Calm down, everybody. If there is such a thing, this was a good loss.
I see a lot of Chargers fans are piling on Norv Turner and saying that the Sproles draw play on 4th & 2 was a horrible play call. You're right and you're wrong. That same play led to an easy game-winning TD last week against the Raiders. Also, as the announcers were quick to point out, the Ravens were so focused on defending the pass that they had been putting 8 guys back in coverage and rushing only 3. The play should've worked. It should've caught the Ravens off guard and been a quick gain of 5 up the middle. However, Ray Lewis sniffed the play out and made the tackle in the backfield. The guy is a future Hall of Famer for a reason, and that was it.
Your complete list of Bolts & Dolts is after the jump.
Norv Turner - 47 passes, 21 rushes. 474 yards of offense. I'm not an all or nothing kind of guy. If I see progress, I'm generally happy. All I ask is that things are moving in the right direction. This was progress. The Chargers spread the Baltimore defense out, setting up the run with the pass. They took advantage of the height mismatch they had with Malcom Floyd, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates. They threw screen passes to neutralize the blitz. The Chargers generally moved the ball down the field at will the entire game, until they got into the red zone. Considering how good Baltimore's defense is, and considering the Chargers were playing without three starters, I believe this to be progress.
Philip Rivers - 25/45, 436 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 4 rushes, 10 rushing yards. Let's not kid ourselves. It wasn't Philip's best game. While the offensive line did a good job of not letting many people through unblocked, the difference in the pressure he faced and the pressure Joe Flacco faced was stunning. Philip ran the ball 4 times just to get away from the rush, was sacked twice and threw the ball away at least a handful of other times to avoid a negative play. With his groin and hand cramping up and bothering him, he still drove the team down the field and nearly to a winning touchdown. He wins these games more often than he loses them, but you cannot expect him to win them all. Even with the lack of performance in the red zone, 26 points against one of the league's best defense is impressive.
Darren Sproles - 10 carries, 26 yards, 7 catches, 124 receiving yards, 1 rec TD, 128 ret yards. Was he dynamic as a runner? Eh, maybe. He had one carry for 13 yards, which means if you took that away he'd have 9 carries for 13 yards. That's not great, but you have to factor in that Baltimore prides itself on having great run defense, having not allowed a 100+ yard rusher since the dawn of time. Was Sproles dynamic as a receiver and a kick returner? Of course he was. 278 total yards in any game is impressive, but Darren makes it look relatively simple. Having a weapon like him on the field is a game-changer, as it forces the defense to put one of their best players on him and opens the field for everybody else. Even if the Chargers had to use him and Michael Bennett full-time, I'd be unconcerned about the offensive production going down.
Vincent Jackson - 6 catches, 141 yards, 1 TD. Every time you though to yourself "There's no way they're not going to be triple-covering VJ right here", he seemed to make a big catch. He used his speed to get past the CBs and his muscle to get the best position on the ball. His hands, which were really my only concern for him coming into this season, were not a problem. He caught 6 of the 7 balls thrown to him. This was a statement game for Jackson, the type that makes everyone in the NFL notice him and say "That's a number one WR."
Antonio Gates - 5 catches, 78 yards. Antonio looks like the 2007 or 2006 version of himself again. His speed and agility is back 100%. On the quick slant against a Safety or LB, he cannot be stopped. When he can get position on a ball that's thrown high, he's coming down with it. He was double-covered every time the Chargers got near the end zone (and Rivers still threw at him once), so he couldn't help much with those issues, but he was a major weapon all day and is back to being the best TE in football.
Nate Kaeding - 4/4 FGs, 2/2 PATs. Nate has looked excellent in both Chargers games this season. Not only would the Bolts not have had a chance at the end of the game without him nailing every one of his FGs, but his kickoffs into the endzone were certainly helpful for the defense.
Quentin Jammer - 6 tackles, 1 defended pass. Q did his "shutdown corner" thing all game. Derrick Mason ended the game with 3 catches for 31 yards and that's it. Joe Flacco had a hard time finding open receivers most of the day, and part of that is because Mason was blanketed by Jammer on every play.
Antoine Cason - 2 tackles, 1 defended pass, 1 INT. Just barely made it. I may actually be giving him more credit because of the initial mistake that led to an easy Kelly Washington TD. As I stated before, I like progress and I also like players that play better after they make a mistake. Certain guys, with Rivers and Drew Brees included, play better when they're trying to turn a bad game into a good one. Cason's interception was a huge momentum-shifter in the game.
Eric Weddle - 10 tackles, 1 tackle for loss. Just like Jammer, Weddle went mostly unmentioned throughout the game even though he led the team in tackles. He did a fantastic job in coverage, maintaining over-the top coverage for most of the game. Flacco had 2 pass plays for more than 20 yards, one was a screen pass and the other was Cason's busted coverage on Washington. Flacco kept from throwing deep because Weddle was there every time. Eric also was all over the field, making tackles on outside runs on the opposite side of the field from where he started.
Pass Rush - 1 sack, 4 QB hits. I can't have every defensive Bolt be a secondary guy. Although the pass rush only got 1 sack (Luis Castillo), their pressure kept the Ravens from being able to develop their routes deep downfield. Shawne Merriman, in particular, looked better than he did against Oakland and finished the game with 2 hits on Flacco. A heavy dose of exotic blitzing schemes from Ron Rivera was a good sight to see, and against lesser teams they should be more effective.
Chris Chambers - 2 catches, 30 yards. Chambers was thrown to 10 times in yesterday's game and only came away with the ball twice. Nobody else has a percentage that even comes close to that. Sure, the coverage on him was pretty good, but even when the ball was hitting him in the hands he seemed to have a hard time bringing it in. Chris seemed like the missing piece of the puzzle for the offense yesterday, that would've taken it from "very good" to "great". I need to see more from him if he wants to be the #2 receiver on a team this deep.
Legedu Naanee - 1 catch, 8 yards, 1 rush, -5 rushing yards. Chambers is helped by a poor performance on Legedu's part that showed off exactly why he is not ready to be a starter. His lack of awareness on his fourth quarter catch may be part of the reason the Chargers lost the game. If he gets the first down, the Bolts maybe never see fourth down. Instead, he danced around 2 yards away from the marker trying to make 3 defenders miss and ended up getting tackled from behind. Legedu, trust me when I tell you that dancing around in the middle of a defense never works. It may seem like a good idea at the time, but all you're doing is giving somebody time to come up behind you and jar the ball loose with a big hit that you never saw coming.
Jacob Hester - 2 runs, 3 yards. Part of the argument I made for the Chargers to run a spread-out, pass-happy offense was that it fit Hester better. He'd be blocking safeties and corners instead of LBs. He'd have more space to be a better runner and a better receiver. Yesterday he brought nothing to the table as a runner (Hester's philosophy: grab ball, fall forward) and didn't catch a pass. In the second half I saw Mike Tolbert in there at FB for at least one running play, and I don't know that Jacob was injured. Could Tolbert be getting a chance to win the job back? I know that would make a lot of Hester-haters happy.
Defensive Line - I know, I know. Vaughn Martin and Ogemdi Nwagbuo split duties at NT and they're both quite young. Jacques Cesaire has been out for over a month and even missed part of this game with a bloody chin. I'm not going to really criticize because I thought they played well considering the circumstances, but I couldn't leave them off of the Dolts list because they were a big reason that the Chargers lost the game. Willis McGahee terrorized the defensive line to the tune of 79 yards on 15 carries (5.3 YPC) and 2 easy-looking rushing TDs. Don't think the Dolphins and Steelers haven't seen the porous rush defense by the Chargers each of the last two weeks. They're building their gameplan around it.
Referees. I will freely admit that a team with new offensive and defensive lines, that haven't been playing together all through training camp, typically have problems with penalties. However, this was a little ridiculous. The Chargers were flagged three times as much as the Ravens (12-to-4) for nearly three times as much yards (85-to-32). Let's not even go into the play where the referees jumped in the middle of the line, didn't stop the playclock, and forced a false start on Baltimore. It seemed like the first time these umps had ever worked an NFL game.
They did call a mostly-fair game in terms of penalties. The Chargers just made more mistakes. There were a handful of delay of games called on Rivers (one of which was the official's fault and a killer in the fourth quarter), a couple of false starts, and other plays that couldn't go un-called (Dobbins' unnecessary roughness, Burnett's PI). Luckily, none of the really bad calls (running into the kicker, Hester's non-existent chop block) really killed the Chargers. Rivers still threw a TD after Hester's chop-block and the defense still force a punt 3 plays later after English's foul on the punter. The non-call on Rivers' second INT was kindof BS, but almost understandable because the refs had made it known that they were generally "letting them play" in the 4th quarter.
The biggest killer, and one that probably burns Norv Turner the most, was the delay of game call at the end of the 2nd quarter. According to Norv, and I believe he's right, the official made a motion that signifies that the playclock has been reset to 40 seconds. Yet, 11 seconds later, the playclock hit zero and the Chargers are moving back from the goal-line to Baltimore's 5 yard line. What started off as a relatively easy TD (QB sneak probably would've done it) was turned into a Nate Kaeding field goal instead. This was just part of the ref's buffoonery (not just towards the Chargers, but towards both teams) from yesterday's game.