San Diego Chargers
Our favorite zombie corpse from San Diego has its head out of the ground and one hand out. Still very vulnerable to a shotgun blast, but looking scary enough that the audience knows it might start doing damage soon. A momentum changing win happened in Houston as the Chargers overcame the Texans to improve to 4-5. This was a conference win and they are now 3-3 against teams from the AFC. This is also a common opponents game for tie-breaking purposes with teams in their division. It's also a second consecutive win over a would-be wild card contender.
Here's this week's game in numbers:
Philip Rivers went all PHILIP RIVERS and you missed it. Actually, you didn't because it was a win that wasn't blacked out. Hooray! That passing DVOA should bring a smile to your face. Its absurdly high and that's with an adjustment for the Texans 31st ranked pass defense. The special teams were also special. They were the worst they've been a win all season. Congratulations. The negative passing DVOA is pretty nice too since Matt Schaub is perhaps the third or fourth best QB the Chargers will face all season (Manning and Brady obviously being better and Orton arguably so) and the second best they've faced so far.
Here's where the Chargers stand on the season:
Ahhhh. Right where the Chargers should be in passing offense: #1, baby. And by the Special Teams not playing up to its previous awful standard it improved slightly. Yeah, new slightly-less-awful-but-still-awful standard.
The Denver Broncos got to rest up on a bye week after a trip across the pond. The season numbers will look slightly different than they did a week ago due to opponent adjustments creeping in slowly.
Here's where the Broncos stand on the season:
Awful defense and running game. Crazy good passing game. Yup, looks about the same.
The Chiefs took one on the chin going into the Black Hole and losing in overtime to fall to 5-3. The Chiefs are now 1-1 against AFC West teams and 4-3 against AFC teams.They are still in good standing in the AFC West, but have to deal with the demoralizing realization that, like the rest of the AFC West, they have lost to the Raiders.
Here's how the game went down by DVOA:
The thing I didn't like about this game is the same thing I haven't liked about the Chiefs all season. They don't go for the jugular. They are content to hand the ball off over and over again without actually building a lead. I don't find this strategy so bad when they are facing a team that has trouble stopping the run, but the Raiders were not that team. Perhaps, part of the problem is that they don't trust their QB and when you watch him play he doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. However, the numbers keep coming up his way. In five games the passing offense has had a higher DVOA than the running game this year, and six times it's had a positive DVOA. Somehow the Chiefs will have to find a way to keep teams from staying close when the running game just isn't working as well as they'd like it to. I don't have the answer to how that's done and I'm not going to pretend to.
Here's where the Chiefs stand on the season:
Losing to the Raiders should knock you off your high horse and that's exactly what happened as the Chiefs' overall DVOA went from 1st to 5th in the NFL. No problems to speak of with the cumulative offensive and defensive numbers, but the special teams grab your attention. For the first time this season Kansas City's special teams DVOA is below average. The unit was living off of its 26.1% DVOA it put up against the Chargers, but this week's stinker ushered in a course correction. Whatever happened week one had more to do with the broken unit San Diego sports and probably little to do with what the Chiefs bring to the table.
The Raiders won their 3rd straight game and their 3rd straight AFC West game to move to 5-4. They are now 3-0 vs. the AFC West. No, that's not a typo, the Raiders really did just sweep the division in its first go-around. They are now poised to take control of the division if they were to keep winning and the Chiefs were to drop a game or two. In fact, if the Raiders won out, they'd win the division on a head-to-head tie-breaker with Kansas City.
Here's what the game that gave the Raiders a winning record looked like:
So what if the previously successful running game wasn't working? So what if there was a slight issue stopping the pass? Neither was a big enough problem because the Raiders run defense buried the Chiefs. That, combined with a nice special teams showing, just enough passing and the Chiefs refusing to attempt much through the air. An optimist would point out that those are some pretty nice numbers against a divisional opponent. A pessimist would point out that the numbers aren't quite as good as the last two wins and show that there is a downward trend happening.
Here's where the Raiders stand on the season:
As I mentioned last week, the Raiders still have work to do to prove on the stats sheets that they shouldn't be judged by those early games too much. Still, despite some bad rankings in overall DVOA, Offensive DVOA, Passing DVOA and Pass Defense DVOA they aren't awful numbers, just merely bad. That's definite progress. Not to mention those actual assets of running the ball and stopping the run that the Raiders can lean on moving forward.
Road win. Bye week. Time to get healthy. Oh, and time to spend a lot of extra time working on special teams. In fact, that's exactly what the Chargers did on their Tuesday practice. Special teams was a big point of emphasis that day and the team is determined to fix what ails them. Head Coach Norv Turner was so bold as to say that they will not have another blocked punt this season. We'll see.
As for the injury front, the bye week should be the last bit of rest to get a few guys back on the field. Larry English already participated in the game vs. the Texans and should see his role expanded in the next few games. Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee both have had a lot of time to recover and should be close to 100% by the time Monday, November 22 rolls around. Brandon Siler, Nate Kaeding and Antonio Gates still need some time before we can really say who will be playing when.
Some of the key words I saw as I was perusing the Mile High Report. Patience. Rebuilding, Restoration. Battered and Beat. Morale was shot. Poor decision making. Keep it simple. John Bena summarized his expectations for the second half by writing Broncos Begin 2nd Half Looking For One Good Quarter. Not a lot of optimism in this bunch and I don't blame them. I mentioned that this is now a rebuilding year for them and the fans seem to be accepting it. Well, maybe not quite in the acceptance stage yet, but at least coping with it.
There's also a little pent up frustration with what Peyton Hillis is doing in Cleveland. This is somewhat amusing considering the old impression of the Broncos plug-and-play running game. Normally the Broncos fans wouldn't care much about losing a running back and seeing him do well elsewhere. But, this year is different. It's a different coaching staff than the previous era, and they are struggling both in the running game and in the winning game. A nice little combo that allows them to get all bent out shape about week 9's unlikely hero for the Browns. It makes me giggle just a little although I'm not really sure why.
Last week I led into this section with: "The only thing left for the Chiefs to do to continue to solidify themselves as AFC West Champs is to get breathing room." That sure didn't happen. Instead of getting breathing room they got a 6'4" screaming mega-fan in a Darth Vader outfit and spikes on his shoulders standing next to them. And, what's that sound in the distance somewhere? That couldn't be thunder could it? Nah. Couldn't be.
The Chiefs can wrap themselves in the nice snuggly comfort of their easy schedule, but those games still need winning efforts put out week in and week out. Things are going to have to go a little different in the passing game or special teams or in the personnel decisions made in the running game or something. Bottom line is that they have to make sure that, when a team struggles like the Raiders did in the first half, the Chiefs can put them away. Or at least get some more breathing room.
Last week I talked about some guarded optimism from Raider Nation after their dismantling of an already mostly dismantled Seahawks squad. By now I expect that the Silver and Black are building into a full on frenzy. They got a sell out for the first time in a while, and I fully expect their fans to help the Chargers sell out their week 13 tilt in San Diego. There's still a lot of reasons to hedge bets on the Raiders this year, but what fun is that when you're a fan?
During the Chiefs-Raiders game one of the announcer brought up some interesting points about Raiders new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and RB Darren McFadden. The announcer was talking about how Jackson went back to McFadden's college game tape and installed running plays that he figured McFadden was comfortable running. That's seems like a pretty smart way to get your talented young back more productive and more motivated. That's the kind of coaching I always suspected was lacking in Oakland. Hue Jackson is starting to change my perception. Jackson was a name on a lot of people's lips when he was in Baltimore and is a definite up-and-comer. I think I even brought his name up way back in 2008 when the Chargers were 4-8 and a few BFTBers were contemplating what coaches the Chargers could bring in if the current staff was let go. He could be a big part of how the Raiders get everything turned around and also could end up being a head coach somewhere very soon.
The Chargers have to wait until week 11 to play their next game. The Chargers' remaining schedule doesn't look too bad. They have 4 home games and 3 road ones left. Their opponents' combined DVOA is -4.0%. That's is roughly equivalent to the San Francisco 49ers who stand at -4.2% and coincidentally are one of the teams the Chargers have on their schedule.
The Broncos don't get a nice juicy NFC West team or other bottom-half coming out of their bye week. Nope. they get to host the division-leading Chiefs. They also get a few million extra Bronco-backers as Raider and Charger fans unite on their bye weeks to pull for the Blue and Orange over the Red and Yellow. By now you should know all about the Chiefs. They are strong in all areas, but will prefer to run and stop the run over all else. The Broncos don't run the ball well and can pass at a level that few other teams in the league can match. This could work well against Kansas City since the Chiefs will take their sweet time using their passing game to keep up if the Broncos were to get ahead. The hope for the Broncos is that they can come out swinging with Kyle Orton, Brandon Lloyd and the rest of the receivers and limit their mistakes elsewhere. That limiting mistakes part has been quite the challenge for this year's crew, however.
As mentioned, the Chiefs are going to Denver to look for some of that precious breathing room. This is a bit of a divisional trap game for the Chiefs because of that big time passing attack that the Broncos possess, the freshness that the bye week could give Denver and the crowd at Mile High will be anything but on the Chiefs' side. One thing you sometimes see from teams that are just starting to have success is that the NFL season becomes a grind. The wins early were so invigorating and now that losses are getting sprinkled in, spirits are a little lower, bodies are getting banged up and opposing crowds are more hostile. The journey is becoming a little more than they are used to. Leaders like Mike Vrabel, Thomas Jones, Chris Chambers and even Matt Cassel are guys that the team will need working hard to keep the younger guys focused as they try to avoid getting burned by teams like Denver playing on the road.
Just keep the party going on the East Bay. Raider fans can enjoy staying above .500 for two weeks before the reality of facing the 6th hardest remaining schedule sets in. The first test will come in Pittsburgh soon enough.