Philip Rivers continues his career renaissance, orchestrating another near flawless offensive performance. The numbers don't lie: 35 completions on 42 attempts (83.3%), 401 yards (9.5 YPA), with 3 TDs - two of which were the great deep ball touch passes we haven't seen around here since 2010. Yes, there's the pick 6, which came from getting hit 2.7 seconds after the snap by DT Jason Hatcher and wasn't Rivers' fault. Best of all, he stayed patient, didn't force the ball, and then exploited matchups (like WR Keenan Allen early, TE Antonio Gates late) as the moments came.
What is really amazing this season (and a football-criminal indictment of Norv Turner) is how much football I.Q. Rivers is displaying at the line. Play after play, you see Rivers making adjustments, shifting players around, and more often than not, the result is positive. Considering a mostly new offense and terminology, a lot of new players, his level of play this season has been incredible. He might be the lead candidate for MVP if it weren't for Darth Peyton in Denver.
Running Back: A-
RB Danny Woodhead was awesome on Sunday. He totaled 86 yards on 10 touches (5 receptions for 54 yards, 5 carries 32 yards), and his speed mismatch against ILBs (particularly Bruce Carter) was a major factor in Sunday's victory. RB Ryan Mathews ground out some tough yards on the ground, totaling 62 yards on 19 carries, and continues to refine his pass receiving skills - adding 41 yards on 4 receptions (103 total). RB Ronnie Brown had 1 carry for 7 yards. FB LeRon McClain surprisingly contributed positively with 2 carries for 11 yards. As a group, the pass protection was very good.
TE Antonio Gates had a vintage game, with 10 receptions for 136 yards and a TD on 10 targets. No one on the Cowboys defense, including ILB Sean Lee, could contain him. Also having a wonderful game was rookie WR Keenan Allen, who flashed some Vincent Jackson-like potential on his first reception for 31 yards. He later had a great diving catch along the sideline in the 3rd quarter. Allen finished with 5 catches for 80 yards. WR Vincent Brown had a bit of a mixed bag game, with 7 catches for 41 yards (9 targets). Brown is not a great WR in the slot or on underneath routes; he's better suited right now to intermediate routes which make better use of his route running and straight speed. WR Eddie Royal added 3 catches for 42 yards. TE John Phillips continues to take unnecessary snaps, and contributed 1 catch for 7 yards.
Offensive Line: B
There was no reason to expect T Mike Harris to hold up against OLB/DE DeMarcus Ware. Truth be told, Harris allowed a few pressures, but certainly did not give up any game changing plays. Much better than hoped for, and he's also slightly better in the running game than LT King Dunlap, because he stays lower. Another (very) pleasant surprise was G Johnnie Troutman, who more than held his ground against DT Nick Hayden in the passing game, and did a very nice job pulling and getting to the second level in the running game.
The worst game game came from G Rich Ohrnberger (who was playing hurt); he was overmatched by DT Jason Hatcher, who created the pick 6 by hitting Rivers as he was throwing the ball. G Stephen Schilling came in later, and did a workmanlike job against Hatcher for the 2nd half. RT DJ Fluker gave up a sack to DE George Selvie on an outside move, but was otherwise stout in pass protection and was back to moving people off the ball in the running game. C Nick Hardwick did a masterful job making the calls and helping out the players around him, one of his best performances in the last few years.
Defensive Line: B-
Finally, some signs of life from the DLine. DE Corey Liuget was primarily matched against LG Ron Leary, and had some good push early - one of which lead to a sack, but seemed to get worn down later in the 2nd quarter. In the 2nd half, he did a better job of moving the pile backwards, and helped bottle up some runs, plus drawing a huge holding call in the 4th quarter. DT Cam Thomas did a nice job this week of drawing double teams; most of the game he was occupying C Travis Frederick and RG Brian Waters. Unfortunately, DE Kendall Reyes continues to struggle - after beating TE Jason Witten for an early sack, he was handled 1-on-1 for most of the game by RT Doug Free. Later in the game, he was able to get some push with some 1-on-1 opportunities against Frederick.
ILB Donald Butler had a very difficult game, and I'm going to speculate that he's not fully healthy - because I've rarely seen him struggle this much to shed blockers and get to the ball carrier - especially when his NT is consistently drawing double teams. He also drew 55 yards in penalties - a facemask, unsportsmanlike conduct and a 25 yard DPI. ILB Manti Te'o was used on a limited basis in this game, but showed great instinct for the ball and aggressively attacked on several running plays - a titanic improvement over his predecessors. ILB Reggie WIlliams was not attacked much, and did a decent job of helping with FS Eric Weddle in coverage on TE Jason Witten. OLB Dwight Freeney generated a couple of pressures before leaving the game with a torn quadricep, but was mostly handled by LT Tyron Smith. OLB Jarret Johnson struggled a bit on the edge, but played well in the 2nd half and came up with a coverage sack.
Most everyone in the secondary save for FS Eric Weddle got a taste of WR Dez Bryant, and each in turn got toasted at least once. CB Derek Cox played too deep and missed the tackle on Bryant's 34 yard TD. CB Richard Marshall was outmuscled by Bryant on his first TD, a 5 yard jump ball. Otherwise... the secondary actually played pretty well. FS Eric Weddle virtually took TE Jason Witten out of the game until desperation time. SS Marcus Gilchrist - except for the long Bryant TD, had by far his best game of the season. He was solid in coverage, took good angles to the ball, and made good tackles in space. CB Crezdon Butler provided the game clinching play - forcing a fumble with a nice hit on DAL WR Terrance Williams at the SD 2 yard line with 2:45 left to play.
Special Teams: B-
With the exception of one poor punt cover, the Special Teams played pretty well. It seems that PK Nick Novak just needed a Santa Ana to add the extra few yards on his kickoffs, as he tallied 3 touchbacks. He also converted FGs of 36, 42, and 23 yards. P Mike Scifres was back to his usual solid self, dropping 3 of his 4 punts inside the DAL 20 with no touchbacks. Unfortunately, the Chargers return teams were not able to generate much in the way of returns, with Royal and Woodhead combining for 30 yards on 2 returns.
I didn't like Mike McCoy punting again with a 4th and 1 at midfield. And I also think he should have gone for 2 when the Chargers scored to get to 21-19 in the 3rd quarter; you shouldn't give away a chance to tie the game in the 2nd half in favor of an opportunity you may not get later. For reference - Dallas Cowboys scored all 21 points of their points in the 2nd quarter.
That being said, one positive thing I absolutely want to single out McCoy for is the crispness with which the team plays at the start of each half. Win or lose - they've been ready to play every week.
Last week, I criticized Ken Whisenhunt over his unwillingness to repeatedly attack TEN using Gates and Green. This week, Whisenhunt made a mockery of Cowboys' ILB Bruce Carter, repeatedly targeting him in coverage using either Gates or Woodhead. He also took advantage of 2nd year CB Morris Claiborne for the entire game.
Special Credit goes to OL coach Joe D'Alessandris, for getting anything at all from an offensive line consisting of 3 backups, especially quality play from Harris and Troutman.
On defense, I liked John Pagano's early game aggressiveness attacking the A gaps next to rookie C Travis Frederick. It worked well and threw Dallas off-rhythm for the 1st quarter plus. The moment he went away from it, Romo started carving the defense. He also made a great adjustment, putting Weddle on Witten - which forced Romo towards his other inexperienced WRs and into a perimeter passing game.
Hidden Plays (non-scoring, non-turnover plays which affected the outcome):
- 14:33 2nd quarter. DAL 1st and 10 at SD 41. DeMarco Murray rushes for a 2 yard gain, but the Cowboys get a 1st down at the SD 24 thanks to Donald Butler's 15 yard facemask penalty. DAL scores 3 plays later for a 7-7 tie.
- 7:43 2nd quarter. DAL 4th and 6 at SD 38. In no man's land, DAL HC Jason Garrett allows PK Dan Bailey to try a 56 yard FG, which he misses. SD takes the ball at the DAL 46 and drives 36 yards to set up a 36 yard FG by Nick Novak.
- :49 2nd quarter. SD 2nd and 1 at SD 27. Rivers completes a 28 yard deep corner route to Eddie Royal, who gets out of bounds at the DAL 45. Novak converts a 42 yard FG at the end of the drive for a 21-13 halftime score.
- 11:30 4th quarter. DAL 2nd and 4 at SD 40. Romo completes a 6 yard pass to WR Cole Beasley for a 1st down. but Liuget draws a hold against LG Ron Leary to negate the 1st down and make it 2nd and 14 DAL, effectively killing the drive.
- 5:09 4th quarter. DAL 1st and 10 at SD 35. Romo is sacked by Jarret Johnson at the SD 42. DAL uses an extra 2 plays and 55 seconds to get back to that point before converting the 1st down.
One Play I Really Liked: The 1st TD pass to Danny Woodhead
- The Chargers open with 13 personnel. WR Vincent Brown and TE Antonio Gates left. TEs John Phillips, Ladarius Green, and RB Danny Woodhead to the right.
- Rivers sends Gates in motion across the formation. DAL ILB Bruce Carter follows him across the formation, indicating man coverage.
- Once Gates gets set on the far outside, Carter switches coverage with CB Brandon Carr - who was covering Woodhead. Carter is now covering Woodhead (MISMATCH! MISMATCH!), and Carr is covering Gates.
- At the snap, no one bumps Woodhead, and his straight speed is more than enough to beat Carter.
- DAL FS Barry Church can't make the play in time, because he's busy providing over the top help to SS J.J. Wilcox - covering Ladarius Green.
- Rivers drops a perfect pass into Woodhead for a TD.
Looking Forward To:
Raider Week, and a really late Sunday night.
To all you jerky Cowboys fans (in this case, fans refers to a legion of bandwagoning, drunken, trash talking, wannabe bad-ass morons who know as much about football as Deion Sanders did about tackling). There's now an entire generation of near drinking-age Cowboys fans which knows nothing but Jerry Jones' incredible mediocrity as a GM, Romo's notorious Romopocalyspe Games, and a succession of Head Coaches since Jimmy Johnson which (excepting Bill Parcells) would even embarrass late-career Al Davis (Switzer, Gailey, Campo, Parcells, Phillips, and now Garrett).
That's right. Norv freaking Turner has more playoff wins (4) than you do (1) since December 1996.
One playoff victory since December 1996! That's worse than every team in your division - including the Snyder-era Washington team. Stop picking toddleresque fights with everyone in the parking lot with beer bottles. All of you jackasses need to Shut The Eff Up, at least until the next time you win a game that matters - and yes, as a fan of team that rarely wins the ones that matter, I'm highly qualified to lecture you about how to handle your disappointment.
Cowboys fans have become a poor man's version of "Raider Fan." Do us all a favor and leave the thuggery to "Raider Fan", as they've been doing it longer and better than you rodeo clowns ever will.
Save your "rings" smack. Yes, the Chargers have a ring - The 1963 AFL Championship. Do they have as many as Dallas' 5? No, they don't. The effect these rings had on Sunday's results - none whatsoever.