San Diego Chargers
That little break served the Zombie Chargers well. Now, Joe Raider seems to have taken notice of us and is beginning to run, but he seems to keep tripping as he manics. Billy Chief is trying to decide whether he should reach for a shotgun or start running. Bob Bronco seems to be missing some gray matter. Kevin Colt is coming in guns blazing, but he better hit his shots because he's walking with a limp and will have a hard time running away.
The Zombie Chargers feasted on the succulent brains of the Broncos and improved to 5-5. This is their first week at .500 since defeating the Cardinals in week 4. It was also their first divisional win and they are now 1-2 against AFC West teams. They are also now 4-3 against AFC teams.
Here are the numbers from the Monday Night Massacre:
Almost all the numbers are middle of the pack compared to season highs and lows, except the run defense which is the lowest mark of the year. This is partly due to the opponent adjustment since, until week 9, Denver had been terrible running the ball. It's also partly due to the Chargers giving up more yards on the ground than we are used to seeing. That combination is a good way to set a season low. The Chargers' below average running performance is a little surprising, but not their worst effort. I had to go to the play-by-play data to look at this. What I found is that Tolbert and Sproles have a lot of 0 and 1 yard running plays. For our offense, those are no big deal since Rivers can make up that yardage later, but in isolation those are potential drive killers that DVOA frowns upon. The special teams got penalized for some bad kickoffs and the missed field goal. They do not get credit for the fake punt since plays like that don't have a large enough sample size in NFL history to assign an accurate value. That doesn't mean it wasn't valuable, just that the metrics are sophisticated enough to calculate it, yet.
Here's where the Chargers stand on the season:
The Chargers actually went from 7th overall to 8th. Most of this is due to Baltimore's ascent as they did most of the legwork as far as changes in DVOA go. The Chargers stayed mostly the same with their running game and run defense both dropping. With bad weeks passing the ball from Denver and Philly, San Diego climbs up to the #2 spot in passing offense. That passing defense is looking pretty handsome as well.
The Denver Broncos suffered a soul-crushing defeat in San Diego Monday Night. It dropped their overall record to 3-7 and their divisional record to 1-2. There's very little hope for the playoffs at this point. If the Broncos go 6-0 the rest of the way, they still can only tie for the division lead. Out of the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders one team is guaranteed to win at least 2 games the rest of the season and one team is guaranteed to win 1 game (we just don't know who). This is due to all 3 teams playing each other down the stretch in case you weren't playing along at home.
Here's how the Broncos' hopes were crushed using DVOA:
The only team that held the Broncos to lower DVOA passing the ball was the Raiders in week 6. The Raiders actually made the Broncos look below average throwing the ball. The Chargers just slowed them down as opposed to dominating them. This was their 3rd best performance running the ball, which tells you a little about how bad they've been running the ball. It was their 3rd best performance on special teams, which also doesn't say much about their special teams.
Here's where the Broncos stand on the season:
Nothing really stands out here as a sign of hope for Denver. Obviously, that passing game is a nice feather in their cap this, but unless I'm mistaken the Broncos plan to use Tebow as their QB of the future. I can't imagine that performance carrying over to next year with a QB like Tebow taking control.
The Chiefs basically got a free win this week. The Cardinals are terrible. John Gennaro said they are sometimes dangerous, but I say they are dangerous like carpeted stairs are dangerous. You could hurt yourself if you're handicapped in some way or get unlucky and you fall really hard and awkwardly, but otherwise you should be able to navigate stairs just fine. The Chiefs improve to 6-4 and regain sole possession of first place in the division. This was a non-conference win and the only tie-breaker it helps with is common opponents.
Here's how the game went down by DVOA:
This marks the 3rd straight week the Chiefs ended up with a negative value for total DVOA. Previous, to week 9 they only had one such game (Houston, week 6). The passing game did have it's best week since week 7 (Jacksonville) and the running game had its first positive effort since week 8 (Buffalo). The defense somehow didn't manage to force a Derek Anderson QB'ed team into any mistakes and got penalized for it. The special teams had their best performance since week 1's special teams domination against the Chargers.
Here's where the Chiefs stand on the season:
DVOA is dropping KC like it's hot. Especially on defense where the Chiefs are just plummeting in both percentage and in the rankings. The pass defense has suddenly become a huge liability and the rushing defense is no longer playing like it's one of the best in the league. DVOA still likes KC's passing game more than is deemed healthy by the Surgeon General, but I think by now we are getting used to it dry humping itself to sleep with dreams of Matt Cassel throwing to Dwayne Bowe.
The Raiders went and played a real playoff contender with a premier defense and got burned. The Raiders are pretenders, not true contenders and not even default contenders like Kansas City has been. They fall back to .500 at 5-5. They are now 3-3 against the AFC and, since no one else in the division plays the Steelers, this game does not affect the common opponents tie-breaker.
The Raiders ran the ball a little better than most do against the Steelers, but they weren't going to win this game on the ground alone. The went to the air and simply couldn't execute. Between the passing and running they combined for their worst game of the year on offense. Their defense didn't help the matter by having its worst game of the season defending the pass. Put it all together and you have the team's DVOA low point point for the entire season.
I think the Raiders peaked. Partially because of who they were playing and probably because they were only capable of playing how they were for a short stretch. However, this still isn't the lackluster team that we saw in recent years. That running is still something special and will work a little better when you don't play a team that eats running games for lunch.
In case you missed it being said over and over during the Monday Night broadcast, the Chargers are late bloomers. Norv Turner is 24-5 from November to the end of each regular season since becoming the Head Coach of the Chargers and Philip Rivers is 33-5 in those similar periods since becoming the starting QB of the Chargers. On top of that, all 5 of those losses are in November of 2007 and 2008, so once the calendar hits December they are undefeated. So, if history repeats itself, the Chargers just need to defeat Indianapolis on November 28 and they'll be guaranteed an 11-5 record. Or so the theory goes.
In reality, things aren't so simple. The upcoming teams on the schedule don't change how they play the Chargers because of those records. The Chargers themselves don't suddenly pull out extra plays or take magical pills (that we know of) or get fairy dust sprinkled on them. It has just sort of happened. The Chargers have had good teams or, in the case of 2008, a team capable of playing like a good team and the wins came from hard work, preparation and playing the right teams at the right times. That being said, it could happen again. The Chargers are already playing well and their upcoming schedule sure does look like they'll be playing the right teams and doing so at the right times. The Colts and Chiefs are the only teams with winning records left and neither of them were playing their best football recently. They play half of the games (including 2 out of the 3 remaining divisional games) at home and the two outdoor cold weather road games are against teams that are a combined 5-15. I won't say it will happen, but I wouldn't bet against it.
When I sit to think about what I should write regarding the Broncos I feel like I already wrote it. That's because I wrote them off a few weeks ago. A bye week and a beatdown of the Chiefs let me embellish a little and beat the Broncos drum for a bit just to have a little fun, but that was a mirage. Or if not a mirage, then too little too late. I suspect what we'll see from the Broncos is possibly a transition from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow and we'll see them start to move the dial on their running game back towards respectability. They certainly did an admirable job against the Chargers. Their line is healthier and Knowshon Moreno, when healthy, can pick up yards even if he isn't a future All Pro. Also, some of that running game could involve Tebow. Going forward I also wonder what the Broncos will do with Brandon Lloyd. The enigmatic WR is under contract cheaply for 2011, but he could be something to build around. His attitude got in his way in the past, but he seems to have cleaned that up. I remember reading about him after he signed a pretty big deal with Washington about how someone watching camp was just amazed by how little Lloyd cared about practicing or playing or improving his game. However, he's extremely talented and probably deserves more than one more cheap year with the Broncos. I'm sure his agent thinks so as well.
Over at Arrowhead Pride contributor Jon Yoon took on the assignment of assessing Matt Cassel. His conclusion: Sunday's Version Of Matt Cassel Is A QB Kansas City Chiefs Can Build Around. I like to consider myself a realist with Cassel. I defend him when people say the Chiefs can't win with him (they can, especially with their schedule this year). I'm also perfectly aware of the fact that there at least a dozen or more QBs in the NFL I'd choose before I'd want him. However, "building around him" is sort of a cliche you like to reserve for a different class of player.
Sure, you could say something like, the Chargers can build their defense around Eric Weddle because Weddle holds down a position that you no longer can easily find an upgrade so you are better off focusing on other positions. But, that's not what people usually mean. What I think people usually mean is that they want a guy where he's the leader and can be the guy that comes through when the rest of the team can't. He helps you overcome injuries, players lost to free agency or just players going through growing pains.
Cassel is not that guy. He puts a heavy burden on the front office to constantly provide him with enough talent around him so that everything is not on his shoulders. Also, he's 28 years old so this is likely his peak in the NFL. If he was doing what he's doing now at 24, then I could see a development curve happening. I still see him winning a fair amount of games (more than, say, his predecessors Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen did), but I just don't like saying that you can "build around him". Maybe you can say he's a QB you can "build with". I know I'd rather keep him and keep building than dump him and start scrambling for someone better.
I still think that Hue Jackson is a good coach, but against the Steelers he was just out-manned. Going into the game I thought that the Raiders might try and pound the ball .They might try to force their will with their best offensive unit and not worry about the fact that the Steelers can shut down even the best run game. That, in my opinion, would have been a mistake. The only team that's had any success running the ball against the Steelers were the Patriots. The Bengals were good enough to say their run game was not completely shut down. New England has a sophisticated, disciplined team and they have Tom Brady. The Bengals have a well established offense and some passing weapons that keep the defense honest.
The Raiders don't have any of those advantages. They would have gone into every running play having the Steelers selling out to stop the run. They'd also be doing that with a first year offense and a lot of young lineman. I just don't think it would work. So, they tried to go to the air. At least there you can take advantage of some speed going deep and quick short patterns. You can also take advantage of Pittsburgh's aggressiveness and maybe get some open zones, some holds, some PIs or some roughing of the passer. The Raiders tried. They rolled the dice. They came out swinging. And they just couldn't get lucky enough or execute well enough. They were just out-manned.
The Chargers take flight after their Thanksgiving feasts to play in another prime time match up against a familiar foe in the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are coming off a loss against another one of their familiar opponents in the New England Patriots and must feel like they are running through the gauntlet of playoffs past. The focus of this game will rightly be put on the two MVP contending QBs. Both have had similar issues this season. Both have had their receiving corps dinged up. Both have running games that have been less than stellar and featured their own share of injury woes. And both have already lost more games this season than they lost all of last year. Manning has also gotten very little help from his defense (14th by DVOA) and special teams (30th by DVOA), while Rivers at least has a defense that's one of the better units in the league. Its been almost two years since the Colts have had to play with any sort of urgency in the regular season, but now that they are tied for first place with the Jacksonville Jaguars, in 3rd place among wild card teams and coming off a loss. They are suddenly feeling a new found sense of that urgency.
The Broncos head back to Denver and await the St. Louis Rams. The Rams haven't changed much since the Chargers played them. They still are bad all around with the exception of their run defense. However, as the Chargers saw you have to be careful of their blitz schemes and you don't want Steven Jackson running on you when the Rams have a lead. Since the Rams pass defense is nowhere near what the Chargers or even the Chiefs have to offer I expect the aerial assault to be in full force for the Broncos. It's possible Bradford could keep up if he gets in the zone against the struggling Denver defense. This would be especially likely if the Broncos offense sputters due to some of the same mistakes and drops we saw in San Diego. I find it unlikely though. The dome based team going up to the Mile High City sounds like a Broncos win to me.
The Chiefs also face an NFC West team that the Chargers lost to early in the season. Kansas City takes to the road and will deal with the Qwest Field crowd this weekend. Already one of the loudest and most difficult places to play I'm sure the Seattle fans will have a little extra for their old division rivals just like they did against San Diego. That being said, I'm not sure if we should expect much different that what the Chiefs did last week. The Seahawks have a slightly better run defense than the Cardinals and a significantly worse pass defense. Seattle does have a pass offense that's clicking a little better recently and that's timed well for them with Kansas City's recent slide on pass defense. So after thinking about this a little more, maybe I've talked myself into this being an interesting game. If anyone in Seattle is reading this, GET LOUD!
The Raiders invite the Miami Dolphins up to the Black Hole on Sunday. The Dolphins come in reeling after the loss of their top 2 QBs and getting drubbed last Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. They did, however, get a long week to work on preparing their QB, Tyler Thigpen, for this one. Miami has some talented RBs to take the pressure of the QB, but they haven't had a whole lot of success running the ball this year for some reason. The passing game had been the part of the offense carrying the Dolphins. Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess make a talented and effective duo catching the ball and running after the catch. However, Nmandi Asomugha may return for this one to help the Raiders with that. On the other side of the ball the Miami defense is best at stopping the run, but they are nowhere as good as the Steelers and I would expect that the Raiders will have some success on the ground. The Dolphins may be a little too discombobulated if the Raiders are playing like they did before the Steelers game, but they are no pushovers either.