Philip Rivers played on the Chargers first 2 possessions, which resulted in 10 points. Overall, Rivers was effective, but he seemed oddly off-target, especially in the case of TE Antonio Gates. Following two badly overthrown passes, Rivers finally connected with Gates on a 12 yard TD pass. For the game, Rivers finished 9 of 16 for 99 yards. Billy Volek played for the remainder of the game, and after an initial 50 yard bomb to Malcom Floyd, looked a bit rusty (as might be expected). His 1 INT was a horrible read - he had FB Mike Tolbert available underneath. However, Volek performed well in the 4th quarter, converting a pair of 3rd downs on the game winning drive. Volek finished 19-30 for 216 yards, including the game-winning TD to Tolbert with 35 seconds left.
Running Backs: C+
Running the ball, the Chargers could not find any running room whatsoever. Regardless of who was running (LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Michael Bennett), the Chargers' back gained only 47 yards on 16 attempts. The two best running plays were draw plays, Bennett gaining 14 yards, and Sproles 12. Tomlinson and Sproles both had some nice receptions on screen passes - Bennett finished with 4 catches for 62 yards. Tolbert continues to be a solid receiving option out of the backfield, in addition to his game winning TD, he added 2 other catches and refuses to go down easily.
Wide Receivers: A
With Vincent Jackson out and Gates only playing for 2 series, the question was whether the Chargers passing game could be effective. Yes, thanks to a huge outing from Malcom Floyd, who posted 9 catches for 140 yards. Also, at long last, we had a Buster Davis sighting somewhere other than the injury / inactive list. Davis added 6 catches for 52 yards, many of them on bubble screens and drag routes across the middle. He showed some quickness after the catch, and bounced back from some big hits. Kassim Osgood added a catch for 17 yards on the final drive, while the reserve TEs, Brandon Manumaleuna and Kris Wilson added 1 catch apiece.
Offensive Line: C+
It didn't matter whether the 1st or 2nd string Chargers offensive line was in the game - there was nowhere to run. On the plus side, neither the Chargers 1st or 2nd stringers allowed the Redskins to generate much heat on the QBs. In particular, Brandyn Dombrowski continued to hold up well in pass protection on both the right and left side, against either DE Andre Carter and OLB Brian Orakpo. C Nick Hardwick continued his solid play inside - though he wasn't tested by benched DT Albert Haynesworth. RT Jon Runyan also got some solid playing time, and appears ready in the event that Dombrowski struggles in the postseason.
Defensive Line: C+
The Chargers' D-Line did a workmanlike job against a suspect Redskins offensive line, limiting the Redskins (and their decimated RBs) to 64 yards on 22 attempts. On the negative, the line was unable to consistently open blitzing lanes for the Chargers LBs and Safeties. DE Travis Johnson deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage. DE Vaughn Martin contributed 2 tackles, one for loss, while DE Alfonso Boone added 1 tackle. The busiest day (stats-wise) came from DE Antonio Garay, who contributed 4 tackles.
OLB Larry English is something of a quandary. He has a great motor, and relentlessly chases the ball, but he doesn't yet appear to have the explosive burst needed to turn near misses into sacks. It's possible that the learning curve from a smaller school (Northern Illinois) is impacting him in a way similar to Vincent Jackson. That said, he had some near sacks and pressured Redskins' QB Jason Campbell into 2-3 bad throws, and contributed 8 tackles. OLB Marques Harris had the Chargers only sack of the game, coming early in the 3rd quarter. Inside, Tim Dobbins and Brandon Siler played well against the run, but Dobbins struggled in pass coverage - he was beat badly on a play-action TD pass in the 2nd quarter. Overall the group had 24 total tackles.
There was some really good, and some really bad from the reserve DBs. CB Antoine Cason had his first significant playing time in a while; his tackling was terrific, contributing 12 tackles (11 solo) and doing a superb job of limiting yards after the catch. However, he missed a 4th quarter INT, and he gave up 2 big pass plays due to looking at the QB, once down the sideline by Santana Moss, and on the goal-line for a TD by reserve Redskins' TE Todd Yoder. On the other side, CB Dante Hughes was miserable in space, missing several tackles, as well as tipping a pass that turned into a pass completion. Safeties Steve Gregory, Kevin Ellison, and C.J. Spillman were good at creating some blitz pressure, and Ellison in particular played well against TE Fred Davis. However, Spillman struggled in space, and a bad angle turned a 35 yard reception by WR Malcolm Kelly into an 84 yard catch and run.
Special Teams: B
P Mike Scifres continues his terrific punting, averaging 48.3 yards on 3 kicks, and dropping two of them inside the Washington 20 yard line. PK Nate Kaeding was sensational again, hitting 3 FGs of 24, 45 and 47 yards. Aside from one poorly covered punt, the coverage units performed well, with Kassim Osgood making 2 terrific tackles. On the negative, the coverage teams have struggled to find running room for Sproles on either punt or kickoff returns.
This game could not have gone much better for Norv Turner. He got his starters some quality playing time, held back any injured players, and got a late-season opportunity to evaluate his roster. Further, the reserves played well enough in the clutch to win the game. Also, there were enough mistakes made by the reserves that will allow coaches to harp on mistakes and keep players working through the bye week.
Hidden Plays (Non scoring, non-turnover plays that directly affected the outcome):
- On the Chargers' 1st drive, CB Carlos Rogers dropped an INT inside the Redskins' 5 yard line. Kaeding converted his 1st FG to give the Chargers a 3 point lead.
- On the Chargers' 2nd drive, Floyd makes a great diving catch on 4th-and-1 to sustain the drive. Rivers'TD to Gates followed 3 plays later.
- Late in the 3rd quarter, (ex) Redskins' Head Coach Jim Zorn passes on a 4th-and-1 at the Chargers 41 yard line and punts instead.
- On the Redskins last scoring drive, LG Derrick Dockery jumps early on 4th and 1 at the Chargers' 3, forcing the Redskins to kick a FG to go up 20-16.
- On the Chargers winning drive, Redskins DB Justin Tryon drops an INT inside the Redskins' 20 yard line. Tolbert's winning TD follows 5 plays later.
- No injuries to starters and key reserves.
- Reserve players get extensive playing time, and contribute to a victory.
- Contributions from demoted or injured players (particularly Cason and Davis).
Biggest Areas of Concern:
- Struggles of reserve DBs (besides Cason).
- Inability to generate consistent pass pressure against a weak offensive line.
- Missed opportunities for turnovers.
Looking Ahead To:
Watching the Wild Card playoff games and finding out who the Chargers will play on January 17th.