Bolts & Dolts: Time of possession the key to another Chargers win

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Bolts & Dolts is your weekly list of San Diego Chargers players that performed above, or below, expectations in the team's last game. This time, we look at the Chargers' win over the Cowboys on Sunday.

Bolts

Philip Rivers - 35/42, 401 pass yds, 3 pass TDs, 1 INT, 1 sack

I could write a book about the differences between 2012 Philip Rivers and the guy that played against the Dallas Cowboys last night, but I'll try to keep it succinct.

Offensive Line

Playing behind Nick Hardwick, D.J. Fluker and a bunch of nobodies, Rivers stood in the pocket and trusted his protection. He stepped up when he needed to. He ran out of the pocket, and away from the pressure, only once or twice. Most of the time he stood tall, made his reads, and got the ball out. He took only one sack! That guy was the reason I never bought the excuse of "Improve the offensive line and Rivers will get better". That's the guy that hasn't been around since 2010.

Short memory

Trailing for the first time in the game and trying to answer another Dez Bryant touchdown, Rivers threw a pass that was tipped at the line, caught by Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, and returned for a touchdown. The Chargers got the ball back with 1:19 left in the first half. Last year, Norv Turner either runs out the clock or Philip Rivers looks panicked and makes another mistake. Best case scenario was a three-and-out. This year....

1st and 10 at SD 10 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to A.Gates to SD 19 for 9 yards (S.Lee).
2nd and 1 at SD 19 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass to A.Gates to SD 27 for 8 yards (S.Lee).
Timeout #1 by SD at 00:49.
1st and 10 at SD 27 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass deep left to E.Royal pushed ob at DAL 45 for 28 yards (M.Claiborne).
1st and 10 at DAL 45 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short left to A.Gates pushed ob at DAL 31 for 14 yards (M.Claiborne).
1st and 10 at DAL 31 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short left to D.Woodhead.
2nd and 10 at DAL 31 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete deep left to V.Brown.
3rd and 10 at DAL 31 (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to J.Phillips to DAL 24 for 7 yards (B.Carr, B.Carter).
Timeout #2 by SD at 00:02.
4th and 3 at DAL 24 N.Novak 42 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-M.Windt, Holder-M.Scifres.

66 yards, all on passes out of the shotgun, to get the team in position to get three of those points back. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see this. Drew Brees has always been the prototype "quarterback with a short memory", and everyone saw Rivers struggle with that the last two seasons. Turnovers affected him. He turned into a different guy. On Sunday, he went right back out and picked up where he left off. The next time Tony Romo got the ball, his Cowboys were once again trailing.

4th Quarter/Close Game

Yahoo Sports keeps track of a stat called "Late & Close" to see how players perform in the most crucial moments, in the 4th quarter of a close game. You can imagine how Rivers has performed in this situation over the last few seasons...

2009: 50/79, 698 pass yds, 3 pass TDs, 2 INTs

2010: 33/59, 402 pass yds, 2 pass TDs, 3 INTs, 1 lost fumble

2011: 48/85, 562 pass yds, 2 pass TDs, 4 INTs, 2 lost fumbles

2012: 34/65, 333 pass yds, 1 pass TD, 7 INTs, 2 lost fumbles

Quite the trend, huh? Let's take a look at how he's done so far this season, and yesterday against Dallas.

2013: 19/32, 197 pass yds, 2 pass TDs, 1 INT

vs. DAL: 3/5, 67 pass yds, 1 TD

The single worst trait of the 2011-2012 Philip Rivers was that his team couldn't count on him to come through when it mattered most. Now, it would appear, they can.

Antonio Gates - 10 catches (10 targets), 136 rec yds, 1 TD

Let me show you another stat.

SDG Time of Possession by game:

vs. HOU: 23:29

vs. PHI: 40:17

vs. TEN: 28:22

vs. DAL: 34:03

Yup. The San Diego Chargers are 2-0 when they win the time of possession battle, and 0-2 when they do not. Coincidence? Well, no.

Remember when I predicted that the 2013 Chargers could be similar to the 2011 49ers? One thing I kept stressing was that the defense is very thin, and that San Diego would need to find a way to hide/protect that lack of depth to win games. Winning the time of possession battle, especially in the second half, is probably the best way to do that.

The Chargers win the possession battle with a number of different factors, including lots of Ryan Mathews carries, lots of passes to Danny Woodhead, and a steady helping of 5-7 yard passes to Antonio Gates. In this game, Gates was perfect in that role and worked as a big-play threat (which San Diego missed last week without Malcom Floyd) as well. I keep saying it as if nobody is listening....this is one of Gates' best seasons, so far.

Danny Woodhead - 5 carries, 32 rush yds, 5 catches (7 targets), 54 rec yds, 2 rec TDs

That game, right there, is exactly the reason that Tom Telesco signed Danny Woodhead. Woodhead did everything. He was a dangerous receiver, runner and run-blocker. The defense had no idea what to do with him when he was on the field, and the offense took advantage every time he got a good matchup.

Woodhead will probably never be above Ryan Mathews on the depth chart, nor should he be, but he might play a more important role in this offense than Mathews does.

Keenan Allen - 5 catches, 80 rec yds

I've been sort of calling this one too. In preseason, I grew enamored with Allen's versatility. He is the only receiver on the team with the strength to make the short catch, the quickness to get open on a three-step drop and the speed to beat cornerbacks deep. He also has fantastic hands. He's gotten his opportunity with Malcom Floyd's neck injury, and he hasn't disappointed one bit. His hands and strength are already making him a favorite of Rivers' on third down.

This stat line came about two feet away from looking fantastic when Rivers missed Allen open in the end zone (in Rivers' defense, he was running away from a pass rusher and focusing more on putting the ball where only Allen could have a chance at it).

Eric Weddle - 7 tackles (5 solo), 2 passes defended

For all of the ways in which Weddle has been beat in the last few weeks by tight ends, he blanketed Jason Witten for most of the game. Witten ended up catching juts 5 of the 10 passes thrown his way.

I think the big difference in this game was that Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist took turns playing over-the-top coverage and playing in the box, with Gilchrist doing better in a more comfortable position.

Crezdon Butler - 1 tackle, 1 forced fumble

As of right now, the numbers haven't been released on how badly the Chargers secondary was burned by Tony Romo. However, they looked okay. Butler got on the field a bit and made the biggest play of the day for the defense, forcing a fumble on the Chargers 1 yard line with less than 3 minutes left to go in the game and San Diego protecting a 9 point game. It was the nail in the coffin for the Dallas Cowboys.

Corey Liuget - 5 tackles (3 solo), 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit
Kendall Reyes - 2 tackles (2 solo), 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 pass defended

Good thing the Chargers read Kevin's post last week. Liuget and Reyes responded to the questions and looked like the 2012 versions of themselves, trusting the linebackers to pick up the runs that got by them and selling out to get pressure on Tony Romo. That was much needed once Dwight Freeney went down and it'll probably be how they operate for the rest of the season.

Nick Novak - 3/3 FGs from 36, 42 and 23 yards out

I know it's somewhat expected from him at this point, but I continue to be amazed at how good Nick Novak is. I've also heard quite a few stories about Chargers fans bumping into his parents at games, and they're supposedly great people.


Dolts

Nobody

I don't do this often, but I don't think anyone belongs on this list after that game. The entire offense played well. The defense played well enough, and the guys that weren't great (Richard Marshall, Johnny Patrick, Manti Te'o, etc.) are guys that I didn't expect to be anything more than mediocre in this game. Everyone on the Chargers play to or above expectations against the Cowboys, which is a sign of great coaching.


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