Philip Rivers did not look sharp in the first half, though the stalled drives owe a lot to the lack of a kicking game. I doubt Rivers throws the1st INT if there wasn't a rising panic about failing to get ANY points without a kicker. The almost TD with Vincent Jackson emphasizes the offense's miscalibration - beautiful throw, DB beat badly, but incomplete - 9 out of 10 times thats one for the highlight reel.
The second half brought the rebirth of "we're gonna swing it out and check down to 8 different guys, jump start some drives, and remind everyone how diverse and balanced we are," (and re-instill some confidence for high throws over the middle, and threading defenders for first downs). Rivers has learned to hit check down options in stride, without telegraphing it, and with a blitz in his face - something he was not always sharp at. It's not flashy, but pairs beautifully with the deep threat, and spreads the field when the big pass can't. Would like to see this ability to spread the field with patience and personnel earlier in games. On the Jared Allen INT, Rivers audibled to that hot-route because he knew the coverage and thought to exploit Allen in coverage. What can you say? The guy is an athlete and made a play.
The + is for Mike Tolbert being a stud and bringing intensity to every play, for Ryan Mathews showing his explosiveness. Mathews looks like he is one block from breaking one on every touch. Both backs caught the ball well out of the backfield, for Matthew this makes him much more dangerous. On a pitch out or a screen, he can get to that marker in a hurry, which can come up big on 3rd down, and in icing games like today. Still room for improvement, but both backs showing they can fight for yards and break big plays.
A poor showing from a talented group that was simply nonexistent. Malcom Floyd was decent and found some holes in the soft spot of the zone. Vjax pulled down a few but missed out on a would-be TD, which would have opened things up a bit. Bryan Walters showed he is a serviceable slot receiver - especially against defenses that give up the underneath - he has the quickness to make them regret it. On the whole, however, a very unimpressive day.
Overall, Rivers was only sacked twice and for the most part blocks were held long enough for Rivers to make plays. There were far too many QB hurries and hits allowed. in this offense with so many moving parts and deep routes, the almost sacks are just as destructive as they lead to a lot of INT opportunities. Protection definitely improved through the game, partly because of the play-calling. There was some pretty unimpressive run blocking, but as usual a handful of big lanes, sprang the backs for some decent long gains, and got good enough push for some important 3-5 yard gains to keep the offense balanced, prevent 3rd and long, and keep the Vikings from keying in on Rivers.
Solid, did not give many consistent lanes for Adrian Peterson. Defense is such a team effort, and this front 3 was doing their job and putting their LBs and SS in position to make plays (sometimes, as on the 46 yard run, those plays are not made). But swarming AP for a loss, tripping him up at the line of scrimmage, forcing him to dive and scramble for a couple - those are the kind of plays a big-time run D makes. Losing Luis Castillo hurts, let's hope that the silver lining is Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin hitting stride.
Most noticeable to me was he closing and tackling on plays to check down receivers and backs. A much maligned weakness of this team for years, getting dink-and-dunked to death. Gap discipline and penetration on run plays was vastly better than expected, most impressive was sealing off the outside on runs. OLB pressure was decent, but Antwan Barnes is a 3rd-and-long presence with his speed, and Shaun Phillips did some tone-setting. Takeo Spikes was constantly stepping up to keep AP at 2-3 yards rather than 6-10 yards. Donald Butler was quiet, but had some good hits and didn't look lost or get exploited. The Chargers LB corps was not really tested in coverage, but look improved, and handled AP pretty well. Somebody on this defense needs to learn how to spy and stop the broken play QB run. Not so quick guys like Donovan McNabb, or even pseudo-quick like Jason Campbell, should not eat up yards on this athletic D.
The Vikings gained only 28 net yards in the air. 28 yards. but this unit still has to clean up a little. McNabb made only 15 pass attempts and it seemed like less. Both sacks were due to excellent coverage. Bob Sanders definitely made his presence known by crowding the line of scrimmage and getting to the ball carrier in a hurry. Antoine Cason was targeted most and I'm assuming that's because Quentin Jammer covered well. Cason rose up by making some sound pass defenses and solid tackles, but was lucky a few times when beat. Is anyone else surprised he does not get the pass interference flag, and then wonder "must be great technique, if he can be so aggressive in breaking up passes, breaking on the ball, and the refs are happy???" Not a lot asked of the secondary, but the obvious stand out breakdown is the long run when Eric Weddle let AP slip his grasp, Jammer found himself uselessly out of position, and the TD was only saved by who else Sanders.
Special Teams: D
Smoked by Percy Harvin, the cover team didn't hold their lanes, and Gamble was baited for the missed tackle too easily. But Scifres stepped up big (that 40 yrd field goal was legit), kick coverage got stronger after the Harvin TD, and the young returners looked at least comfortable if not yet explosive. Overall special teams hurt them this game, especially in the way that the loss of Kaeding changed their offensive mindset.
I question a few moves, like going for it on 4th and 20. Why not play for field postition and pin them inside the 10? To stray from sound fundamental decisions adds to the doubting of Norv's leadership and discipline. As far as play-calling: overall I liked the run/pass mix. He stayed committed to running both Tolbert and Matthews inside and out, keeping the Vikings run defense guessing, even if not gobbling up yards. And it opened up everyone for the check-down game as well. The Chargers offense, when playing well, becomes LESS predictable as games go on. Rather than presenting tendencies for opponents to analyze and adjust for, they tend to become more complex, diverse and dangerous. The problem lay in starting SO patient/cautious/ineffective, that a big deficit is built. That said, whatever went on in the locker room at half-time was decisive, and the coaches' adjustments were clearly on point and unquestionably effective. Can they game plan that to start from the opening whistle? Post-season success rides on it.