Bolts & Dolts: Chargers RB Ryan Mathews having a breakout season

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The San Diego Chargers built a big lead against the New York Giants and held onto it for a big 37-10 victory at home in a must-win game for both teams. Which Chargers players performed above, or below, expectations in the win?

Bolts

Philip Rivers

21/28, 248 pass yds, 3 TDs

Exactly. The Giants defense was worse than I had expected, maybe even worse than the Chargers defense, and Philip Rivers found just the right amount of balance between taking what the defense gave him and taking risks with downfield throws.

This stat-line isn't really a testament to Rivers playing spectacularly well, although he did that. It's more a testament to him not keeping a bad team in the game with turnovers, as he has been wont to do the last few years. This time, he was able to recover after fumbling to start the second half.

Ryan Mathews

29 carries, 102 rush yds, 1 rush TD, 3 catches, 32 rec yds

Well, that certainly looks like the guy that A.J. Smith and Norv Turner thought they had, doesn't it? Those are feature back numbers (30+ touches, 130+ yards, 1 TD) and Mathews looked good doing it.

Gone are the days when Mathews' bad rushing attempts would carry over into each other. No longer should we concern ourselves with him being "fumble prone". He's even become a decent-to-good pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield.

Everyone hoped that Ken Whisenhunt and Mike McCoy could "fix" Philip Rivers, and they have. Maybe more impressive, though, is that they've gotten Ryan Mathews to finally reach his potential as one of the league's 5 best running backs.

Danny Woodhead

7 carries, 42 rush yds, 4 catches, 52 rec yds, 1 rec TD

The best free agent signing of the offseason for the Chargers might be the best free agent signing of the offseason anywhere in the league.

All Woodhead has done is consistently pick up big yards on the ground and through the air, and find himself in the end zone regularly. He's still Pro Football Focus' 5th best RB in the league, and could possibly go higher after this game.

When the Chargers find a way to get Mathews 20 or so touches, and keep Woodhead around 10 or so, you know the offense had a good day. Also, I like that they took Woodhead off of kick returns in favor of Ronnie Brown. No need to risk injury to Woodhead like that.

Keenan Allen

3 catches, 59 rec yds, 2 rec TDs

I can't say enough about Keenan Allen. Do the 2013 NFL Draft over again and GMs are falling all over themselves to pick him up in the 1st round.

It's not just the talent, which has been on full display all year long. San Diego sports media is starting to regularly use the word "unstoppable" to describe him:

It's not just the toughness, which was clear as day against the Giants:

What I loved most about Keenan Allen in this game is the same thing that I've been enamored with since the day he was drafted, his attitude:

That's the type of confidence and leadership this team has been missing for a long time. I hope Allen gets a Captain's C on his jersey in 2014, as the team's #1 WR in Week 1.

Marcus Gilchrist

8 tackles (7 solo), 1 fumble recovery

It took 10+ games, and an adjustment from Chargers Defensive Coordinator John Pagano, but Gilchrist is finally starting to figure out this strong safety thing.

Through the first half of the season, Gilchrist was exclusively on deep coverage duty (and terrible at it). These days, those assignments are rare, and he's flashing the skills we saw when he was at nickel CB. He's covering WRs, TEs and RBs in man coverage, and diving in to shut down running plays to the outside (he was San Diego's leading tackler in this game). I'd still rather see him blitzing than Weddle, but it's fine for now.

My point is, now that Gilchrist is comfortable and Pagano has learned how to use him, Gilchrist has earned that starting SS job in 2014 and Pagano has possibly earned another year as the team's Defensive Coordinator.

Donald Butler

5 tackles (3 solo), 2 defended passes, 1 INT

Boy, it sure is easy to drool about the talent in this linebacker unit when healthy. If everything breaks San Diego's way, this unit could be dominant in 2014.

For the first time all season, Butler looks healthy and looks like himself. He was all over the field against the Giants, and came about 2 inches away from having 2 interceptions in this game.

Honorable Mentions

Dolts

Nobody

Dominating victories usually come when every single player on the field performs to or above expectations. That's what happened here, and so we have no Dolts to hand out.

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