Philip Rivers wasn't as great as he was against Kansas City, but he really was good enough to win this game. Rivers completed 24 of his 37 attempts (64.8%) for 257 yards (6.94 YPA), one TD and one INT (which was totally not Rivers' fault). In this game, my biggest complaint with Rivers would be that he had a few plays where he felt pressure which wasn't really there, and unnecessarily forced several throws as a result. On the plus side, Rivers is learning to trust WR Keenan Allen more and more, and giving him chances to make difficult catches. Rivers also did a better job of being aware of the sticks and not sliding too soon.
Running Backs: B
RB Ryan Mathews had another solid game before he became the forgotten man later in the 2nd half. Mathews ran for 61 yards on 14 carries (4.4 YPC), and also was solid coming out of the backfield with 5 catches (6 targets) for 31 yards. In this game, Mathews was particularly impressive on swing and flat routes, as his straight ahead speed turned short passes into significant gains. RB Danny Woodhead finished with 7 carries for 22 yards (3.1 YPC) and 2 catches for 13 yards on 3 targets. RB Le'Ron McClain converted a 3rd and short with his lone carry for 1 yard, and RB Ronnie Brown had 1 carry for 3 yards.
I hate this grade, because I'm trying to reconcile 3 killer mistakes with some sensational play. Let's get the bad out of the way first.
TE Antonio Gates may have played the worst game of his career. His first mistake was a fumble which followed a 3rd down conversion and would have given the Chargers 1st down inside the CIN 20. His second mistake came on a 3rd down pass which was stripped away by CB Dre Kirkpatrick, costing the Chargers at least a FG attempt. Otherwise, Gates finished with 41 yard on 5 receptions (9 targets), and struggled to get open late. On the other hand, TE Ladarius Green continues to reward more snaps, finishing with 2 catches for 45 yards, inlcuding a 30 yard TD. His 6 targets are a little deceiving, as at least 2 opportunities would have required circus catches.
WR Keenan Allen was terrific again, posting 8 receptions for 106 yards (10 targets), with 2 of them registering highly on the difficulty scale. His turnover in the 4th quarter was mitigated by a CIN turnover 3 plays later. Allen continues to do a phenomenal job of creating separation from opposing CBs, as well as producing big yards after the catch. He was so good that Bengals DC Mike Zimmer resorted to double teams to take him away. Unfortunately, no one could take advantage, as WR Vincent Brown managed only 1 catch for 16 yards - on a tough catch over the middle - with his 2 targets.
Offensive Line: C plus
Playing again at LT, D.J. Fluker had another tough matchup, this week against DE Michael Johnson. While Fluker did not give up a sack, he did draw False Start and Holding penalties, and gave up multiple pressures which forced some errant throws from Rivers. However, in the running game, Fluker was better. LG Johnnie Troutman was generally pretty good against DT Brandon Thompson in pass protection, although this week he struggled a couple times when pulling to the right. C Nick Hardwick was strong again in both pass and run blocking. RG Chad Rinehart was also generally effective in run blocking, but he allowed a sack to DE Wallace Gilberry after getting crossed up on a zone blitz. RT Jeromey Clary was otherwise solid against Gilberry both in the run and pass game.
Defensive Line: D plus
Here's the thing in this game... while Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden stupidly called outside runs, the Chargers defensive front did a nice job of outrunning the Bengals' offensive line to the ball, shooting gaps, and making solid plays. On outside running plays, DT Cam Thomas made a couple of nice stops by beating C Kyle Cook , and DT Corey Liuget was good at beating LG Clint Boling to the ball. Even DE Kendall Reyes was able to beat RG Mike Pollak to the ball.
Of course, once Gruden realized that he was being stupid, and decided to run right at the Chargers, everyone except for Liuget was blown off the ball. Reserve DL Lawrence Guy and Sean Lissemore had a couple of nice plays between them, and Lissemore actually had a couple of nice plays at NT in a 3 man front, but the group was largely controlled when the Bengals went power. And no one generated even the barest hint of a pass rush.
Linebackers: C minus
Finally, a game where ILB Manti Te'o wasn't a disaster! Te'o nearly had a 2nd quarter INT in zone coverage, breaking up a pass intended for TE Jermaine Gresham. He was also solid in man coverage downfield against Gresham and former Notre Dame teammate TE Tyler Eifert. His play included a tackle for loss and no egregious blown tackles, and he was generally decent attacking gaps. On the downside, once he got blocked, he was taken completely out of the play.
However, the biggest defensive mistake on the day was either from Te'o or ILB Donald Butler, where neither dropped into the deep middle and allowed WR A.J. Green to get an easy TD pass from QB Andy Dalton. Otherwise, Butler was also solid in pass coverage against Gresham and Eifert, and led the defense with 10 tackles overall. On the outside, Reggie Walker had a tackle for loss, but neither he, nor OLB Tourek Williams, nor OLB Thomas Keiser generated the faintest whiff of pressure on Dalton.
Secondary: C minus
The secondary finally got a break from solid QB play in facing Dalton, who was generally awful for most of the game. Replacing benched CB Derek Cox, CB Richard Marshall had a solid game. Marshall did a solid job in tackling, and had a nice pass defense in the 4th quarter against WR Marvin Jones, although he did run himself out of a couple of WR screen plays. CB Shareece Wright gave up one play, and it was a killer - getting juked out of his shoes by WR AJ Green for a 28 yard gain on the Bengals final possession. WR Andrew Hawkins beat CB Johnny Patrick for a 50 yard gain on a 3rd down slant pass, setting up a 4th quarter Bengals FG.
Otherwise, this was probably the best overall game from the S position all year. FS Eric Weddle finished with 5 tackles and an INT on a duck from Dalton, and SS Marcus Gilchrist kept the Chargers in the game by forcing a 3rd down fumble from RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Special Teams: B minus
PK Nick Novak converted his only FG attempt, from 48 yards in the 4th quarter. On kickoffs, Novak failed to generate any touchbacks, although the kicks were deep enough to prevent any long returns. Kickoff and punt coverage was strong again, although the best player this game was ILB Andrew Gachkar, who made a couple of solid tackles on a punt and kickoff return.
Once again, P Mike Scifres was terrific, with 3 of his 4 punts being dropped inside the CIN 20 yard line with no touchbacks, and his seemingly low 39.3 yard average was mostly a product of the field position he was punting from. On the flip side, kick return and punt return coverage was again below average. PR Keenan Allen misplayed a punt which was downed inside the Chargers' 10, and KR Lavelle Hawkins frankly looked tentative and/or slow.
Yet another close game loss for Mike McCoy, and not coincidentally, another game where he chose to take the conservative route instead of maximizing his team's scoring opportunities. Most egregiously, he elected to punt on 4th and 2 from the CIN 42 in the 2nd quarter of a tie game. Later, he elected to punt on 4th and 10 from the CIN 39 trailing by 7 points in the 4th quarter. McCoy doesn't want to change his approach, although his team in now 2-6 in games decides by 8 points or less, with an average margin of -3.125 points per close game, and is now all but eliminated from postseason contention. Between these decisions and the 2 Gates turnovers, the Chargers left anywhere from 12-28 points on the field.
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was a mixed bag this week. On this plus side, he did a nice job again of getting Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green involved early. On the negative side, the Chargers abandoned Mathews for most of the 4th quarter, even though he was the most effective back during the game, even on passing plays.
Defensive coordinator John Pagano was surprisingly passive in his approach to "attacking" Andy Dalton. Especially considering a QB who proved repeatedly during the game he couldn't be trusted to throw accurately more than 10 yards downfield, Pagano was perfectly content to keep his corners off and allow Dalton multiple quick throws, WR screens, and slants during the game. The decision to not force Dalton to attack vertically is especially egregious, because the LB s did a strong job of taking away outlet throws to the TEs and RBs.
Hidden Plays (Non-scoring, non turnover plays which affected the outcome):
- 12:03 2nd Qtr, SD 3rd and 10 at CIN 49. Rivers completes a pass to Keenan Allen (who makes a circus catch) for 19 yards to the CIN 30. Ladarius Green's TD follows on the next play.
- 6:30 2nd Qtr. SD 4th and 2 at CIN 42. Instead of attempting to extend the drive, the Chargers punt.
- 1:07 2nd Qtr. SD 3rd and 14 at CIN 49. Rivers throws a Texas route to Woodhead, which is deflected by Wallace Gilberry. With a catch, Woodhead has blockers in front and a clear path to the 1st down and sideline.
- 13:08 4th Qtr. SD 1st and 10 at CIN 39. Following an 11 yard catch by Allen, Rivers forces 2 deep throws and 1 short throw while trailing by only 7 points. The drive stalls out and McCoy elects to punt 4th and 10.
- 10:48 4th Qtr. CIN 3rd and 2 at CIN 18. Dalton throws a quick slant to WR Andrew Hawkins for a 50 yard gain to the SD 32 and setting up a Mike Nugent FG and a 17-7 lead.
- 4:35 4th Qtr. CIN 1st and 10 at CIN 34. Following a Chargers' FG to cut the lead to 17-10, Andy Dalton makes his only good downfield throw of the day, completing a 28 yard pass to A.J. Green and a 1st down at the SD 38.
One Play I Really Liked: Touchdown Pass to Ladarius Green
This play is another example of Whisenhunt being aware of his early and mid-season tendencies, and using them against the defense. In this case, it's the 2nd down draw play.
- The Chargers come out in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE). From left to right, WR Vincent Brown, TE Ladarius Green lined up on the line, TE Antonio Gates in the slot right, and WR Keenan Allen. RB Danny Woodhead is flanking Rivers on the right. Rivers is in shotgun.
- The Chargers run a play action fake, with LT DJ Fluker and LG Johnnie Troutman sealing right. RG Chad Rinehart pulls left behind Fluker. Woodhead follows Rinehart after the fake handoff.
- The play action sucks in Bengals' OLB Vontaze Burfict, who is supposed to cover Green. ILB Rey Maualuga also bites, then tries to retreat back into the deep middle.
- Rivers' throw to Green is perfect, splitting the trailing Burfict and the late Maualuga.
- Meanwhile, Bengals' S Reggie Nelson is in no man's land between Green and Brown and unable to make a saving tackle.
Looking Ahead To:
The Chargers not having their season ended by Eli Manning. Come on Chargers, there's some shit that Chargers' fans should never have to eat, and having their season ended at home by Eli Manning is high on such a list.