Philip Rivers is having a phenomenal 2013 campaign. His play this season has the Chargers in the thick of the playoff hunt with just a few weeks left to go.
Last night, the Chargers shocked the Denver Broncos at Mile High 27-20, and kept their season alive. It was arguably the best game they played all season, in all three phases. The defense played its best game of the season. They held the Broncos to season-lows in rushing yards (18), points (20), and total offense (295). That's fairly impressive, since Peyton Manning and Co. have the highest rated offense in the league. Offensively, the Chargers did whatever they wanted to. Philip Rivers tossed 2 touchdowns to rookie phenom Keenan Allen, Ryan Mathews had a second consecutive 100-yard game on the ground, and they converted well on third-downs (50%). On special teams, Mike Scifres put the ball on or behind the 11-yard line of Denver three times, which helped immensely in the game of field position. Last night, the Chargers played a complete game, and proved that they are legitimate playoff contenders. Here's why they'll make the playoffs:
The Chargers Offense is Potent:
The combination of rookie head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has proved to be effective for San Diego offensively this season.
Philip Rivers is having the best season of his career. He has completed 69.9% of his passes (a career-best), has thrown for 4,048 yards and 28 touchdowns, with only 9 interceptions. He is easily my front-runner for Comeback Player of the year. He's playing within himself, but producing big plays, averaging over 8 yards per attempt. One reason for his success has been the emergence of rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen.
Allen, at this point, is considered by many to be leading the ORoY race. He set a franchise record for receptions, previously held by the great LaDainian Tomlinson, with his performance last week against the Giants. The previous mark was 59, and with two games left, the rookie has 63. With another 100-yard performance, which would be his sixth, he'd easily set the Chargers record for receiving yards, held by John Jefferson. Allen has had 2 TD catches in each of the past two weeks, raising his total to 7. Both of his touchdowns last night came on third down. Who would have thought that a 3rd-round pick, and the 8th wideout taken in the Draft, would be having a season for the ages? Allen wasn't even supposed to get many opportunities this season, but injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd thrust him into the no. 1 spot on the depth chart, and he has not disappointed.
Another surprise for the Chargers this season has been the excellent play of Ryan Mathews. Mathews has surprised everybody with his level of play. He went over the 100-yard mark again last night, and has 1,012 yards and 5 scores with a couple of home games left to play, The former 1st-rounder has his second 1,000 yard season, and has run the ball aggressively all year. He gets north-and-south, and bulldozes defenders. Mathews has run with conviction, and something else he's lacked since he's become a Charger, confidence. His confidence is on a higher level than it has ever been, and that has translated into better play. Not to mention, he's stayed healthy all year, which was a major knock on him in years past. Ryan Mathews has saved his job, and is an intrical part of the Chargers offense.
The most underrated signing of the offseason was Danny Woodhead. Most teams thought he was just a product of New England's system, but he has proved all of them wrong. Woodhead has turned into Philip Rivers' security blanket, as he leads all running backs with 66 receptions. He has 547 yards through the air, and has accumulated 359 rushing yards, with a combined 8 TD's. He has more than filled the shoes of Darren Sproles, and he is a great complimentary back to Ryan Mathews. The Chadron St. product should amass over 1,000 scrimmage yards by seasons end, which exceeded the expectations of nearly everybody.
The offensive line has been doing work. D.J. Fluker has shown why he was made a 1st-round pick by Tom Telesco. He has been very versatile, playing right tackle, left tackle, and guard. He plays mean, and plays through the whistle. On a Ryan Mathews rush to the left side, Fluker blocked his man 30 yards from the line of scrimmage, playing his right tackle spot, which is just nasty. The hiring of Joe D'Alessandris was huge. His coaching style and scheme has resulted in a much improved unit. King Dunlap showed he can protect Philip Rivers' backside and open holes for Mathews and Woodhead, Overall, the entire offensive line has played remarkably when healthy, and even sometimes when they weren't. They play of the offensive line has no doubt been a major factor in the comeback seasons of Rivers and Mathews.
The Chargers Defense is Getting Hot at the Right Time:
Overall, this season, the defense has played average football. They have had their good days and their bad days. There have been injuries, and the signing of Derek Cox has not panned out. For most of the season, the secondary has had lapses in coverage and the unit as a whole didn't tackle well. Over the past few weeks, though, this defense has improved every game. It started with a good-but-bad performance against the Bengals. They held Cincinnati to just 17 points and kept A.J. Green quiet for the majority of the game. Andy Dalton struggled throughout the game, but Cincy was still able to run the ball effectively. Last week, against the Eli Manning and the New York Giants, the Bolts played really well defensively. They forced a season high in turnovers, and, minus a couple of big catches by Hakeem Nicks, shut the G-Men down. Eli threw 2 INT's and the could not establish a running game. San Diego held New York to just 14 points. On to last night, where the Chargers have undoubtedly played their best game of the season. I mentioned the season-lows Denver had in total offense, rushing and scoring above. But they also held the Broncos to 2-of-9 on third down. They tackled great and they never gave up the big play. The return of linebackers Jarrett Johnson and Melvin Ingram has obviously given them a boost, and with Oakland coming to town next week, look for the defense to continue to make strides.
Baltimore and Miami are in Position to Choke:
Baltimore has a trip to Detroit on Monday night, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions took that game. The Ravens also have to play the Patriots, another game they could easily lose. Miami has the Patriots this week, but has two winnable games against Buffalo and the New York Jets. Depending on what Bills team and what Jets team shows up, the Dolphins could end their season losing at least two out of three games, just like Baltimore. If San Diego wins out, which it looks like they may, they'll need Miami to lose 2 games and Baltimore to lose 1. If that happens, the Chargers will finally be in the playoffs again.
Next Sunday, the Oakland Raider travel to Qualcomm Stadium to take on the Chargers. With how San Diego is playing defensively, don't expect Oakland to make too many big plays. I don't think the Raiders have nearly enough offensively to keep pace with Philip Rivers and the Bolts offense. I expect the Chargers to continue to play hot in all three phases, and dominate the Raiders all around. My prediction: Chargers 31, Raiders 13.