 1 catch, 5 yards. I suppose he could be lumped in with the offensive line, but I'll put him here. He looked really slow last night. That caused him to be late on blocks for both Sproles and LT. He barely got anything out of the screen pass even though there was ample space and blocking. I hope he gets faster as the season goes on at identifying his man and getting to him, because last night's performance was a step back from where he was in the playoffs in 2008.
Pass-rush - 1 sack. I revoke Ron Rivera's genius status until I see something better than that on the field. Where was the creativity? Where was the aggressiveness? I don't know that I ever saw more than 5 guys blitzing except on very obvious passing downs. Nwagbuo was the only Chargers player to even touch Russell all night, and that sack had at least something to do with the good coverage downfield. Shawne Merriman looked impotent, Shaun Phillips looked like he was facing a lot of double-teams and Larry English had a bull's-eye on his back whenever he came into the game because of how poor he was in coverage. This defense was completely and totally under-prepared at the start of this game.
Clinton Hart - 2 tackles. Just an atrocious game for Clinton. Once again, he showed that he is a below-average SS in the NFL without a good pass-rush to support him. He had countless missed tackles and couldn't defend Zach Miller if his life depended on it. He clearly missed the over-the-top coverage on the deep pass to Louis Murphy, and his finger-pointing while the play was going on was childish and selfish. I don't think he could've had a worse game if he tried.
Shawne Merriman - 5 tackles. I'll keep this short. Shawne looked bad out there. He couldn't get a pass-rush going against one guy and did appear to be double-teamed at all. His aggressiveness led to penalties, missed tackles and bad positioning. With that being said, it was his first game back from a serious injury. He gets a pass from major criticism this week.
Kevin Burnett - 3 tackles. Apparently the Raiders knew something we didn't going into last night's game. They played Burnett like a fiddle all game. A lot of Zach Miller's 6 catches for 96 yards came as a result of Burnett being completely lot in coverage. Perhaps we should simply chalk it up to nerves or being in a new system, but in his first week Kevin offered very little improvement over Tim Dobbins. The Ravens will undoubtedly watch this game and test Burnett mercilessly next week.
Larry English - 1 tackle. I'm not sure if it's because he missed so much of training camp with a hamstring injury, but Mr. English appears to still be playing catch-up. He stood out all game as somebody that was being asked to play coverage, but had no idea how to do it. Also, he provided very little as far as getting pressure on the QB. Somebody needs to teach this kid a spin or swim move. On one play that defined English's entire game, Larry started blitzing the QB before stopping half-way there because he realized he wasn't supposed to let the TE go. He turned around and realized Miller was too far away to catch, then turned around again towards Russell to try and start the pass-rush again. At that point, Russell was already throwing it and English was the only guy on the field standing in one spot and looking confused.
Health - Chargers fans know better than most how important a team's health can be. With the Raiders hitting like anvils all night, a few players watched the 4th quarter comeback from the sideline. According to Kevin Acee of the SDUT, Nick Hardwick was wearing a boot after the game (ankle), Louis Vasquez seemed okay (foot) and LT was limping pretty bad (ankle). Just from hearing that, I'm going to guess that Hardwick is out for some time and the Bolts may need to go outside the organization for another C/G (Tyronne Green is raw and Corey Clark is undersized). Not a great way to start a season where the #1 priority is to stay healthy for the playoffs.