SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 03: Quarterback Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers calls signals against the Arizona Cardinals at Qualcomm Stadium on October 3 2010 in San Diego California. The Chargers won 41-10. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Here's your 1/4-through-the-season Bolts & Dolts leaders (including what you'll read after the jump):
4 - Antonio Gates
3 - Philip Rivers, Kevin Burnett, Antonio Garay
2 - Shaun Phillips, Mike Tolbert, Brandon Siler, Malcom Floyd, Offensive Line
1 - Steve Gregory, Legedu Naanee, Paul Oliver, Ryan Mathews, Jacob Hester, Antoine Cason, Buster Davis, Defensive Secondary, Defensive Line
3 - Darren Sproles
2 - Special Teams
1 - Nick Hardwick, Stephen Cooper, Brandyn Dombrowski, Mike Tolbert, Legedu Naanee
Bolts - Offense
Philip Rivers - 15/20, 241 yards, 2 TDs
The offense that Norv Turner envisioned, one very similar to the one that Marty Schottenheimer ran to a 14-2 record in his last season in San Diego, was in full-force against Arizona's defense. Instead of Rivers throwing the ball 40 times and moving the chains, he threw it 20 and created big plays via the playaction pass. The more 20-25 attempt games we see from El Capitan this season, the better.
Antonio Gates - 7 catches, 144 yards, 2 TDs
I really don't know what else can possible said about Gates anymore. As a football player, the man has no weaknesses. He got wide open on two deep TD passes with his speed and ability to read the defense. He made at least one catch on the sidelines after running a perfect route, touching his toes in bounds and fighting off the defender with his strength. I'm almost positive he caught every ball thrown at him. It was as great of a game as a Tight End could have, capped off by him catching his 500th career reception, and it wasn't the least bit surprising.
Mike Tolbert - 16 carries, 100 yards, 1 TD
This was Mike Tolbert's coming out party, where he proved to everyone that he could be a #1 RB in the NFL and carry the load. Mike, usually known for fighting through tackles, got most of his yards by following his blockers, choosing the right holes and turning on the jets when the opportunity came about. His big game, which started on the very first play, allowed Norv to bring in Ryan Mathews as the change-of-pace RB and may let him bring Mathews along slowly to give the kid more confidence.
Ryan Mathews - 9 carries, 55 yards, 1 TD
There's the guy we've been waiting 3 weeks to see! Who knows why, but Mathews seemed to run in this game with more confidence than he did in the first 2. Maybe it was the time off, maybe it was the Chargers' lead or maybe it was just the blocking in front of him (more on this in a moment). His main asset in the game was speed, as you saw in the TD run I posted yesterday when he ran around the corner and down the sideline, but he ended most of his runs by putting his head down and smashing into somebody for an extra 2-3 yards.
Jacob Hester - 5 carries, 10 rush yards, 1 catch, 3 catches, 40 rec yards
Hester is playing at a level we haven't seen from him since the end of 2008. Maybe it was the extra weight he put on in preparation of 2009, but he just wasn't a very strong blocker last year. However, this season he has improved each week and was probably the biggest reason for all of the rushing yards from Tolbert and Mathews. Not only were his blocks on the right guys, with perfect timing, but they were violent and opened up huge holes every time.
The entire offensive line was dominant, helped by Norv Turner's play-call. Brandyn Dombrowski bounced back from a terrible game to have a great one. The running backs were relatively untouched until they got well passed the line of scrimmage, and outside of 2-3 plays Rivers never had a Cardinal defensive player within 5 yards of him after dropping back. Dombrowski, Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, Tyronne Green and Jeromy Clary all deserve some appreciation for a tremendous game together.
Bolts - Defense
Shaun Phillips - 5 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 pass defended, 1 interception, 1 TD
A cherry of a game to go on top of what looks to be another stellar season from Shaun Phillips. With Antwan Applewhite and Jyles Tucker on the other side of the field, I think Shaun is finally breaking the image of a guy who can only be good when Shawne Merriman is out there to take the double-team. He has officially broken into that grouping of "top tier pass-rushers", while still being one of the best OLBs in the game at stopping the run and coverage as well.
Steve Gregory - 6 tackles, 1 interception
Sad to see Gregory gone for 4 weeks after losing his appeal for a positive PED test. His performance at the SS spot was arguably the biggest reason for the defensive improvement this season. His tackling skills have been a blessing in run defense, and his big hits on plays over the middle has really helped out the secondary. I've always been a big fan of Paul Oliver, and it sounds like he'll have his shot to earn the starting spot there over the next 4 weeks. Let's hope he can outplay Gregory.
Kevin Burnett - 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defended, 1 forced fumble
Another big reason for this season's defensive improvement has been Burnett. He has been every bit the monster we saw in the 2009 preseason, and has been able to stay healthy through the first quarter of the year. This guy is turning into quite the steal for the Chargers. However, he owes some thanks to....
Antonio Garay - 1 tackle, 1 sack
The key to the 3-4 defense is a Nose Tackle that can still dominate against a double-team. This frees up the ILBs to make plays against the run, open holes for them and the Safeties to blitz through the middle, and frees up the OLBs to rush the passer as well. Gregory and Burnett have been fantastic, as has the entire defensive secondary and Shaun Phillips, but if you said that all of that was caused by Garay destroying the middle of the offensive line on just about every play I'd be hard-pressed to debate you on the matter.
Antonio Garay has been a blessing. He has been a testament to AJ Smith's ability to find talent, Ron Rivera's ability as a Defensive Coordinator with a good anchor in his defensive line, and Don Johnson's ability as a Defensive Line coach. Also, the San Diego Chargers training staff deserves credit for keeping a perennially-injured player looking fresh and healthy.
Dolts - Offense
Darren Sproles - 6 carries, 17 yards, 1 fumble.
The most outlandish thing about that stat-line might be that Sproles didn't catch a pass all game. He had a pretty good game returning kicks (including a 30 yarder after fumbling the ball on the previous play) and an average game returning punts. I'm not here to say that Darren Sproles is a useless player, he is the type of player you need on a team (3rd down back, game-changing speed, Kick Returner)....but not the type to pay one of the highest salaries on the team nor the type for try to force into the offense when he's really not needed.