Week 5 Grades: San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders

I'm heaving it into double coverage! What could go wrong? - Thearon W. Henderson

I won't speak for anyone else, but it felt like "one of those games" from the opening possession. Yes, friends and foes alike, the San Diego Chargers had the first laid egg of the Mike McCoy era. This would be bad enough under any circumstances, but did it really have to be against the Raiders?

Quarterback: C minus

This is the first really deceptive stat line of Philip Rivers' 2013 season, and it's reminiscent of games from 2010-2012. Rivers completed 36 of 49 attempts (73.4%) for 411 yards (8.38 YPA) with 2 TDs and 3 INTs. In fairness, the last INT was a result of pressure in garbage time. However, the other 2 were the result of holding the ball way too long, then forcing the ball into coverage. The 1st INT was the result of heaving a ball downfield into double coverage (and missing an open Gates) and helped give the Raiders' offense good field position to start the game. The 2nd INT was the nail in the coffin, as Rivers failed to anticipate WR Keenan Allen open on a slant in the endzone. Also, Kevin Burnett's sack was (partially) a result of Rivers holding the ball too long. Rivers also missed a gimme TD pass to Gates which helped kill a Chargers drive in the 1st half.

Running Back: C plus

Ryan Mathews (bizarrely) was held out of the game early, and only got 3 carries for 8 yards before leaving the game with a concussion. The featured runner was Danny Woodhead, who carried 9 times for 13 yards, and what turned out to be a back breaking fumble (returned for a TD). Ronnie Brown ended up with 11 yards on 7 carries. On the other hand, Woodhead was strong in the passing game, with 9 catches for 58 yards, including a TD catch on a shovel pass. Brown added 3 catches for 21 yards. Woodhead allowed a sack when LB Kevin Burnett hurdled over him in pass protection (not helped by Rivers not pulling the trigger), but the group was otherwise solid in pass protection.

Receivers: A minus

This was the best group of the day. It seems someone on the staff read Kyle's post about WR Vincent Brown, because he was moved off the LOS and given intermediate/deep routes to run. Brown responded with 8 catches (9 targets) for 117 yards, and repeatedly torched the Raiders' DBs with his precise route running. On the other side, WR Keenan Allen had a second strong game with 6 catches (9 targets) for 115 yards and a TD, flashing great body control and toughness on catches over the middle. Both WRs also narrowly missed other TDs - Allen on a pass to the back corner, and Brown on a brilliant double-move. Why these 2 were only targeted 4 times combined in the 1st half is a puzzle. The worst game came from WR Eddie Royal, who sucked up 8 targets, and produced only 3 catches for 26 yards. Among the TEs, only Antonio Gates showed up, with 7 catches (10 targets) for 74 yards.

Offensive Line: C plus

I don't understand why the Chargers chose not to run right, because RT DJ Fluker had a strong game. Fluker was able to get good push against DE Jason Hunter, and did not allow any pressure in the game. Credit goes to RG Jeromey Clary for playing while hurt, and while he was decent in pass protection, he got stood up a few times on running plays, and still struggles when pulling left. C Nick Hardwick was solid, if unspectacular going against DT Vance Walker for much of the game. LG Johnnie Troutman wasn't quite as good as he was last week, but he stonewalled DT Pat Sims for much of the game, and also continued to show quickness getting off blocks and getting to the 2nd level - another reason the Chargers should have been running right. The weakest game was from LT Mike Harris (later replaced by T Nick Becton), who allowed a sack to DE Lamarr Houston and struggled to move him in the run game.

Defensive Line: D minus

Let's get the positives out of the way 1st. Reserve DE Sean Lissemore provided some good play coming off the bench, notching a sack and tackle for loss. DE Corey Liuget played a bit better, especially against the run by not giving up space to LT Khalif Barnes (and occasionally LG Lucas Nix) but had no impact plays. Unfortunately, that brings us to DT Cam Thomas, who was shoved around quite a bit by C Andre Gurode and RG Mike Brisiel. Again, DE Kendall Reyes continued to struggle, this time against Brisel and RT Matt McCants - but he did a nice job a couple of times not letting Raiders' QB Terrelle Pryor reach the edge after plays broke down.

Linebackers: C minus

Yep, the Chargers are going to miss Dwight Freeney. Without him, there wasn't any semblance of a pass rush without blitzing. For OLB Larry English, it's now or never, and never looks more likely. He couldn't beat LT Khalif Barnes (whom Freeney should have abused), and later on the right side, struggled to get off the block of rookie TE Mychal Rivera. On the other side, OLB Jarret Johnson played his guts out, and while not a pure pass rusher, managed to collect 2 sacks through hustle and grit. On the inside ILB Donald Butler wasn't the train wreck he was against the Cowboys, and was decent in the underneath zone coverage, but is still having issues shedding blocks in the running game. ILB Manti Te'o played more this week, and was solid in short coverage on Rivera, although he drew a holding penalty - but also struggled to shed blocks and guessed wrong a few times trying to shoot gaps. ILB Reggie Walker wasn't much better, and the plays were he lost contain against Pryor were killers (3rd and 14 being especially egregious).

Secondary: D minus

CBs RIchard Marshall and Derek Cox had games to forget, as both got beat for big plays downfield (Cox by WR Rod Streater, Marshall by WR Denarius Moore). Neither player appears comfortable playing soft coverage, and neither player has the closing speed to make up ground once they've been beaten. Of course, they're not being allowed to play press man, either. FS Eric Weddle had a good game in coverage, mostly against FB Marcel Reece and was solid in run support. On the other hand, SS Marcus Gilchrist was the targeted safety on both of the big plays downfield, and he was late (bad angle and slow) both times - better play might have prevented both receptions. The one caveat I'll offer the DBs is they cannot be expected to cover anyone forever while Pryor (or any opposing QB) is improvising and extending plays.

Special Teams: D plus

Eddie Royal's muffed punt was an absolute killer, helping to push the Chargers deeper into a 1st half hole by eventually leading to a FG by Raiders' PK Sebastian Janikowski. Someone needs to do some work with John Phillips and Ladarius Green, as both players have allowed edge rushers to block mid-range Nick Novak FG attempts (Phillips in yesterday's case, from 37 yards). Novak converted his other opportunity later on the drive (thanks to a lucky bounce and heads up play from Green) from 35 yards. After the Santa Ana aided performance last week, Novak was back to his shorter kickoff routine, and failed to produce a touchback. P Mike Scifres had a solid if limited night, with 2 punts for 77 total yards, with both dropped inside the Raiders' 20. Coverage and blocking units were decent, neither giving anything big or generating anything big, until Keenan Allen's 21 yard return in the 4th quarter.

Coaching: D

I agreed with McCoy's decision to accept the penalty in the 4th quarter pushing Oakland from 4th and inches to 3rd and 14 - given the problems the Chargers had stopping Oakland's running game, and Pryor's ability to get to the perimeter. As to the 4th down calls - once again, McCoy punts on a 4th and short opportunity in opposing territory, and once again, gains nothing from pinning his opponent deep. On the other hand, I agreed with the decision to go on 4th and Goal from the 1 in the 2nd quarter (the horrendous play call was another matter).

To me, it appears McCoy isn't operating under any particular strategy or framework when making these calls - he's just going on instinct. I'd prefer McCoy having a consistently applied strategy, which can make a difference in both game planning and play calling, never mind easing the moment-to-moment pressure of game management. Also, as I said two weeks ago about the Titans game, McCoy has to realize his defense is not capable of stopping the opponent with any consistency, and therefore should try to maximize his offensive opportunities.

I was really puzzled by OC Ken Whisenhunt's decision to abandon any pretense of running Mathews (pre-concussion) in the game, especially considering the problems Oakland had stopping the run in previous games. The decision to feed Woodhead was puzzling as well - Woodhead is an exceptional complementary player, not a featured starter. Whether Rivers or Whisenhunt didn't see it, the choice not to feature Allen and Brown was a poor one - they were open all game long. I'd like to know where the Gates and Green 2 TE sets are? DJ Fluker owned his side, so why the Chargers didn't run behind him more is another mystery. Lastly, if I never see another short yardage/goal line draw play, it'll be too soon (apparently twice in three plays isn't overkill for Whiz).

This brings me to DC John Pagano, who is rapidly closing in on 2012 Norv Turner-level coaching malpractice (i.e. expecting players to execute what's called, regardless of their abilities or limitations). The vanilla scheme does not work, because the defensive line cannot occupy blockers, the linebackers can't get to the QB or shed blockers, and the secondary (excepting Weddle) can't cover. Once Pagano got desperate, he unleashed stunts and overload blitzes which caused problems for the Raiders' offensive line. Then, with the Chargers within 7 points, it's back to vanilla and back to a sustained Raiders' possession. Lastly, for the 3rd time this year (following Matt Schaub and Jake Locker), Pagano does not force a mobile right-handed QB to move to his left when avoiding pressure.

Hidden Plays (non-scoring, non-turnover plays which directly affected the outcome).

  • 9:44 1st Quarter. 4th and 2 at OAK 40. Instead of attempting a 1st down, McCoy elects to punt. Oakland reaches their 47 yard line 5 plays later, en route to a 14-0 lead.
  • 10:08 2nd Quarter, 3rd and Goal at OAK 1, Rivers misfires on a pass to gates in the right flat, which would have been a walk-in TD and a 7 point game. Woodhead is stuffed on a 4th and Goal draw on the next play.
  • 6:43 3rd Quarter, 4th and 2 at OAK 19. Novak's 37 yard FG attempt is blocked by Raiders' CB Tracy Porter, but recovered by TE Ladarius Green and advanced for a 1st down.
  • 5:08 3rd Quarter, 2nd and 7 at OAK 11. Rivers throws to Keenan Allen in the back corner for an apparent TD which is overturned on replay. Chargers incur a delay following the review, turning 3rd and 7 into 3rd and 12. The Chargers settle for a 35 yard Novak FG on 4th down.
  • 13:41 4th Quarter, 3rd and 8 at OAK 18. Pryor is sacked by Johnson and English, forcing a fumble. Reyes tries to scoop the ball instead of falling on it, and the fumble is recovered by Raiders' C Andre Gurode. The Chargers do score a TD after the punt, but it takes them about 3 1/2 minutes to reach the same point on the field.
  • 7:03 4th Quarter, 3rd and 14 at OAK 41. Pryor escapes the pocket, breaks a tackle from Reggie Walker rolls right, and buys time for a 20 yard completion to WR Brice Butler. Janikowski converts a 50 yard FG 4 plays later for a 27-17 lead with 4:29 remaining.

One Play I Really Liked: Rivers' TD pass to Keenan Allen

Screen_shot_2013-10-07_at_10

  1. Rivers uses Woodhead's motion to determine if the coverage is zone or man. The coverage shifts right, which may indicate man or blitz.
  2. On the right, WR Keenan Allen is man-to-man against DB Mike Jenkins.
  3. Raiders CB Tracy Porter (on Eddie Royal in the slot) shows blitz, with FS Charles Woodson picking him up.
  4. SS Brandian Ross is on TE Antonio Gates, who stays in to block when ILB Kevin Burnett blitzes.
  5. On the left, WR Vincent Brown is man-to-man against DB DJ Hayden.
  6. At the snap, Rivers has seven blockers for a 7 man rush. Brown runs a corner/fade route.
  7. Royal's corner route clears room for Rivers to hit Allen on the shallow cross, catching the ball at the 5.
  8. Allen does great job breaking Jenkins' tackle at the 3, and gets into the end zone for a TD.

Looking Ahead To:

Monday night's game against the Colts, who've only beaten the 49ers and Seahawks in back-to-back games and (hopefully) might be worn out. Also, McCoy and his offensive staff have done a nice job with reflexive adjustments. But's also Monday night, and in their last 2 appearances the Chargers have taken a combined 45-7 lead into the half, and lost both times.

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