I know, I know. "Everyone's a Bolt!" Not so fast. When the San Diego Chargers raise their game across the board, the criteria for being listed a Bolt or a Dolt is raised as well. This post is meant to spotlight players that had particularly good or bad games. It was a little more difficult in his game, since the Chargers played very well as a team, but I managed. Nit-picking is a specialty of mine.
Also, look out for some new features this week including the "Almost Bolts" and "Almost Dolts".
Philip Rivers - 17/22, 145 yds, 1 TD. Those incomplete passes weren't even that bad. His first incompletion was a ball that was thrown away. The second was a ball knocked down at the line. I didn't even see the last two because I couldn't stay entertained watching the garbage time for a second time. In the first game of the season where he was not asked to carry the offense, Rivers was incredibly efficient.
Running Backs - 43 carries, 203 yds, 2 TDs. The Chargers are no longer the last team in the league in terms of rushing yards per game. They're 30th. Any idea who is 31st? The undefeated Indianapolis Colts. Take that, losers.
- LaDainian Tomlinson - 20 carries, 73 yds, 1 TD. I have no idea what the negativeness after the game was about. Why are people sad to see LT producing at this level? If you thought he was going to be putting up 150 yards per game, you're nuts. There's a reason he broke a bunch of records in such a short timespan, and that's because most players' bodies could not stand the punishment that his body has taken for so long. At this point, with good blocking, he's a smart RB that is going to take what the defense gives to him. That's a big improvement over what he was earlier this season. 20 carries, about 80 yards and a TD every game would be perfect in my book.
- Mike Tolbert - 7 carries, 58 yds, 1 TD. Everyone is so quick to look at Tolbert's body shape and say that he's the next Lorenzo Neal. They want him to be the big blocking back that's going to kill linebackers at the point of attack. The fact of the matter is, FBs like that are not nearly as useful in this offense and in today's NFL as FBs like Tolbert. Tolbert can run, catch and block. He's as strong as most linebackers and faster than most as well. He's just as dangerous with the ball in his hands as somebody like Darren Sproles. He's a faster, shiftier Mike Alstott. I couldn't be happier with the season he's having.
- Jacob Hester - 7 carries, 46 yds. Apparently, with a bit of blocking, Hester is the RB that AJ Smith envisioned he could be. His 6.6 YPC certainly helped to beat up a downtrodden Denver Broncos team late in the game. I don't buy that he's finally figured it out, especially since he wasn't very good during the early part of the game (3 catches, 0 yards and a bunch of slips). Here's to hoping that's the player we see for the rest of the season though.
Wide Receivers - 12 catches, 137 yds, 1 TD. It all looked too easy. Antonio Gates was uncoverable. Vincent Jackson made some plays, but Philip didn't need to force the ball to him. Malcom Floyd made plays outside of the first quarter and is turning into Rivers' second favorite target on third downs. Legedu Naanee may have made the play of the game on his TD grab. Watch it again and see how badly he jukes D.J. Williams. The reason Rivers could throw the ball was because Williams had to turn his back to the line of scrimmage to try to catch Naanee after getting humiliated at the goal line.
Offensive Line - 4.7 Yards Per Carry, Zero Sacks Allowed. No, I still haven't heard anything more about Jeromey Clary besides that it's "serious". I could've told you that when Rivers, Eric Weddle and other players were coming up to the cart to wish Clary good luck. Those players know what the doctors are saying, and they know that will probably be the last time they share the field with Clary for a while.
Still, before and after that, the offensive line played great. The running backs had big holes to run through all game, and Rivers having all the time in the world is what made him so efficient. There wasn't a forced pass out of his 22 attempts. In the last few weeks, Kris Dielman, Scott Mruczkowski and Louis Vasquez have all gotten significantly better individually and as a group (Marcus McNeill has been really good all season). Hopefully they can hold onto that success once Nick Hardwick takes over the starting Center job again.
Shaun Phillips - 3 tackles, 1 sack. He makes the plays the offense allows him to make. You really can't ask for more than that. When he's not double-teamed, Shaun usually beats his man and makes the QB feel very uncomfortable in the pocket. When he has to cover a TE or RB, he's so close the QB is afraid to throw at him. Ron Rivera has done a great job of freeing him up to make more plays.
Kevin Burnett - 8 tackles, 2 sacks. If Burnett can ever figure out how to stay healthy, he could be a Pro Bowl player. He flat-out flies around the field, hitting people hard or at least wrapping them up cleanly. As good of a blitzer as Stephen Cooper is (was?), Burnett is much better. Remember all of the talk of the Larry English/Shaun Phillips/Shawne Merriman formation that would keep all 3 guys on the field with Phillips playing the "Wild Card" position? English hasn't been effective enough, but Burnett seems to fit that role just fine.
Eric Weddle - 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit. I called it towards the end of last year. Weddle is the best blitzer on the entire team. Not the best pass-rusher, but definitely the best blitzer. The better Paul Oliver plays in the secondary, the more Weddle is free to come flying around the corner and hit the QB. On top of changing yesterday's game with his blitzes, he played outstanding coverage and saved a TD and a bunch of Denver momentum with his tackle on Knowshon Moreno in the open field.
Antonio Cromartie - 4 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 interception. Really this is a Bolt for Cromartie's play over the last 6 weeks. He didn't do anything special or different in yesterday's game that he hasn't already been doing for a month and a half now, he just got lucky enough to be in position to get his hands on the ball. He has been a complete and total shutdown corner, playing as good as or better than Quentin Jammer the entire time. Also, his episode of Chargers Roll as fantastic. He admitted that in the past he basically relied on his talent and didn't go 100% in practice, and that changing that around is what has made him better in the games. Even his tackling is much improved.
Steve Gregory - 3 tackles, 3 passes defended, 2 recovered fumbles. Apparently Steve Gregory and his physical play near the line of scrimmage was the key to the defense. Who knew? I don't think he made a mistake all game, and consistently put himself in position to stop the guy he was defending. Good things happen around Gregory, they seemingly always have, and that trend continued yesterday as he fell on top of two critical fumbles. Benching Antoine Cason in place of Gregory was absolutely the right move, and my questioning of it proves that I don't have what it takes to be an NFL coach.
Nate Kaeding - 4/4 FGs, 2/3 XPs. Did you hear that stat the commentators brought up about how many consecutive FGs Nate has made inside 40 yds? It was ridiculous. I don't recall it, but I recall thinking that it equaled out to more than an entire season. Kaeding is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season this year, and his performance in Denver (including a handful of touchbacks on kickoffs) cemented that.
I'm not going to single out anybody. They've all been good. Norv Turner has been the cool hand to guide the team along and Ron Rivera has been the mad scientist who gets better at the 3-4 each week. Even the lesser-known coaches such as Hal Hunter, Don Johnson, Charlie Joiner, Ollie Wilson....they've all faced some obstacles this season and each one has brought their unit up to the level of a winning team. There are players that deserve accolades for this team being in 1st place in the division, and they'll get them, but just about every member of the Chargers coaching staff deserves a pat on the back for a fine job weathering the early-season storm.
There were no offensive Dolts this week.
There were no defensive Dolts this week.
Darren Sproles - 3 punt returns, 6 PR yds, 1 fumble. Somebody has to teach Sproles how to fair-catch the ball. Please. His penchant for trying to catch it with a guy half a yard away from him is the type of minor flaw that could become a huge, glaring flaw in the postseason. Has he ever done anything great with one of those? There's really two options when he's catching the ball like that.
- Fumble the ball, hopefully out of bounds.
- Catch the ball, take a hard hit and hold onto the ball.
- Paul Oliver - He's making it really hard for Kevin Ellison to get back on the field. Not only are his coverage skills really good, but he's starting to play with a mean streak and lay some big hits.
- Shawne Merriman - Kindof. He almost deserves a Dolt as well, if you were just looking at the box score. However, if you watched the game you noticed that even Ryan Clady couldn't handle Shawne on his own and had a TE or RB to help on just about every play. This meant that the blitzers Rivera was bringing over the RT were running free, because the Broncos would rather have that than Merriman going one-on-one against their Pro Bowl LT.
- James Holt - Great job on Special Teams, kid.
- Kevin Ellison - When Oliver is playing as well as he is, you have to make a play and an impression on the coaching staff when they send you on the field. Playing 10 yards off of Tony Scheffler and not competing for the ball is not going to cut it.
- Stephen Cooper - Cooper's terrible skills in zone coverage is what made it so easy for Kyle Orton to move Denver down the field at the end of the first half. Eventually, with a big enough lead, Rivera stopped calling zone and it stopped being such a big problem. It doesn't erase the fact that Cooper is a liability in zone coverage and everyone knows it.