San Diego Chargers
The Chargers zombie corpse got one hand out of the dirt of its grave by defeating the Tennessee Titans and improving to 3-5. This was a conference win and they are now 2-3 against teams from the AFC. This is also a common opponents game for tie-breaking purposes with teams in their division. Its also important for wild card positioning since the Titans are a wild card contender and the Chargers one day hope to grow up and be one of those.
Here's this week's game in numbers:
By Total DVOA this was the Chargers worst performance in a win this season. Of course, the other two wins were blowouts and this was a somewhat close win against a quality opponent. This was the Chargers best game on offense just barely edging out the Arizona game by 0.1%. This was also their best game running the ball and their 4th time with a better than 20% DVOA (last year, the Chargers had 3 such games and one game at 19.7%).
The defense had issues with the deep balls and DVOA loves big passing plays even when they come at a low completion percentage as long as the yards per attempt is high and points get on the board. The Titans passing game was middling at best so an opponent adjustment makes it look worse than it seemed. The run defense had one of its best performances and the special teams was middle of the road (compared to their previous 2010 performances).
Here's where the Chargers stand on the season:
The Chargers still have some pretty numbers to fill up the stat sheet with the exception of our friend the special teams. Its still not going to make Chargers fans happy though until it translates into a winning record.
The Denver Broncos lost an out-of-conference and out-of-continent game to the 49ers to settle into the AFC West basement at 2-6. The 49ers are a common opponent with the rest of the AFC West, but how much do tie-breakers matter for the Broncos at this point?
Let's see how the numbers shook out:
So the Broncos are back closer to "normal" with this game. It's not the blowout craziness that was seen against the Raiders and its not the solid effort that Denver put up against the Jets. Its just a lousy game by a team with a solid passing game. They still can't run and they sure as heck can't stop the pass. If Troy Smith played the Broncos every week he might be going to the Pro Bowl.
Here's where the Broncos stand on the season:
New team slogan: As bad on defense as we are good on offense. And not the Michael Jackson type of Bad. With these numbers and their record this team is going nowhere and probably should start studying the top defensive players in the 2011 draft.
The Chiefs bolster their AFC West lead by defeating the Buffalo Bills in overtime to improve to 5-2. The Chiefs are now 4-2 against AFC teams. The Chiefs are the only team in the AFC West that plays the Bills.
Here's how the game went down by DVOA:
Football Outsiders wrote about this game could come out as a positive effort even in a close game vs a bad team. The Chiefs running game chugged along at its usual rate and with the performance of the defense that was good enough to limit the Bills opportunities to do much. Much like Todd Bouman the week before, the Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick gave a gift or two to the Chiefs at key moments and those interceptions look good on the stat sheet. You can knock the Chiefs all you want for their (lack of) competition, but their schedule only gets easier so no one should really care until the playoffs.
Here's where the Chiefs stand on the season:
Last week someone corrected me when I accidentally said the Chiefs were the class of the AFC instead of the AFC West. Well, now that they are ranked #1 in Overall DVOA, you can actually make a case that they are not only the class of the AFC, but the class of the NFL. Having said that, let me grab some Dramamine.
The Raiders won a non-conference game against the Seattle Seahawks to push their record to 4-4. This only helps their common opponents tie-breaker from a playoff picture prospective. Here's what the Raiders second consecutive win looked like:
With the exception of special teams this was again a performance that looks like a winning team. The question then becomes is this what a team looks like as the improve back to legitimacy or is it what a mediocre team looks like as its peaking? You can't just throw out those bad (and sometimes horrific) games and just pay attention to the good ones. However, the good ones are the most recent. Plenty of tests await the Raiders and we'll get to that in the Looking Ahead section.
Here's where the Raiders stand on the season:
This is why its worth mentioning that you can't throw out those bad games. Their overall DVOA is still not above average, neither is their offense, their passing game, their pass defense or their special teams. The running game and the run defense are looking legit, however, and that is a real improvement for a Raiders franchise that got everything wrong for so long.
3-0. That's the Chargers' record in blackouts. The question of course then becomes: Can the fan base get excited about a team that they can't see? Well, first off they need to win a little more before anyone should be excited about anything. Secondly, San Diego is a pretty tech-savvy city and there are a large number of fans that are either finding alternative ways to watch the game or they could be old school enough to enjoy Josh Lewin and Hank Bauer sounding the charge to victory. More blackouts are coming though, so this will be a common experience throughout the season.
Vincent Jackson is back. Sort of. He was on the sidelines, but he can't play for the team until week 12 against the Indianapolis . By that time Legedu Naanee and Malcom Floyd should also be back, and the receiving corps will have an entirely different outlook than it currently does. That might be something to get excited about.
Mistakes. They happen. "Happy Halloween." That's a quote from Norv Turner in a fired up postgame press conference that followed a game where he got emotional in front of his players. His troops claim that fired them up and propelled them to victory. Somehow this team needs to capture that and use it in the future. And I don't mean next week's game or the game that follows that or the one after that. They need to bottle that up and use it for as long as this core of players are still together. The fanbase doesn't want excuses for lackluster performances if the team is indeed capable of getting fired up like that.
Did the Broncos actually make it back from London or did their fans tell them to stay abroad? As Sayre Bedinger at the Mile High Report wrote recently: 2010 Not the Year for the Denver Broncos. Given their record and current state of play that seems reasonable. Realistically, this team was supposed to be in semi-rebuilding mode last year. They had a new GM, a new Head Coach, a new QB, a new RB and a couple high draft picks on defense. Then this year they draft another new QB, replaced their top WR and got a new defensive coordinator. It was nice of the team to give their fans something to cheer about in 2009, but in 2010 the reality of rebuilding should be setting in right? There are growing pains, but the organization will back their Head Coach and GM and let the two of them lead them out of this. Presumably that will be by using their high draft picks on defense to fix that unit and to focus on developing their running game behind Knoshown Moreno and Ryan Clady. There are good building blocks here, but it needs some time and more talent.
The only thing left for the Chiefs to do to continue to solidify themselves as AFC West Champs is to get breathing room. For the second week in a row they didn't pick up any ground in the race by no fault of their own. All that's going to take is continuing to win football games and more importantly winning AFC West football games. Their opening week victory against the Chargers is still the lone win they have against the division. The rest of the division is licking their chops. The Raiders want their shot at the division lead. The Chargers want revenge and to make up ground. And the Broncos would like nothing more than to get their kicks by disrupting the Chiefs run at the playoffs. Plenty of drama to come.
As enjoyable of game as this was today, the Raiders were far from perfect. I am happy, but I am not going to get carried away with my hopes for the season yet. The Seahawks are bad and they played even below their talent level today.
I stole that from noontide of the Silver and Black Pride "Crew". I think this accurately captures the tone around the Raiders. Although, I would probably give the Raiders a little more credit for that specific win than he did. The Chargers have one of the better defenses in the NFL so far, but Matt Hasselbeck had a much better day against San Diego. Anyway, the point is that anyone who is thinking rationally about the Raiders has to be cautiously optimistic. If I was a Raiders fan you would never get me to fully back Tom Cable, but I'd sure be happy about being at .500, ahead of the Chargers and Broncos and have only 1 win less than the division leader.
The Chargers head to the road for the first time in 3 weeks to go to Houston and play the Texans. The Texans are coming off a short week where they played a divisional rival on Monday Night. They lost that game and need a victory to get right and stay with the pace for the playoff chase. However, they are not a quality playoff caliber team.
They have a nicely balanced offense that ranks 2nd in DVOA behind New England that features the 2nd best passing attack and the 8th best rushing attack. The passing attack is built on the names you should know by now in Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub. Sometimes that the entire passing attack like on Monday when the only effective passing plays featured those two. The running attack hinges on Mission Bay High School's Arian Foster and his tough running as well as a solid zone blocking offense line.
The other side of the ball is where the problems lie. Two of their best players on defense from last year are gone. CB Dunta Robinson is now on the Atlanta Falcons and LB DeMeco Ryans is on IR. They have a ton of trouble stopping the pass and their pass defense DVOA is equal to the Chargers passing offense DVOA. They turn every QB into Philip Rivers. It makes you wonder what happens when they face the real thing. The run defense is not terrible, but its in the bottom quarter of the league and shouldn't pose anything close to the challenge the Titans gave the Chargers.
The key to the game should be to score, score, score and to limit the running of Foster and the pass catching of Andre Johnson such that the Texans can't keep up. No field goal attempts please.
The Broncos record will neither improve or get better. They are on a bye week.
The Chiefs play their first AFC West road game by going to the Black Hole to meet the surging Oakland Raiders. From a mental standpoint this has to be the toughest game so far. They are playing as favorites in a game that means something for winning a division title and they need to do it on the road. It's probably safe to say that the run game will be featured in this one. The Chiefs are always determined to established the run and the Raiders best asset so far is the run game. Both teams are also capable of stopping the run. The passing games will probably come down to a few key plays that someone will be cheering about and someone will be losing sleep over. I expect this to be physical, hard fought and anybody's ball game.
Okay, so we know the Raiders are playing the Chiefs at home and are doing it with some division position jockeying on the line. You can go re-read the Chiefs section above if you want some thoughts on that. Instead we'll look beyond this game to see if there is anything to worry about for Raiders fans. By DVOA the Raiders schedule has been the 28th hardest in the NFL or what you might call a soft schedule. Their remaining schedule? The hardest in the NFL at 11.6%. That's the equivalent of having to play the 2009 Broncos or 2009 Arizona Cardinals week in and week out. In reality its not as distributed as that and it lines up as: KC, @Pit, Mia, @SD, @Jac, Den, Ind and @KC. Every one of those teams except Denver and San Diego have wining records and San Diego on the road is no picnic. Unlike the the Chiefs who are getting better and don't have many speed bumps remaining, the Raiders look to be improving but have to run through a gauntlet with this newfound success. That's not usually a recipe for a winning record. I'd wish them good luck, but that wouldn't be very Boltly of me.