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Bolts & Dolts: Chargers did few things right in loss to Broncos

Which San Diego Chargers players exceeded expectations in the team's 28-20 loss to the Denver Broncos yesterday?

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Ryan Mathews - 14 carries, 59 rush yds, 1 rush TD, 1 catch, 2 rec yds

Sure, okay!

If you wanted to add in the 39 yard run from early in the first quarter that was called back on John Phillips' holding penalty, Mathews would finish with 98 rushed yards and a pretty nuts 6.5 yards per carry. Mathews left the game with an injury after that play, but returned to touch the ball 13 more times. Also, his first carry after missing almost the entire first quarter was a 35 yard run.

This season, now more than half over, may not be the MVP campaign that some were looking for from Mathews, but he has fought just as many demons as Philip Rivers. For instance:

  • 2010: Fumble every 45 touches
  • 2011: Fumble every 54.5 touches
  • 2012: Fumble every 111.5 touches
  • 2013: Fumble every 139 touches

But, please, let's continue with the narrative that Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt shouldn't trust Ryan Mathews on the goal line because of all of his fumbling issues that will never be corrected.

Also, after scoring just 1 touchdown in 2012, Mathews already has 3 this season. However, you're going to like this one best...

First game missed due to injury:

Yesterday's game against the Denver Broncos was in Week 10 of the NFL season, meaning that this is the longest Mathews has gone in any season without missing a game due to injury. He is currently 14th in the NFL in carries this season with 131.

So, let's see. Injury prone? Not this year (thank you, new training staff, for asking Ryan to lose some weight/muscle). A nasty case of fumble-itis? It would appear that's no longer an issue. Can't make big plays? We saw two of them yesterday, although one was called back. Even his pass-blocking has been solid (Pro Football Focus gives him a higher pass-block rating this season than Danny Woodhead, Le'Ron McClain, Antonio Gates and a slew of other Chargers).

Yup, outside of the fact that the coaching staff still has no idea when/where/why/how to use him in the offensive gameplan, Ryan Mathews has had the type of year that fans were hoping for and has quieted a lot of his critics.

Danny Woodhead - 6 carries, 27 rush yds, 4 catches (5 targets), 17 rec yds, 1 rec TD

When the coaching staff is overusing Danny Woodhead, it comes off as desperate and counterproductive. When they find spots for him to make an impact with 10-15 touches, he looks more like Darren Sproles and can really turn the tide in the game.

If you would've told me that, halfway through the season, the team leaders in TDs would be Eddie Royal (7) and Woodhead (5), I would've tried to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. Woodhead has been worth every penny of his contract, and he had an impact on yesterday's game.

Donald Butler - 7 tackles (7 solo), 1 pass defended, 1 fumble recovery

Welcome back, Mr. Butler. That was a performance that we haven't seen out of him yet this season. He was everywhere, shooting gaps, covering tight ends, and even rushing the passer from the inside and outside. There was a little rust on him, but he was obviously the best player on the Chargers defense. That was refreshing to see.

Cam Thomas - 3 tackles (3 solo)

Someone heard the criticism. Thomas didn't do much against the pass, but he lead the team in stops and shut down running plays by himself on more than a couple of occasions. Strong, strong game from him. He looked like the guy we saw at the end of 2012.

Tourek Williams - 2 tackles (1 solo), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Starting the game in place of Jarret Johnson, and getting more snaps than normal due to Larry English's injury, the rookie didn't embarrass himself. In fact, he made the best play of the day on defense for either team.

While he wasn't great against the run, and I hope to never see him in pass coverage ever again, the sixth-round pick out of Florida International is more than ready to fill the role of "backup pass rusher" on this team for a few years.

Mike Scifres - 5 punts (47.6 avg), 4 downed inside DEN 20

Maybe I should expect performances like this from Scifres, because he does them so regularly, but they deserve some sort of acknowledgement. The man was made to punt.


The Secondary

They're all terrible. We defend Shareece Wright for being the best of a bad bunch, but he's just as bad as Derek Cox, Richard Marshall and Johnny Patrick.

My mind wanders, and I remember all of the terrible cornerbacks that the Indianapolis Colts over the years, and I wonder if Tom Telesco knows what he's doing at this position. Probably too early to tie his name to all of these guys, he didn't have a lot of options (cough), but nobody from this group can cover a receiver or make a tackle. The fact that Crezdon Butler hasn't stood out as being particularly horrible tells you how bad the rest of them are.

I'll throw some stats at you to turn your stomach.

  • Shareece Wright was targeted 11 times, giving up 8 catches for 117 yards and 3 touchdowns.
  • Derek Cox let Julius Thomas run by him for a 75 yard touchdown instead of pushing him out of bounds.
  • Richard Marshall came in for Cox, who was being punished for his lack of effort, and gave up 3 catches on 3 targets for 52 yards. He was quickly pulled from the game.
Manti Te'o - 5 tackles (3 solo), 1 pass defended

I know, I know, it's early. We shouldn't make so many broad, sweeping statements about Te'o when he missed all of the preseason and has only played a handful of games. Whatever.

Te'o and Butler make up the heart and soul of this defense. They're at the epicenter of every play. Each and every run, and most of the passes, are at or through the area that those two are meant to protect. The two of them have very different attitudes about how to defend that area, and that was evident against the Broncos.

Butler attacks first. If you think of the center of the defense as his house, Donald's goal is to meet you at the mailbox and send you flying backwards. Meanwhile, Manti is sitting in his living room waiting for someone to walk through the front door before he decides how he's going to deal with them.

I have nothing against Te'o, and I think he's a fine football player with fine football talents. However, at this point, the speed of the NFL appears to be too much for him. He's hesitant instead of decisive. He's reactive instead of proactive. Even when he gets tackles, it's either from piling on top of someone else's tackle or it's after the offense has already gotten to where they wanted to go.

If Te'o can speed his decision-making up, his lack of strength and his inability to cover won't matter as much and he'll be an average inside linebacker. However, if we're using the Broncos game as a progress report of where he's at, he's nowhere near being an average linebacker and he may take quite a while to get there. Peyton Manning realized this, which is why almost every play that wasn't aimed downfield was aimed Te'o.

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