Bolts & Dolts: Chargers beat the Bengals in the trenches

Andy Lyons

Which San Diego Chargers performed above (or below) expectations in the team's road playoff win against the Cincinnati Bengals? The answers might surprise you.

I know there are a lot of newbies around here this time of year, so let me explain what "Bolts & Dolts" is all about as succinctly as I can.

"Bolts" are meaningless cheers given out to San Diego Chargers players that exceeded expectations in the most recent game. "Dolts" are meaningless jeers passed out to San Diego Chargers players the performed below expectations, contributing to one or more negative plays.

I don't (typically) include coaches into the mix, and players that perform exactly to expectations are largely ignored (although usually make the "Honorable Mention" list).

Bolts

Chargers Offensive Line - 1 sack allowed, 4.9 yards per carry

I stared at this box score for about 10 minutes before figuring this one out.

Did Philip Rivers play great? Well, yeah, I guess. However, his numbers (12/16, 128 pass yds, 1 TD) are nothing compared to his usual numbers. Those are "game manager" numbers, which is probably below expectations for him.

Did Ryan Mathews play great? Sure did, but he missed almost the entire second half with a nagging ankle injury. His 13 carries for 52 rushing yards is definitely not what I was expecting from him on Sunday.

Did Danny Woodhead play great? Well, he did an excellent job of filling in for Mathews in the second half. However, the Bengals did a great job of keeping him from killing them in the passing game. 66 total yards has to be somewhere near the lowest output from Woodhead this season.

Did Keenan Allen play great? I'm not sure. Allen was thrown to just 3 times and totaled just 2 catches on 21 receiving yards.

I'm used to 300+ yard games from Rivers and 100+ yard games from Mathews, Woodhead and Allen. That didn't happen against the Bengals.

Then, it hit me. The star of the game for the Chargers' offense was the offensive line.

The Cincinnati Bengals had 43 sacks during the regular season. That's nearly 3 sacks per game. They had 2 against the Chargers on December 1st, and generated pressure against Philip Rivers for most of that game.

In this one, the Bengals pass-rushers very often couldn't get near Rivers. He was only sacked once. He had a clean pocket, and never really seemed to panic. On top of that, without their leader (Nick Hardwick) in for much of the game, the San Diego offensive line dominated the running game against a very good Cincinnati defensive line to the tune of 196 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.

It may not have been very flashy, and there weren't a ton of big plays, but the Chargers got it done on offense by imposing their will against the Bengals' front-7 and avoiding risk.

Ronnie Brown - 8 carries, 77 rush yds, 1 rush TD, 1 catch (1 target), 9 rec yds

As the team's third running back, Ronnie Brown hasn't gotten on the field much this season. It's easy to forget about him now, just as it's easy to forget that he used to be one of the best running backs in the league.

His fresh legs came in handy when Mathews' ankle flared up, and his 58 yard touchdown run was a perfect nail in the coffin for this game.

Ladarius Green - 3 catches (3 targets), 34 rec yds, 1 rec TD

It's almost like BFTB called this game for Ken Whisenhunt. Not only was he going to get Mathews and Woodhead to 30+ touches come hell or high water (they finished with 32 and are now 9-0 when combining for 30+ touches), but when the Chargers got down near the goal line....well....

Image courtesy of @buzzfeedsports

That is a nasty, nasty play....and one that our own Kyle Posey has been begging for:

There's also the fade route, where the quarterback throws it to the back pylon. It's a safe throw, especially when the intended target is a 6'5 receiver like Green. The back shoulder fade is a low risk high reward play that the Chargers should implement in their playbook.

Green also had the second longest catch of the day for San Diego, and finished as the team leader in yardage and receptions.

Melvin Ingram - 3 tackles (zero solo), 1 QB hit, 1 interception

I'm officially in "Imagine how good this defense would've been if they had Ingram all year" mode. It's impossible not to be! The team is 5-0 since his return, and each week he seems to take a giant step forward in his recovery and towards superstardom.

Similar to last season, Ingram came away with a ton of near-sacks. This one almost saved a touchdown:

Image courtesy of @buzzfeedsports

The consistent pressure would've been enough to get him a Bolt on its own, but it was the great coverage against the tight end that ended in an interception that really put it over the top.

Four weeks after returning from a torn ACL, Ingram is once against the second best player on the Chargers defense.

Cam Thomas - 2 tackles (2 solo), 1 sack

Cam Thomas was benched after the December 1st loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, and has responded by playing like a monster ever since. Sean Lissemore missed yesterday's game with a shoulder injury, giving Thomas his starting job back, but the motivation was still there. Thomas was okay against the run, and scary against the pass.

Donald Butler - 12 tackles (9 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble

Heading into free agency this offseason, Donald Butler's year didn't start out so good. When he played, he was playing through injury (and it showed).

Somehow, over the course of the NFL season, Butler has managed to get healthy. He's flying around the field and making plays like the Donald Butler we remember from last season. Not only did he force a fumble at the end of the first half to save a touchdown, but Butler was far and away the leading tackler on the team because he was the one stopping just about every running play.

Honorable Mention: Philip Rivers, Danny Woodhead, Jahleel Addae, Darrell Stuckey, Eric Weddle, Marcus Gilchrist

Dolts

Manti Te'o - 8 tackles (3 solo)

For a slow linebacker that doesn't do a good job of reading the play or getting off of blockers, Te'o sure isn't much of a tackler.

Richard Marshall

At this point, the Chargers secondary is what it is. Marshall and Wright can't cover anyone in man coverage and they're not great tacklers either. That's why things like this happen:

Image courtesy of @buzzfeedsports

At this point, my expectations should be so low that none of them can make this list. However, the Chargers are headed to Denver to take on the best passing offense in the league and Richard Marshall is keeping me from getting a good night's sleep, so he gets a Dolt.

Honorable Mention: Vincent Brown, Antonio Gates, San Diego's kick coverage

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