Philip Rivers - 36/47, 419 pass yds, 3 pass TDs
Hey, whaddayaknow! Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt fixed Philip Rivers! Maybe.
Honestly, I was as excited as anyone that El Capitan was chucking the ball all over the field with unmatched accuracy. I also saw the nonexistent pass rush (maybe that was the offensive line, maybe that was the Eagles) and the awful coverage by everyone not named Brandon Boykin (which is probably more of an Eagles problem than a positive mark for the Chargers).
The good news is that McCoy, as promised, got Rivers up over 70% completion rate. The better news is that Rivers didn't even come close to turning the ball over a single time. The best news is that this offensive production seems sustainable as long as San Diego isn't facing J.J. Watt.
It truly has been a team effort to "fix" Philip Rivers. So, how did they do it? Well, Tom Telesco improved the quality of the offensive line and gave him a new security blanket in the form of Danny Woodhead. Mike McCoy insisted on a fast-paced offense that gave Rivers the ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage, and seems to understand the importance of a consistent running attack. Ken Whisenhunt has done whatever he can to get receivers open early (including stacking receivers at the line of scrimmage and running a bevy of "pick plays"), allowing Rivers to get rid of the ball quicker.
The running game has given Philip more "2nd and short" and "3rd and short" plays than he knows what to do with, the offensive line has given him time to get comfortable, and the offensive philosophy has given him open receivers to throw to. Now all that is left is to watch his confidence rise, but keep him at a level where he is willing to throw the ball away if nobody is open. However, to do that, the offensive line will need to continue to play as well as they did against Philadelphia.
Now, as far as his game against the Eagles, Rivers was a magician. His touch and accuracy were apparent on every pass he threw. He looked comfortable in the pocket on almost every play (which makes sense because they didn't get any pressure on him). He even looked off a safety on a few plays, something he had formed a habit of not doing in the last year or so. There is absolutely no way in which Rivers could've had a better game on Sunday.
Antonio Gates - 8 catches (10 targets), 124 rec yds
Again, I'm not sure whether or not to blame it on the Eagles or credit it to Gates, but the future Hall of Famer seems to be back to his "Nobody in the league can cover him" form. Even when Philadelphia knew San Diego was going to throw to him, and even when Rivers was staring holes through him, Gates still found a way to get open, catch the ball and convert the first down.
Gates did enough to earn a "bolt", even though he fumbled on the Eagles 2 yard line. Ryan Mathews did not.
Malcom Floyd - 5 catches (6 targets), 102 rec yds
Let's get this out of the way: The last update we received on Malcom was that all signs were good and he was planning on flying back to San Diego with the team. He would not have flown home last night with a serious neck or spinal cord injury.
Now, before the injury, Malcom was balling. All those underneath passes to Gates, Royal and Vincent Brown opened up the deep stuff for Floyd, who was licking his chops every time he got matched up on Brandon Hughes. This offense may not need Floyd to go, but they're a hell of a lot better when he's out there. Let's hope he's ready to get back on the field soon.
Eddie Royal - 7 catches (8 targets), 90 rec yds, 3 rec TDs
It turns out Tom Telesco was right not to call Steve Breaston. Eddie Royal can play Breaston's role in Ken Whisenhunt's offense just fine, it would appear.
Royal, who hasn't had a bad career, matching his career high for TDs in a season in the first two games of 2013 is huge. His hands are good, his route-running seems greatly improved, and he's probably the fastest receiver on the team. With all of the attention Antonio Gates gets underneath (especially in the red zone), it's no wonder Eddie Royal is putting up big numbers.
The big difference, for me, between 2012 Royal and 2013 Royal is those pick plays I mentioned earlier. Get his man picked, and him wide open, and Royal will make up some yards after the catch. In Norv's offense, it seemed receivers were trusted to win their one-on-one matchups, which isn't Eddie's strength.
Nick Novak - 4/4, FGs of 49, 44, 33 and 46 yards (game-winner)
Fine. Let's just start calling him "Nails". The guy is just insanely good, which is crazy considering how inconsistent he was before the Chargers signed him off the street.
Where can I trade in my #TeamKaeding shirt for a #TeamNovak shirt?
Shareece Wright - 10 targets, 6 recs, 146 rec yds and 1 rec TD allowed
Shareece woke up this morning with scorch marks all over him. Not to mention, this is the second consecutive game where the oft-injured cornerback had to leave for a period with an injury. DeSean Jackson is a nearly impossible matchup without safety help (more on that in a second), but Wright didn't do much of anything right on Sunday.
Derek Cox - 3 targets, 2 recs, 25 rec yds and 1 rec TD allowed
It's probably not a good sign that, after one game, John Pagano tried to hide Cox by having him cover Riley Cooper as much as possible. Cooper still ended up getting a fairly critical TD against Cox late in the second quarter.
Marcus Gilchrist - 3 tackles, 3 targets, 1 rec, 11 rec yds allowed
I know that line doesn't look bad, but Gilchrist was the key to the whole defense and he almost blew it. You know that "Hail Mary" play that got the Ravens past the Broncos in the playoffs and probably has kept Rahim Moore awake at night ever since? Marcus Gilchrist is Rahim Moore right now, except if Rahim Moore had no confidence in the position he was playing. Gilchrist is lost, confused and playing safety like he's a cornerback with safety help. That needs to stop or he needs to be benched.
Eric Weddle - 4 tackles, 1 pass defended
Thank you, John Pagano! Pagano finally did what we have been begging him to do forever, which is put Weddle in the box more and let him blitz a lot. Did it almost lead to a bunch of long TD passes to DeSean Jackson? Yes, but one of the reason those passes weren't completed was because Weddle was getting pressure in the face of Michael Vick regularly.
On the other side of the coin, Weddle was really bad at man-coverage against LeSean McCoy in this game, giving up completions for 70 yds and 21 yds the two times he tried it. If he wants to play in the box, he'll need to get better at quickly deciding if he's covering or blitzing.
Ryan Mathews - 16 carries, 73 rush yds, 1 rec, 3 rec yds
One fumble should never, ever, change a team's long-term plans. Mathews fumble, while disappointing, is just something that the Chargers coaching staff will have to live with because he is they key to the offense. They need a strong running game to play "ball control" and he is that strong running game.
Who knows? Maybe over the course of the season he'll get better at not fumbling the ball. That'd be great. If he doesn't, however, you have to continue to give him the rock and let him create "2nd and short" situations for Ken Whisenhunt and Philip Rivers.
If I'm giving an "MVP" award for this game, I would actually want to give it to the coaching staff. They had a great game plan and, even though it didn't work to perfection, it was good enough to win the game. The Chargers had the ball for over 40 minutes, meaning the Eagles had it for less than 20. For all the hype about the number of plays run in the game, San Diego far outdid Chip Kelly's boys by running 79 offensive plays to Philadelphia's 58.
A similar game plan could work against many of the remaining opponents on the San Diego Chargers schedule. It's a schedule that's actually starting to look somewhat favorable. Games against the Titans, Raiders, Jaguars and Redskins in their next six seem more winnable today than they did on Saturday, and the stretch run of Giants, Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs at the end of the season could come right as Melvin Ingram and Brandon Taylor are filling some of the holes left in this Chargers defense. How exciting!