Quarterback: B plus
This week we got Philip Rivers - game manager. Rivers managed 22 completion on 33 attempts (67%) for 237 yards (7.18 YPA) and a TD pass to WR Keenan Allen - a pass play dropped perfectly over a Colts double team and requiring the kind of trust we used to see between Rivers and Vincent Jackson. After an 0-5 start where Rivers seemed to be locked in TE Antonio Gates, he settled down and did a nice job of spreading the ball around. I'd like to note here that of the second time Rivers was sacked, he did the smart thing by stepping into the pocket and protecting the ball - and also protecting a FG attempt.
Running Backs: A minus
Ryan Mathews had a strong game, with 102 yards on 26 carries (4.6 YPC). He was only targeted once in the pass game, with no catches. As usual, he was strong between the tackles and routinely shook off first contact. He did a nice job of protecting the football in traffic. Unfortunately, his lack of lateral agility meant that at least one long TD run was left on the field. And he made a really poor decision to take a first down run out-of-bounds with less than three minutes remaining, saving the Colts a timeout.
RB Danny Woodhead continued his string of versatile play, with 9 carries for 36 yards (4 YPC), and took repeated advantage of Colts' ILBs Pat Angerer and Jerrell Freeman with 5 receptions for 47 yards (5 targets). FB LeRon McClain had a reception for -1 yard on a bizarre FB screen call, but converted twice on 3rd and short carries. RB Ronnie Brown had a couple of carries in relief. Pass protection was solid across the group this week, although Woodhead allowed a sack due to persistent push from Colts LB Kelvin Sheppard.
Receivers: B plus
Keenan Allen had his third consecutive strong game, with 7 catches on 10 targets for 107 yards and the TD - a marvelous play where he and Rivers both read Colts S Delano Howell coming up too far, ran the post behind him, and came up with a diving catch. His route running and recognition is improving on a weekly basis, combined with his ability to make tough catches in traffic.
On the other side, WR Vincent Brown was only targeted 4 times, and finished with only 2 catches for 31 yards. One of these catches was a crucial 3rd down conversion, where he fought off Colts CB Greg Toler to make the reception. Gates had 4 catches for 28 yards (on 8 targets), but he occupied most of the attention of the Colts defense. Rounding things out is the underused TE Ladarius Green who had a terrific 25 yard catch on a corner route.
Offensive Line: B plus
LT King Dunlap was back after missing 2 games with a concussion. He was terrific, yielding only a couple pressures against DE/OLB Robert Mathis. He was also much better than he's been in the running game, getting lower and driving defenders off the ball. His best game of the season. LG Johnnie Troutman struggled maintaining discipline before the snap, and was mostly solid this week in both the pass and the running game against DT Ricky Jean Francois, though not as good as he's been the previous 2 games.
C Nick Hardwick did a solid job against NT Aubrayo Franklin. RT DJ Fluker largely held his own against DE Cory Redding, although he was beat once on an inside spin when Mathis switched sides. As usual with Fluker, he rarely makes the same mistake twice, and wasn't beaten like that again in the game. RG Jeromey Clary was generally decent when helping either Hardwick or Fluker, but again struggled on pulling plays, and gave up a pressure by missing a stunt pickup. The only sack against the offensive line was given up by reserve G Steve Schilling, who missed a stunt pickup against Redding in the 4th quarter.
Defensive Line: B plus
Hands down, the D-Line's best performance of the year. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano helped the unit out considerably by blitzing and playing out of a 2-4-5 alignment, and the unit responded by winning many 1-on-1 matchups. DE Kendall Reyes had a strong game, generating consistent pressure against RG Mike McGlynn, including a crucial 4th quarter sack of QB Andrew Luck to help stop a drive. DE Corey Liuget won often against LG Hugh Thornton, and occasionally drew double teams from C Samson Satele.
The use of the 2-4-5 also allowed for more frequent rotations, which allowed DT Cam Thomas to be more effective and draw some double teams in the middle. As a result of occupying blockers, the normally strong Colts running game was limited to 74 yards on 17 carries.
There was nothing spectacular from the group, nor was there anything mind-numbingly awful. OLB Thomas Kaiser had a few plays where he got some edge pressure against LT Anthony Castonzo, but no hits and no sacks. The same could be said for OLB Larry English, who got pressure a couple times against RT Gosder Cherilus, but was unable to reach Andrew Luck before he stepped up into the pocket. That said, the OLBs did a nice job of not going too far outside on their rushes, and as a result, Luck was not able to break contain and extend plays with his feet.
On the inside, ILB Manti Te'o continues to struggle making the correct reads in the running game, either shooting the wrong gap or missing the play entirely. He's also having a tough time shedding blockers. He's been better in the pass game, where he's a marked improvement in shallow zone coverage over ILB Bront Bird. At the other ILB spot, Andrew Gachkar played a heady game, and showed some good instincts, but simply doesn't have the athleticism to make game changing plays. As a whole, tackling could also use some work. ILB Reggie Walker also played solidly, if not strongly.
Secondary: C plus
I was amazed at how well CB Shareece Wright played. On multiple plays down the field, he provided solid man coverage and avoid any unnecessary penalties. By extension, DB Johnny Patrick was able to play near the line more, and showed his knack for timing blitzes correctly. Patrick was also surprisingly solid in covergae on the slot WRs. CB Derek Cox was OK (as in not terrible), although its more because he wasn't really tested, and he came away with the clinching interception off a tip by WR Reggie Wayne.
FS Eric Weddle continues his rebound from poor start with more good coverage against opposing TEs, taking Coby Fleener out of the game on shorter pass routes. SS Marcus Gilchrist amazingly wasn't tested once down the field, and did a better job taking angles to the ball carrier for tackles - the entire group was solid in tackling, actually.
Special Teams: A minus
PK Nick Novak had a great game, converting FGs of 31, 33, 34, and the game clincher from 50 yards with 2 minutes remaining. P Mike Scifres must have something for the Colts, as he had a sensational game, with and average of 48.3 yards on his three punts, with two dropped inside the 10 yard line and great hang time. The coverage units, led by S Darrell Stuckey and WR Seyi Ajirotutu were very good in this game, although the blocking units failed to spring any long returns.
Coaching: A (with one major exception):
Let's dispense with the exception first - I didn't agree with Mike McCoy's decision to kick a 50 yard FG instead of attempting to convert a 4th and Inches with the game on the line. For a detailed explanation, refer to Bill Barnwell's Thank You For Not Coaching! article this week.
Now that this issue has been dispensed with, McCoy and his staff came up with a terrific game plan which kept Luck off the field, and protected a struggling and shorthanded defense. On offense, OC Ken Whisenhunt repeatedly exploited the soft interior of the Colts defense with the running game, resulting in solid gains that kept the offense in 3rd-and-manageable situations. Also, Whisenhunt did a nice job giving Rivers opportunities to attack CB Greg Toler, and thereby avoid throwing at CB Vontae Davis.
On defense, John Pagano called a terrific game. Whether he decided to throw caution to the wind, or injuries forced him to be more aggressive, he repeatedly put his players in a position to win during the game. Jerome discussed this briefly, by blitzing the A gap opposite DT Cam Thomas, and playing a lot of 2-4-5, Pagano created one-on-one opportunities for Thomas, Liuget and Reyes. All three responded with strong performances. Also, the blitzing and 4 man pressure forced Luck into making quick throws underneath the sticks, and Chargers' defenders did a strong job of making tackles without giving up 1st downs.
Hidden Plays: i.e. Non-scoring, non-turnover plays (IND Drops) which affected the outcome:
- 14:16 2nd Qtr. 3rd and 4 IND 38. The Colts force an incompletion, but Colts CB Greg Toler is flagged for Holding, resulting on an automatic 1st down. Rivers TD pass to Allen occurs 4 plays later.
- 10:00 2nd Qtr. 2nd and 8 IND 40. Luck throws deep down the sideline to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has beaten both Derek Cox and Eric Weddle, but Heyward-Bey drops the ball and a likely 60-yard TD. Colts punt 2 plays later.
- 5:17 2nd Qtr. 3rd and 6 SD 45. The Colts force an incompletion, but Colts CB Greg Toler is flagged for Illegal Contact, resulting on an automatic 1st down. The Chargers take another 3:35 off the clock and get a FG to extend to a 10-3 lead.
- 0:42 2nd Qtr. 1st and 10 SD 39. Luck throws down the middle to TE Coby Fleener at the SD 20, who easily beats S Jahleel Addae, but drops the pass with a chance to gain at least another 10 yards. Colts end up settling for a FG and a 10-6 halftime score.
- 4:08 3rd Qtr. 3rd and 4 SD 40. Luck throws to Reggie Wayne on a slant, who drops the pass which would have been a 1st down. Colts punt on the next play.
- 8:43 4th Qtr. 2nd and 10 SD 36. Luck is sacked for a 9 yard loss by Kendall Reyes, which sets up a 3rd and 19 and effectively kills the drive, and forces a (made) FG by Adam Vinatieri.
One Play I Really Liked: 3rd and 3 pass to Danny Woodhead
- The Chargers come out in 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB). Vincent Brown is on the far side, with Lavell Hawkins and then Keenan Allen closest to LT. Antonio Gates is alone on the right, with Woodhead to Rivers left.
- The Colts have 9 defenders near the line of scrimmage, with Dime personnel (6 DBs). ILB Pat Angerer is the only LB on the field. S Delano Howell and DB Josh Gordy are playing 10+ yards back.
- At the snap, it's a 4 man rush, with the other 5 defenders near the line playing man coverage (Defensive play is Man Underneath 2 deep DBs). This means Angerer is man-to-man on Woodhead.
- Brown runs a Go, Hawkins an In, Allen a Slant, and Gates a Go. Woodhead runs a Walsh offense staple - the Texas route. Long-time Chargers fans might remember this as Ronnie Harmon's bread and butter pass route from the mid 1990s.
- Woodhead easily beats Angerer, giving Rivers a simple 3rd down pass to convert and move the chains.
Looking Forward To:
Another chance for the Chargers to get above .500 and stay in the Wild Card race, with a road trip against the struggling Jaguars.