1. How to Turn Six Points into Zero
At the end of a 7-minute, 80-yard drive by a Chargers team that needed to grab the momentum back after going down 12-0 on two blocked punts and a kick out of bounds, Ryan Mathews gets the ball on 2nd and 8 and runs.....for a touchdown! Wait...that was a touchdown, right?
I'm dying for somebody to find a replay of this play for me, or even better....capture the slow-mo instant replay afterwards. Not only would it had been an incredibly close call, and one you almost have to challenge instead of facing 3rd & 1, but after I saw the instant replay twice I noticed something: Mathews knee never even hit the ground. His legs landed on top of the Raider that was tackling him, and since he was stretching the ball over the goal line at the time...that's 6.
It looked like nobody bothered to look it over. Not the coaches, not the refs or the announcers. Everyone just moved along with the idea of "His knee was down when the ball was at the 1 yard line", but I swear to you it wasn't. I saw it with my own two eyes. I have it recorded on my home DVR. Mathews knee never hit the ground.
And on the very next play, fumble-machine Mike Tolbert fumbled the ball on the 1 and the Raiders recovered on the 14.
(UPDATE: Video will be posted of this play later tonight at the very latest, thanks to Orz)
2. How to Turn a Late Lead into a Loss
With 1:25 left to go in the game, and down by 1 point, the Chargers had 1st & 10 on the Raiders' 34. Not exactly Nate Kaeding's "sure-thing" range, so the Chargers attempt to move the ball closer with two straight pass plays. One is incomplete, the other results in a dumb penalty by the Raiders and puts the Chargers at the Raiders 23 with 1st & 10 and 1:15 left in the game.
Stop right there. Logic has already mapped out this situation. Run the ball, make the Raiders use their timeouts, let Kaeding kick the FG and force Jason Campbell and the Raiders to try and go 40 yards or so on offense without timeouts to put the game in Sebastian Janikowski's hands (or legs), when you know that he has a history of missing game-winning FGs. Logic also says run the ball inside, where there's about a 150% less chance of getting a holding penalty. Logic also says use the RB with a 6.6 YPC (and no fumbles) on the day to run, and not the one averaging less than a yard per carry. And if you're going to use the one with the lower average, the one who has had 1 good run all day and has gotten creamed every time he's tried to run the ball outside.....by all means, run it up the gut.
Norv Turner did almost none of these things. He put in Mike Tolbert and ran him to the outside, a play that hadn't come close to working all day, and Antonio Gates got caught holding to try and keep the play from getting blown up (which I don't really have a problem with because if he doesn't hold it's the same outcome, minus the down and the time on the clock). Now out of FG range, the Chargers are forced to throw and the Raiders' attacking pass rush force a fumble that they then run back for a defensive touchdown.
3. How to Turn a Bad QB into a Good One
Jason Campbell, David Garrard, Matt Cassel. I see the same issues with each of these QBs. Most of the time the defense understands that getting pressure in the face of these players will force bad passes. The Chargers used that knowledge earlier this season to knock Garrard out of the game and force Cassel to have a bad game as well. It was even working well when Campbell first game in for the injured Bruce Gradkowski in the first half, when just a hint of pressure forced Campbell into this line:
3/7, 38 yards, 3 sacks
Then, with a 24-15 lead, Ron Rivera took the blitzes out of his defensive playbook and lit them on fire. In his defense, it was a little chilly and he needed to get warm. Here's how Campbell fared in the second half, when he had a clean pocket and enough time to take a nap before throwing each pass due to 3 and 4-man rushes.
10/11, 121 yards, 1 TD, 0 sacks
"Wow!", many of you must have said, "Jason Campbell is a very good QB!" No, actually. The truth of it is that Jason Campbell has always been a mobile QB with a big and accurate arm, he just struggles when he gets pressured and makes a lot of dumb plays where he either throws easy interceptions or gets sacked and fumbles. In roughly a game and a half this season, Campbell had been pressured into 6 sacks, 4 fumbles and 2 interceptions. I assure you, he didn't suddenly learn how to play....he simply had the time to not worry about the pass-rush, and to wait for his receivers to get open enough that he didn't have to squeeze the ball through a tight window.
4. How to Turn a 0-0 Game into a 12-point Deficit in about 3 Seconds
Everything I've ever heard about Steve Crosby has been good. Great guy, great coach, passionate, loves his job, loves to teach, knows his stuff, etc. He can be given at least partial credit for the wonderful careers of Kassim Osgood, Nate Kaeding, Mike Scifres and Hanik Milligan. However, his squad seems to be giving up about 2 scores per game when the team is on the road.
C.J. Spillman has all the physical skills, but Crosby can't seem to make the kid tackle instead of going for the big hit (which is precisely why there was almost another run-back TD against the Chargers yesterday). He's trying to make due with what he has, but there's a real disconnect between coach and players. It might be time for a new voice, or at least some accountability. If you are directly responsible for 3 losses in 5 games, the team cannot afford to keep you around until you figure it out. If he were the QB, he'd be benched and replaced.
The thing that killed me about the blocked punts was that both times it came from pressure up the middle, and it was without an overload! It wasn't some guy making a great play around the corner, or a particularly great call by the Raiders special teams coordinator. Plain and simple, it was a missed assignment both times. That's at least partly the player's fault, even though it was a different guy each time, but when there's big holes in the middle of your punt-blocking line on each punt....that's a serious issue.
5. How to be Out-Coached and Out-Classed by the Oakland Raiders
Let's start with out-coached. The most egregious thing I saw all day from the Chargers coaching staff was not adjusting when it became evident that the Raiders were blitzing on every play. Where were the plays where the Bolts spread the Raiders out with 4 WRs and Antonio Gates and thew quick passes? All I saw were two-TE sets and Philip Rivers throwing prayers to Malcom Floyd while getting slaughtered in the backfield.
Where was Ryan Matthews when it looked like his running was the only thing that was going to stop the blitz? I assure you, this short drive was no coincidence:
The Raiders lost Mathews on the blitz and finally saw him as a threat on the ground. On the next play, they didn't blitz, FS Michael Huff bit on a play-action and left Malcom Floyd open down the field for the TD. Wow, a successful run to keep the heat off the QB and help the WRs downfield? Maybe they should've tried that a couple more times.
Now, onto being out-classed. Since the game, Norv Turner has had two press conferences. After the game, he responded to a question about Steve Crosby possibly being fired by calling it "Silly". He responded to a question about the Mike Tolbert outside-run play-call mentioned above by saying "You should pay attention to the game." He responded to that same question today, when it was mentioned that Tony Dungy didn't like the call, by bringing up the time the Charger picked off Peyton Manning 6 times and the time Darren Sproles ran back two kicks against him.
Where's your pride? Where's your head at? Even Tom Cable, who has been struggling with a bad team for a few seasons now, doesn't get petty. This is not time to start waving around your dick at Tony Dungy and pretending like his opinion is irrelevant simply because your team beat his team twice. This is not the time to start telling the media, who live and breathe this sport the same way you do during football season, that they are idiots that don't pay attention to the game. Be a man. Stand up at the podium and say that firing Steve Crosby, one of the league's best Special Teams coaches over the last decade, would not guarantee success because there's probably not somebody better that's sitting at home and watching TV. Tell us why you went with the Tolbert outside-run call, we might be willing to accept that we're idiots if you make a good point.
What I've seen out of Norv last night and today just seems childish, and those around me know how much respect and admiration I have for Turner. I have always been happy with him as the offensive play-caller and the face of the franchise. What I want from him is him to say "We screwed up. Myself, Ron Rivera and Steve Crosby gave that game away. We owe it to the fans and the players to be better prepared when the Raiders come to town in a few weeks." Please don't stomp your feet and tell us that you were right, we are wrong and we're juts too dumb to see it. That's when people like me, big fans, start to wonder how things are going to get turned around.