1. Antonio Gates
The second most important player on the team behind Philip Rivers cannot put any weight on his ankle. Kevin Acee's post-game analysis says it doesn't look good for Antonio to play next week against the Patriots, and I believe him. This was the first game this season with less than 5 catches for Gates, the first with less than 57 receiving yards and the first instance in which Gates didn't catch a touchdown pass in his last 10 regular season games.
Without him in there, the 3rd down offense looked particularly bad (4-for-12 for the game). I have responded to the Vincent Jackson questions by stating that he was the #2 receiver on the Chargers behind Gates, and the obvious point stated there was "The team would be screwed if they ever lost Gates." Well, with the biggest game of the season coming up, Norv Turner and Charger fans will get to sit back and watch just how bad it might be with #85 on the field.
2. Nate Kaeding
A blocked FG and, just like that, Kaeding is down amongst the "average" FG kickers in the league with a 77.8% accuracy this season. It would appear the kick was blocked because Nate (who was limping a little bit in Oakland) slipped and hurt himself on the play. He is not expected to play this week against the Patriots.
The blocked FG, and his absence, wouldn't be so bad if the Chargers didn't lost to the Rams by 3 points and if they didn't have a history of making just about every game this season a close one. My guess for who will replace him this week is Nick Novak, since he was here in camp and did a good job on shorter FGs, but whoever it is I'll be nervous leaving the game in his hands.
3. Time of Possession/Tired Defense
Maybe this is just me, maybe I'm having something similar to war flashbacks and thinking about the Chargers under Mike Riley, but the Chargers have been consistently losing the Time of Possession battle in games and in the 4th quarter it shows.
The Bolts had done a great job of stopping Stephen Jackson all game, and had just scored to get within 3 points with just over 3 minutes left. Plenty of time to stop the Rams (with 3 timeouts and the 2 minute warning) and give Rivers a shot to win it. Then this happened:
If you thought the defense looked too tired to stop Jackson on that 3rd & 6 and then again on the 2nd & 7 play, you were not alone. It's a lose-lose philosophy really. Either Ron Rivera gets so horrible at play-calling at the end of games that the defense cannot be relied upon to stop the opponent, or the defense gets so tired that they cannot be relied upon to stop the opponent. I prefer the latter philosophy, because if the rest of the team gets better the TOP battle will swing back into San Diego's favor.
It's time to see how the kid bounces back from his first stinker of a game. This, in my mind, is an issue Antonio Cromartie had in Ron Rivera's system that is again rearing it's ugly head. Ron likes to play his CBs about 10 yards off of the line of scrimmage (it has helped the secondary in not giving up big plays downfield), and offenses like to try and attack that with two-step drops and quick passes to the WRs. That's one thing when Quentin Jammer is there to plant his shoulder into the chin of the WR the moment he gets the ball, but something completely different when that guy on the outside is Cason or Cromartie.
The Broncos used to work this play to death with Brandon Marshall against Cro. At best, he could stiff-arm Antonio or make a move on him and turn it into a big gain. At worst, he would usually end up getting 5-7 yards before getting brought down by Eric Weddle. The Rams seized the same opportunity yesterday against Cason, and went to that play regularly to pick up 7 yards. It is a big reason that, even though Stephen Jackson was mostly stopped until the 4th quarter, you are hearing about the Chargers giving up "too much yardage on first down" in yesterday's game.
I don't know how to fix this. I doubt Rivera will change his philosophy, and I don't know that Cason is a big enough hitter (or a good enough tackler) to make it stop. Expect teams, especially the Patriots and Broncos, to test this formula a bunch in their games against the Chargers.
5. The Offensive Line
The single worst part of a bad Chargers team in St. Louis. They weren't ready. Marcus McNeill wasn't ready to play. Louis Vasquez looked like a statue. Jeromey Clary has regressed this year, and didn't have room to do so. Just a pathetic showing by the entire group in terms of run-blocking (Ryan Mathews was caught in the backfield more than once, but typically turned it into a gain) and pass blocking (7 sacks! The Rams only had 10 sacks in their 5 previous games!).
There's nothing more to say here. Knock the rust off quick, fellas, or else somebody is going to learn Hal Hunter's name and he's going to be taking Steve Crosby-like heat from the fans. Also, please don't get Philip Rivers killed.